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7 Basic Tips on Drafting a Cover Letter for a Humanitarian Job

Hunger, sickness, and poverty put a heavy burden on communities around the world. Humanitarians help by providing food, clean water, medicine, and other much-needed resources. These helpers are found in refugee camps, areas affected by natural disasters, and places with high poverty rates. Humanitarian careers exist in medicine, research, administration, advocacy, and more. How do you stand apart from the crowd when applying for a job? Your cover letter is a great opportunity to show a potential employer who you are and why you’re the right fit. Here are seven basic tips that will be helpful to getting started:

Stay focused on the organization’s mission

Before starting your cover letter, make sure you have a thorough understanding of the organization you’re trying to get a job with. Read the mission statements carefully and explore the types of programs the organization has. In your letter, you’ll need to show that you understand and are passionate about the organization’s goals beyond the basic qualifications.

Expand – don’t rehash – your resume

Cover letters are challenging because it can feel like you’re just repeating what’s on your resume. However, a cover letter is your opportunity to go beyond the bullet points. Look at the skills on your resume and expand on them, sharing why they make you the best candidate for the job. Explain how your accomplishments in your previous volunteer/work experience align with the job you’re applying for now.

Emphasize the most relevant skills and experiences that make you a good fit

As you begin your letter, study the job description closely. Think back on your experiences and skills. How could they be mobilized in this specific job that you want? Highlight your strongest skills and experiences, emphasizing examples of how they make you a good fit. Every cover letter that comes across a hiring manager’s desk will say something to the effect of “I’m qualified, so pick me.” Your letter can stand out by listing specifics.

Show how your skills have translated into success

Job descriptions always have a desired skills section. Things like “excellent written communication” or “organizing and planning” are common. Your cover letter is your chance to show how these skills got results. Anyone can claim they have a certain skill, but what kind of impact did it make in your previous jobs or volunteer experiences? If you were part of a successful team, be sure to highlight that, as well.

Be concise and to the point

As a general rule, cover letters should take up a single page. You aren’t writing an essay, so be as concise and to the point as you can. In your first draft, you might be a little long-winded as you’re getting your thoughts down on a page. Before you send it, you need to trim, trim, and trim again. Stay focused on the most relevant skills and experiences, so you avoid taking up space with generalizations that don’t apply specifically to the job. Choose punchy, direct wording that gets to the core of what you’re trying to say. Put yourself in a hiring manager’s shoes and imagine what they might think. Have you built a strong enough case for yourself in just a few paragraphs?

Give yourself lots of time to write (and proofread)

While cover letters are short, you should give yourself lots of time to draft one. As soon as you see a job you’re interested in, start working on the cover letter. Research the organization, study the job description, and examine how your own experiences and skills make you a good fit. Edit and proofread – your first draft of a cover letter should never be the one you send off. Ask people you know, especially those with similar work or volunteer experiences, to read your letter. This process catches mechanical issues that could dissuade a hiring manager from seriously considering you.

Write a unique cover letter for every job application

Perhaps you already have a cover letter from a previous humanitarian job application. While it may be tempting to use the same letter or just slightly tweak it, we recommend writing unique cover letters for each job. If a job is similar to one you’ve applied to previously, you will use the same skills and experiences to prove your qualifications. However, copying and pasting chunks isn’t the best choice. Refine your writing and think about how to convince this specific organization to hire you. As you write more cover letters, the process becomes smoother and quicker. You are almost guaranteed to receive rejections from jobs you want at some point. Let the disappointment motivate you to improve your cover letter for the next job.

About the author

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Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.