Cover letters are challenging. No one enjoys writing them. When written carefully, cover letters give you an advantage over other job applicants. They expand on your resume and reveal more about who you are. When thinking about how to write your NGO cover letter, think like the person hiring you. What will stand out to them? Beginning with your introduction and leading up to the end, here are useful phrases and language that can separate you from the bulk of applicants.
Introducing your letter
The first few sentences of your letter are extremely important. If you fail to hook the reader, they may skip the rest of your letter entirely. They have lots of letters to get through. Never open your letter with something like “I’m applying for (x) job.” The hiring manager already knows that. What should you open with, then? You’ll find a lot of advice on cover letter introductions, but not everything applies to the NGO sector. As an example, you might be advised to open your letter with humor. We don’t usually recommend that. It’s better to start with passion and enthusiasm about the organization.
Passion alone isn’t sufficient. Simply stating that you’re excited about the company won’t grab anyone’s attention. Contextualize that excitement with something specific. Has the organization done anything newsworthy recently? Is there a particular project/campaign they’ve worked on – past or present – that you’re especially impressed by? Express your enthusiasm about these specifics, then state how your skills and experience match the organization’s values and goals. Including something about the organization and yourself in the introduction shows you’re excited about the job, you know what the organization has been up to recently, and that you’re a good match. If you know someone in the organization, your introduction is the best place to mention this.
Elaborating on your skills with action keywords
This part of a cover letter is tricky because you don’t want to just repeat what your resume says. First, look at the action keywords in the job position. These are the words that describe skills the organization is looking for. Common keywords include “specialized” and “proficient.” You’ll also most likely see keywords like “teamwork,” “leadership,” and “detail-oriented.” Next, consider the skills you have that match. Choose up to three that are most relevant to the position you’re applying for. Use language similar to what you see in the job description. Why? Cover letters are often scanned by resume software looking for those keywords. This cuts down on the amount of time a human needs to spend looking through letters. The software narrows the hunt down to people who meet the basic qualifications.
You want to be careful not to copy the job description too closely. If it sounds like you just copy-and-pasted the whole desired skills section, you’re doing something wrong. You’re most likely not being specific enough. You want to mirror the language while showing that your specific experiences support those skills.
Employing action verbs
Action verbs are also important to your cover letter. These verbs describe the different things you’ve done in your previous positions. Think about your work experiences. Have you helped programs get off the ground? Led a team on a project? The action verbs there are “helped” and “led.” Choosing powerful action verbs gives your cover letter punch and highlights your experiences more effectively. Is “helped” the best action verb you could use? Consider alternatives like “assisted,” “advised,” “supported,” or “aided.” For “led,” a word like “facilitated,” “piloted,” “coordinated,” or “spearheaded” is punchier. Choosing your action verbs carefully polishes and sharpens your cover letter. You’re making the most out of a very limited space.
Closing your cover letter
Your letter’s ending is just as important as your opening. While the introduction serves as the hiring manager’s first impression of you, the ending is their last impression. They might be interested so far, but if the end of your cover letter is really weak, you probably won’t get a second look. What impression should the end of your cover letter send? You want to make it clear that you have something valuable to bring to the organization. You want to convince the hiring manager to follow up with you.
One way to do this is to promise more information. Something like, “I’d love to share how my success on/with (name a successful project or team) can translate to (organization/job you’re applying for)” shows your eagerness to bring something to the table. Whatever you decide to do, be confident and enthusiastic. For your sign off, keep it simple. Something like “sincerely” or “best regards” followed by a space, then your full name, is all that’s necessary. If you have an online portfolio, provide the link at the end.