Standing out at a job fair takes more than professional attire, a firm handshake or a polished resume. Preparing a cover letter demonstrates your seriousness and professionalism and gives you the chance to make a strong case for yourself to as many potential employers as possible. For maximum success, prepare two kinds of cover letters: personalized and general. It is impractical to write a personalized cover letter for every employer at the job fair, and generalized cover letters have significantly lower impact, but including a letter with your resume is good form and may increase your chances of landing an interview.
Personalized Cover Letter
Study the job fair’s list of confirmed employers, often available at a job fair website or by calling the job fair organizer. Research employers that look compelling by reviewing their websites or, if the employer is in retail, visiting one of their stores. Select three to five employers that interest you most and plan to draft a personalized cover letter to each of them.
Use job search websites to find out if each employer is recruiting for specific positions that interest you. If so, read the advertisement carefully and take notes on which specific qualifications the job requires. Either way, jot down key skills, attitudes or experiences the employer values in its employees. Read the employer’s mission statement and history and make notes, using your resume, about where your experience and skill base overlaps with each employer’s needs and commitments.
Choose a business letter template from your word processing program’s selection of templates, or feel free to design your own. Select a clean, legible font no smaller than 11 point, and set the document margins at 1 or 1 ½ inches.
Address each cover letter to a specific person or people expected to represent each employer at the job fair; if nobody is listed, address your letter to “Hiring Manager.” Write a unique opening paragraph in each letter that briefly introduces you to each potential employer. If you know of a specific job opening, express your interest in the position, explain why you think you are qualified for it and briefly describe any direct experience you have in a similar position. If you do not know of any openings, express your interest in your employer’s industry, being as specific as possible about why you think you are a good fit for their company and what experience you have in similar settings. Do not exceed four sentences.
Use your notes and your resume to draft one to two short paragraphs describing three to four of the experiences that you feel prepare you for the job you seek at each particular employer. Use experiences that suggest your unique skill set and highlight qualities such as leadership, teamwork, organization and enthusiasm that most employers value whether they say they do or not. You may use the same examples for each personalized cover letter if they apply, but edit the paragraphs so that they speak directly to each employer. If you can relate your experience to specific information you have about an employer’s needs or priorities, do.
Write a final two to three sentence paragraph stating that you look forward to hearing back from the potential employer. Briefly note your interest and availability for a phone or in-person interview and your intention to follow up by email or phone within two weeks.
General Cover Letter
Choose a professional template for your cover letter or design your own. Set the document margins between 1 and 1 ½ inches and choose a simple, clear font no smaller than 11 point.
Address your letter to “Hiring Manager.” Use your opening paragraph to thank the employer for meeting with you at the job fair, and briefly explain the type of work you are looking for, whether you seek a position as, for example, a sales associate, web developer, receptionist or would be interested in one of a few different roles.
Draft one to two paragraphs highlighting significant work or other experiences that you feel prepare you for the kind of work you seek. Though you cannot know the employer’s needs, use concrete examples to highlight your skill set and qualities such as leadership, teamwork, organization and enthusiasm that most employers value.
Close your letter with a brief paragraph expressing your availability for an in-person or telephone interview and your intention to follow up via email or phone within two weeks.
Ask employers you meet at the job fair for their name and contact information or for their business card. Send thank you cards as soon as possible to each employer you met with and liked, briefly expressing your pleasure to have met them and your interest in working for them. If you gave the employer a generalized cover letter at the job fair, use this moment to write one to two brief statements about why you feel you are particularly well suited to their company after having met and learned more about them.
Proofread your cover letter multiple times for errors, use the active voice and try to keep your letter around ¾ of a page. Always include a current, polished resume when you submit a cover letter to a potential employer.