For most international students studying in Canada, the ultimate objective of gaining a world-class education is to set themselves up for a successful career. The knowledge, skills, and work experience you acquire during your studies, and the professional network you establish will help prepare you for the Canadian job market.
Whether you’re applying for part-time jobs while in university or college or looking for your first full-time job after graduation, you’ll need a well-written Canadian-style cover letter to accompany your resume. As you prepare to craft and customize your cover letter, you may have many questions. What does a good cover letter look like? What should you include in your cover letter if you don’t have Canadian work experience? And is a cover letter even necessary? In this article, we provide tips and advice on how to write an impressive cover letter as an international student looking for a job in Canada.
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What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a document you submit along with your resume as part of a job application in Canada. It allows you to introduce yourself to the hiring manager and briefly summarizes your professional qualifications and achievements. A well-written cover letter also makes a case for why you’re the right fit for the position and can convince the hiring manager to select you for an interview.
Each job is different, not just in terms of the skills and experience it requires, but also in the personality traits needed to perform it effectively. Your cover letter is your chance to show off a little personality and give the employer a glimpse into the human behind the resume.
Why do international students need cover letters?
As an international student, one of the most important things you can do to improve your employability is gather work experience while you study. If your study permit allows you to work while studying, getting a part-time job, internship, or co-op can add value to your resume. If you’re not permitted to work part-time, volunteering is another way to gain Canadian work experience.
Before you apply for part-time jobs or volunteer opportunities, you will need to craft a customized resume and cover letter. A cover letter is not a nice-to-have; it’s just as important as your resume. Although some job postings in Canada don’t specifically ask for a cover letter, including one will demonstrate your interest in the role and can help position you as a strong candidate.
After you graduate, you may be competing for full-time jobs with your Canadian counterparts who’ve likely had summer jobs since high school and have more Canadian experience to show. In such a situation, a strong cover letter can help you amplify the experience you do have and draw attention to your achievements and strengths to level the playing field.
Unlike a resume which follows a standard format and offers limited scope to tell your story, a cover letter allows you to cite examples of your academic or professional accomplishments, explain gaps in your application, and convince an employer to pick you over other candidates with similar qualifications and possibly, more Canadian experience.
How should a Canadian-style cover letter be structured?
A good cover letter has three key components: an opening paragraph, the body, and a closing statement. Although there are no hard rules about what each section should include, following the below guidelines will help ensure your cover letter flows smoothly and naturally.
The opening paragraph of a cover letter
The opening paragraph is where you should briefly introduce yourself and tell the employer what position you’re interested in and why. Explain why you’re enthusiastic about working with this organization or why this particular role is important to you.
If you were referred to the role, mention your connection’s name to establish the recruiter’s trust. Your opening statement should also highlight some key skills, qualifications, or experiences that make you a good candidate for the role.
The body copy of a cover letter
The body of your cover letter showcases what you bring to the table for the employer. Use these paragraphs to dive deeper into the qualifications, skills, and experiences you mentioned in your opening paragraph. Highlight one or two noteworthy accomplishments from your part-time experience, academic projects, or volunteer experience that align with what the company is looking for. Be sure to do this in a manner that helps the recruiter visualize how your skills and past experience will translate into practice in this particular role.
Ideally, the cover letter body should include no more than three or four brief paragraphs, each focusing on one achievement or skill that’s relevant to the position.
The closing paragraph of a cover letter
You should conclude your cover letter by thanking the recruiter for considering you for the role. Your closing statement should also reinforce your interest in the position and your confidence that you’re a good candidate. Use a formal sign-off, such as “Sincerely” or “Best regards,” and include your contact information at the end.
You can also use Arrive’s resume and cover letter templates to craft an impressive job application that’s in line with what Canadian employers look for.
Tips to write an impressive cover letter as an international student
The value of a well-drafted, customized cover letter is often underestimated by international students. A cover letter that tells your story and conveys your passion can help you stand out among equally qualified candidates and land a job. Here are some tips to help you craft an effective cover letter that will resonate with Canadian employers:
Follow a formal business letter format
Using an appropriate cover letter format will help ensure that the first impression you make on the hiring manager is a professional one. A formal business letter format includes the recipient’s name, company address, subject line, date, and a formal greeting and closing. A Canadian-style cover letter should include a call to action, such as inviting the hiring manager to contact you for more information or discuss your candidature further over an interview.
Personalize your cover letter
You should address your cover letter to the hiring manager or recruiter (you can usually find their name in the job posting or on LinkedIn). Avoid opening your cover letter with a generic salutation like “To whom it may concern” or “Dear sir or madam.” Addressing it to an actual person shows you’ve done your research and helps build that initial connection.
Don’t rewrite information already in your resume
Think of your cover letter as precious extra space you can use to draw attention to skills, strengths, and qualifications that make you a good candidate for the job. Instead of reiterating what’s already in your resume, highlight one or two specific accomplishments that relate to the role you’re applying for.
As an international student, you can also elaborate on how the learnings from your study program will help you in this role. Having recently completed your education can work to your advantage if you can demonstrate that your up-to-date technical skills can help a team or company evolve and keep up with market trends.
Customize your cover letter to the role
While your cover letter is your chance to tell your unique story, it’s best not to stray from what the employer seeks. Many Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) also scan cover letters, so your cover letter should include relevant keywords from the job description. Essentially, an employer wants to know if you are a good fit for the role, so make sure your highlighted strengths align with the role.
Focus on relevant transferable skills
As an international student, your relevant Canadian work experience may be limited. However, you may have acquired several transferable skills during the course of your studies and non-professional experience that can’t be adequately explained on your resume. Use your cover letter to draw connections between your transferable skills and how they’ll help you add value to this role.
For example, if you worked part-time as a barista or server, you may have picked up valuable customer service and time management skills. If you were the president of a student club, your leadership skills may give you an edge over other applicants for the job.
Highlight what makes you unique
The main objective of your cover letter is to help you stand out from the crowd. As an international student, the experience, education, and exposure you received in your home country may help you bring a fresh perspective to a Canadian organization.
For instance, you may be knowledgeable about the work culture in other markets outside Canada, more adaptable to cultural diversity, or fluent in multiple languages. If you were part of your family business at home or worked for a few years before moving to Canada to study, you may have developed people management skills, relevant technical skills or an entrepreneurial spirit that’ll be useful in the role you’re targeting.
Focus on why you want to work for a specific company
It’s important to articulate why you want to work for a particular company. Where possible, try to weave the information you know about the company and their work in your cover letter. This shows the hiring manager that you’re familiar with the company’s business and are invested in its success. Perhaps the organization is known for its technical expertise. Maybe you’ve used (and love) their products or find the company’s vision inspiring. Use your cover letter to express why you are passionate about the organization and role.
Don’t list your references or share personal information
Although most Canadian employers conduct reference checks before hiring an employee, you should not include the names and contact information of your references in a Canadian-style cover letter or resume. If needed, the employer will ask you for this information after they’ve selected you for the position. You are also not supposed to include a photograph or personal information, such as your gender, sexual orientation, race, or marital status in your cover letter.
Keep your cover letter to one page
Similar to your resume, it’s best to keep your cover letter short and to the point. Feel free to show off more of your personality, but within the confines of what we covered above.
Proofread your cover letter
Always proofread your cover letter before submitting it. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors can draw the recruiter’s attention away from your achievements and cast doubts on your attention to detail and language skills. It’s also a good idea to have a friend or mentor review your cover letter to make sure it conveys the intended message in a crisp, logical, and impressive way. Also double-check the hiring manager’s name, the company details, as well as your contact information, so the employer can easily reach you if you’re shortlisted for an interview.
As an international student looking for part-time or full-time jobs in Canada, you should familiarize yourself with a Canadian-style cover letter before your job search. A customized cover letter gives you an opportunity to highlight your strengths and achievements and make a strong case for why the organization should hire you.