Frustrated with the mistakes he saw over the years, an editor for Slate offers 12 steps for entry-level job applications beyond the obvious gaffes like misspellings, typos, etc. And it really comes down to the cover letter:
Make it interesting: The cover letter is your best shot at getting noticed. A bad cover letter will get the résumé ignored.
Keep it short: You should be able to tell about yourself and why you should be hired in less than 200 words. Same with résumés. Exclude extra info. “Your summer lifeguarding job does not need five bullet points,” he said.
Be direct and clear: Introductions like “With this statement, I declare my interest in the position you have advertised on your website” are clumsy and should be avoided. Start with a strong but simple opener, like “I’m excited to be writing to you to apply for the blogging position at Slate.” Conversational is much better than stilted.
Promote yourself: If you don’t believe you are the best candidate, why should an employer? This letter is your chance to sell yourself. Avoid being cocky, but certainly convey that you can do the job.
Do your research: Display that you know about the company you are applying to, its mission, accomplishments, goals and convey them in the cover letter. Show that you “get” the company.
Explain your value: You’re looking to solve the company’s vacancy, so don’t write about how the job will benefit you. Express how you will improve the company.
Keep pre-college stuff to yourself: “Leave anecdotes about what you did in elementary school … out.”
Life journeys? Not interested: This includes your experiences studying abroad, even if you had an amazing time, the editor says. Save these musings for late-night dorm room chats with your best friend.
“Senior thesis” is not important: Unless it is asked for, refrain from including it. It only makes your letter longer and does not add value to your application.
College Transcript? An interesting Tumblr account, a vibrant Twitter presence or a personal blog on a topic you are passionate about are 10 times more compelling than your course load.
GPA matters, but not that much: Probably hard to read this after working so hard in class. But the Slate expert says, depending on the job, how you did in class may not be that important. But do mention it. Just don’t put too much stock in it.
Follow the application instructions: Do not take liberties with the application. Follow the specific directions and offer only what is asked — nothing more, nothing less.