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Graphic Designer Cover Letter

What’s with the elevator photo? This: A graphic designer’s cover letter can be thought of as a written version of an “elevator pitch.” If you haven’t been exposed to that term, it refers to a pitch to a potential employer or client that is short and focused enough to make an impact in the time it takes to share an elevator ride.

How does the cover letter “elevator pitch” fit into the big picture of making the transition from graphic design student to working professional? And how do you keep it short and focused?

  1. Your cover letter is always paired with your resume, which in turn leads a potential employer to your portfolio and your LinkedIn profile. It should point to but not repeat what is in those more substantial pieces of your pitch to a prospective employer.
  2. Your cover letter is always specific, addressing a particular employer and position.
  3. Your cover letter quickly introduces you and focuses on how you can contribute to solving the needs identified in an employer’s job posting.

In this article, you’ll see exactly how that works, and get detailed advice on how to compose a cover letter.

How and when to use a cover letter

Cover letters are submitted when you have identified a position you want to apply for. They are submitted after you have posted your resume to job boards; after a job board identifies a posted job offering that you are a good fit for; and after you have done your homework researching the job and the company. 

As noted (and emphasizing): cover letters are, by definition, specific to one job posting. There is no value to creating a generic (one size fits all) cover letter except to use as a template.

Cover letters point to the more substantial pieces of your job application: your resume, your portfolio, and your LinkedIn profile. Other posts in this series focus on creating your resume, your portfolio, and your resume.

Research first

An effective cover letter aligns your assets and strengths with an employer’s needs. You already have a resume, a portfolio, and a LinkedIn profile that effectively present your skills and other assets. If not, hit pause, and study other articles in this series that walk through how to create those. The new work to be done for a cover letter is to figure out how to connect your skills and assets with the requirements in a job posting. 

So, before you start to compose a cover letter, immerse yourself in what the potential employer is looking for and figure out how to present yourself as the ideal candidate for the posted position.

Dissect the job posting

Carefully dissect the posting for the job you are applying for. Often, graphic designer job postings are broken down into sections for the roleyou will play, and the skillsyou need (usually followed by information about other elements of the job including pay, benefits, company culture, and requirements for in-office vs remote work). 

In general, posted job requirements break down into “hard” and “soft” skills. “Soft” skills are often listed first, and include things like having a passion for graphic design; being a creative problem solver; being able to juggle multiple projects at the same time; being organized; meeting deadlines; being prepared to apply communication design principles; and working well with others.

When you examine a job posting, highlight specific “soft” skills that you will want to address in your cover letter.

And note the required “hard” skills, which usually include expertise with the key apps in Adobe Creative Cloud.

Keep a list of specific skills at your side as you move ahead in the process of composing your cover letter. 

Align your assets with the required skills

With a list of job requirements (“hard” and “soft” skills) at hand, step back and survey your resume and your portfolio. Your LinkedIn profile is an important part of presenting yourself to a prospective employer, but most likely your specific skills are going to be included in your resume and in particular your portfolio.

Your portfolio, by the way, should demonstrate your skill set by carefully documenting the process through which you created your portfolio projects. For an in-depth exploration of what that means, and how to do it, see the article Why Your Design Portfolio Should Emphasize Process, Not Just Content at Noble Desktop’s blog.

Start listing ways where your skill set matches the job requirements. For example:

  • Passion for graphic design -> I have been designing presentations, posters, memes, and logos since middle school.
  • Problem-solving -> I enjoy diving into difficult design challenges in projects
  • Apps & coding -> I used InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and XD to design print and web output and drew on HTML and CSS skills to prototype apps and websites; and communicated with instructors through memos and presentations using Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. 

That’s about as much detail as will fit in a cover letter, but it will accompany your resume, which has more detail and links to your LinkedIn profile and online portfolio. 

Visit the company’s website

An important component of knowing your audience in writing a cover letter is being familiar with the company you are applying to work for. How do they brand themselves? Edgy and controversial? Or solid and conservative? Established and reliable? Or brand new?

You may find that the company you are applying to has a section of its website that describes what the graphic design team does, what principles it applies, its style, its priorities, and the work culture. These are things you will draw on when you pitch yourself in a cover letter.

And dig as deeply as you can into the position you are applying for. If it is for a design team for a particular product, familiarize yourself with that product. This kind of research will pay off double if you get called for an interview, and can convey genuine interest in and appreciation for what a company is doing. 

Survey Glassdoor reviews

Glassdoor reviews are posted anonymously by current or former employees at a company. They can help you identify if you want to work for a company. They are a valuable tool in job hunting. To learn how that works, see Leverage LinkedIn and Glassdoor at Noble Desktop’s blog.

But Glassdoor reviews can also be helpful in articulating your cover letter content. For example, if reviewers post that a company uses cutting-edge technology and you have a passion and aptitude for that, add it to the list you are preparing for your cover letter. That might be posed this way:

One of the things that attracted me to your job posting is my passion and aptitude for getting the most out of cutting-edge technology

If you see that a company offers opportunities for advancement, you can mention that as well.

Structure your cover letter

If you have your basic cover letter content, it’s time to pour that content into the structure of a cover letter.

The core elements are:

  • Your contact information including phone number; email address; the URL for your LinkedIn profile and portfolio 
  • Why your “hard” skills are a good match for the position
  • Why your “soft” skills will allow you to contribute to the company
  • Thank you

Let’s break that down in more detail. The outline of a cover letter is:

  1. Your name and contact information.
  2. The date
  3. The addressee’s name and title
  4. A salutation (Dear…)
  5. A short paragraph identifying the position you are applying for, and–in one sentence–why you are applying
  6. A short paragraph identifying your skills (“hard” and “soft”)
  7. A short paragraph identifying how your skills align with the position you are applying for
  8. Note that your resume is attached, and links to your portfolio and LinkedIn profile
  9. Thanks for consideration

Most of the items on this list are pretty self-explanatory. The important thing is to review them carefully. Did you get the right name and spelling of the company? Did you identify the position you are applying for accurately? 

A note on links: Do not rely on linking content using tools in your word processor. A reviewer might be looking at a hard copy of your cover letter, in which case a link is useless and annoying. And sometimes, when files are exported as PDFs (which you will use when you submit the cover letter), links do not translate properly, or at all. So instead of saying visit my LinkedIn page, write: LinkedIn profile is: (of course use your real LinkedIn URL).

The first paragraph in your cover letter should convey in your own words that you are ready, willing, able, and excited to take on the job and that you know you will be able to contribute to the company’s mission. This cannot be emphasized too much (or too redundantly): explicitly, exactly, and accurately identify the job and the company, using the specific wording for the position as listed in the job posting.

The second paragraph, listing your skills, should align very specifically with a job posting so that a reviewer giving your cover letter a six-second glance will see those skills pop out immediately. It should focus on “hard” skills (list Adobe CC apps; types of projects you’ve worked on). 

The third paragraph can weave in “soft” skills (collaboration, creativity, teamwork, meeting deadlines). Be succinct, and align “soft” skills as closely as possible with the requirements in the job posting. 

Here’s how that might look:

Should you talk about salary requirements?

Unless a position posting explicitly requires you to include salary requirements, leave those out of a resume cover letter. 

What if the posting explicitly requires salary requirements? Glassdoor has a helpful resource in the article How To Include Salary Requirements in Cover Letters. A few points gleaned from that article:

  • Research first – look up similar posted jobs in the same geographic region and see what they pay
  • Provide a salary range, not a fixed amount, and say your requirements are negotiable
  • Another option is to evade the question in a way that emphasizes your excitement about the position, for example, say that if offered the position salary would not necessarily be the overriding factor

Don’ts and a Do

As you fine-tune your graphic designer cover letter, weed out anything that is inaccurate, unnecessary or off-topic. Remember, your cover letter is your elevator pitch. And as slow as elevators can seem at times, we’re talking about seconds here, not minutes. 

So here are some don’ts:

  • Don’t include a single unnecessary word
  • Don’t use more than two-thirds of a page, or three-quarters of a page at most
  • Don’t get the name of the company, the position, or the name of the person you are writing to wrong
  • Don’t be gushy (“I love your company,”) or use silly superlatives (“I’m an astonishingly world-class creative genius”)
  • Don’t repeat information that is in your resume
  • Don’t include personal interests (like achievements in sports, music, art) that are appropriate in a resume but not a cover letter

And here’s something that is OK to do in a cover letter, but not in a resume: use the word “I.” In a resume, you leave that out when listing skills, and instead introduce sentences and bullet points with action verbs, like:

Designed artwork for a social media campaign

A cover letter is more conversational in tone, so there you would say:

I designed artwork for a social media campaign

Styling templates

Resources like Microsoft Word and Canva have styled cover letter templates. They can be helpful, but if you use one, choose a very simple one. Remember, your cover letter will be paired with your resume, so there is no need to duplicate a photo or other design elements that appear in your resume.

In general, cover letters should have a very minimalist layout. But there are still style elements to be conscious of and wield appropriately. After all, you are applying for a job as a graphic designer so your cover letter should not look sloppy. 

  • Make sure your cover letter is clean, uncluttered, with generous margins (like 1.5 inches, not one inch) and line spacing. 
  • The font should match your resume.
  • Colors should also match your resume. But keep in mind, again, that a reviewer may be looking at a printout of your cover letter, and that printout may well be in black and white. That means avoiding page backgrounds, and avoiding anything close to low contrast colors (like a gray or light blue type color).

Finally, save your cover letter as a PDF, with a file name that identifies who you are, and what the letter is. For example: XixJones_CoverLetter_Junior-Graphic-Designer.pdf

Have your letter reviewed

Find someone to review your graphic designer cover letter before submitting it to job search engines or an employer. That someone could be a teacher, an advisor, a family member, roommate, or a classmate. 

Another technique for reviewing your cover letter (or any important document) is to read it out loud to yourself. That will help catch things like missing words, words that are spelled properly but wrong (like “I cook a class in Illustrator” instead of “I took a class in Illustrator”), and grammar errors. 

If you have the opportunity to do so, there is no substitute for working with a professional to hone your cover letter. If you have access to someone who is familiar with your skills and strengths and the job market, they can be an invaluable reviewer. They will pick up on missing experiences and projects, and ways you can project your abilities and strengths in ways that you might not think of. Certificate programs sometimes have career counselors, or resume editing resources. Noble Desktop, for example, provides access to an Industry Mentor and Career Advisor.

Take Aways

  • Put complete contact information at the top: name, photo, email, portfolio link, and URL of your LinkedIn profile
  • Lead with your school classes and projects, minimize experience before that
  • Follow the outline and format of a professional template 
  • Keep your cover letter length to less than one page 
  • Review and proofread your resume before submitting it as a properly named PDF

Other Resources

Also see:

Learn more in these courses

  • Graphic Design Classes
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