The Importance of Cover Letters
We just closed the application process for the Spring 2021 Amasia Fellowship. This is one of our two programs to expand access in venture capital, and is intended for current undergraduates. We have three cohorts: the Fall and Spring cohorts are part-time during the academic year, and the Summer cohort is full-time.
Between the three cohorts and expanded awareness, we now see a fair number of applications from motivated college students every year. We ask applicants to submit their resume, transcript and a cover letter.
The evaluation process for the next batch of Fellows is run by our current Fellows (I interview the finalists), and along the way one of them said to me: “Being on the back end of a recruiting process makes you realize why cover letters matter.”
The Amasia Fellowship is highly focused on research and writing. We want great research-led writers; we will take that over any domain-related knowledge (in either sustainability or VC). So one could argue that the cover letter matters more to Amasia as it also gives us a baseline writing sample. But it is always important. And it is always worth getting right.
Our process isn’t an automated one. We read every application, and most applicants have a strong resume and transcript. Consequently what often sets candidates apart is the cover letter.
So here are some Dos and Don’ts in the spirit of being helpful.
1. Customize your cover letter to the job: We know you’re applying to dozens of jobs. But from our standpoint, the cover letter is a test of whether you’ve understood our job description. In our case, the job is about research and writing. That should come across in the letter.
2. Put a bit of work in: In this era of plentiful information, there is so much ammo to use in a letter. In Amasia’s case, there is the firm’s web site, there is my blog, there is my partner’s vlog, and more. It won’t take long to skim through these, extract relevant points, and tailor your letter.
3. Avoid coming across as formulaic: There is no shortage of publicly available templates for cover letters. When these are mechanically used, it can be seen in the writing and structure, and diminishes the effect of the letter.
1. Don’t address the letter to “the hiring manager”: This became a thing a few years ago, and is now pervasive. Amasia doesn’t have a hiring manager, and the term itself is just horrible. There are loads of easy replacements that are more appealing — an example is “Amasia Team.”
2. Don’t get the industry name or the firm’s name wrong: We see this issue more often that one would think. If we learn from the cover letter that you love the idea of working in investment banking, for example, this is not an application that we can move forward. Not because we have a problem with investment banking — rather it is because we are not an investment bank!
3. Don’t go over one page: Good writing for us often involves communicating complicated matters while remaining pithy. A good cover letter really shouldn’t be verbose. Stick to one page (and no, not by using 8 point font!). And the same goes for your resume.
4. Don’t make grammar and spelling mistakes: Word processing software like MS Word highlight grammar and spelling errors. Fix them before you hit “send”. [An immutable law of blog writing makes it virtually certain that this blog post will contain spelling or grammar mistakes…]
We are highly sympathetic to the stress candidates feel. The Internet era increases stress levels because all you need to do is jack into social media to see some peer announcement or the other that can bend you out of shape. And Amasia is hardly the Olympic gold medal winner of opportunities — there are lots of fish in the fellowship/internship ocean, and one of those fish may be a (much) better fish for you.
But if you are applying for our Fellowship — then you may as well do a good job. Else why bother?