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Cover Letters

Find out how to craft an attention-getting resume with tips from career advisors.

Before you apply for your next job, you'll want to be sure that you have a top-quality resume that reflects your professional experience and gains the attention of prospective employers. Career Services has created this tutorial to help get you on the right track.

Welcome

Yes, every resume that you send out should have a cover letter that accompanies it unless the application directions specifically instruct you not to include one. A cover letter is important because it gives you the opportunity to inform the employer of why you are the best person for the job.

A great cover letter is:

  • Specific to the position and company.

  • Addressed to a specific person if you can (If you do not have a name, use the title "Hiring Manager").

  • Formatted in proper letter format including the address of the company.

  • Written with the job description in mind.

  • Free of punctuation and grammatical errors.

  • Usually one-page in length (3-4 paragraphs).

TIP: Make writing the cover letter easy!

  • Have the job description in front of you while you are writing the letter.

  • Research the company—their missions, goals, etc.

  • Focus on branding yourself and where your knowledge, skills and abilities match the mission, vision and needs of the company.

As you create your cover letter, keep in mind the main goals are to:

  • Submit a tailored application for a position.

  • Introduce yourself and resume.

  • Demonstrate your strong written communication skill, sell your strongest skills, request an interview and generate interest from the employer.

Information to Include in a Cover Letter

Though all cover letters are different, there is some basic information that should be included in each:

  • The position for which you are applying:

    • The job posting source

    • Any referrals or contacts

    • The location you desire (if applicable)

     

  • Your qualifications:

    • Relevant experiences and skills that make you a strong candidate

    • Relevant personality traits and competencies that would add to the organization

     

  • Why you want to work for the organization:

    • Purpose for choosing the organization

    • How you will add to the organization's mission and bottom-line

     

  • How the employer can follow-up with you:

    • Your contact information including address, email address and phone number

Cover letters are typically one page in length with 3–4 short and concise paragraphs:

  • Paragraph #1
    Your first paragraph should indicate the position title (and number, if there is one) for which you are applying and where you learned about the position (Career Services, internet sources, personal contact). You should express interest in the organization and their product or service and how it matches your career direction.

  • Paragraph #2
    Your second paragraph should talk about why you are a good fit for the position. You need to talk about how your skills and experience match the requirements of the position. This is when the job description becomes important; you want to use the exact terminology that the employer is using in the job description (Ex. If the company says they want someone with strong communication skills, you should write about your experience in communicating with other individuals from specific current or previous experience).

    You can also include personal characteristics that make you a great employee or give you an advantage (Ex. multi-tasking, team player, strong problem solver).

    Recent grads should explain how your academic career makes qualifies you for the position. And, experienced professionals should highlight your work experience.

  • Paragraph #3
    The last paragraph is your closing. It is recommended that you include a statement similar to the following "I look forward to speaking with you about the position and how I can contribute to (insert company name)". You should also repeat your contact information and thank them for their time.

See basic cover letter skeleton

See samples of a cover letter

TIP: Business Letter Format

Don't forget to format your letter in standard business letter format. According to the Gregg Reference Manual by William Sabin, standard features of all letters include the following:

  • Return Address (original letterhead heading used on resume)

  • Date

  • Inside Address of employer

  • Salutation (employer name)

  • Complimentary Closing

  • Signature

Different Cover Letter Formats

Get to know the three standard cover letter formats to decide which one will work best for your current job search.

The Cover Letter

The cover letter traditionally consists of three paragraphs answering what job you are applying for, why and how the employer can follow-up with you. This type of cover letter:

  • Is the most popular and recognizable type

  • Communicates a story to the employer

Examples of the Paragraph Cover Letter

TIP: E-mailing Your Cover Letter

The last tip in cover letter writing is when you are e-mailing your resume to an individual, place your cover letter as the e-mail text. If the employer reads your cover letter first, they will be more interested in your resume. Quite often when people attach their cover letter and resume separately, an employer goes directly to the resume and misses the important information in your cover letter. And sometimes if the employer reads the cover letter first, they are already sold on your skills.

Cover letters:

  • Demonstrate to the employer your ability to write and communicate clearly.

  • Always include the name of any contacts who told you about the job. This may provide you with leverage or speed up the selection process.

  • Feature industry language to show your awareness of the company and field.

  • Should be kept in your records, electronically or in print for future reference.

  • Should be individualized to each job.

  • Should be printed on the same professional paper used for your resume.

  • Should be error free and grammatically correct.

  • Should be no more than one page with 3–4 paragraphs.

TIP: E-mailing Your Cover Letter

The last tip in cover letter writing is when you are e-mailing your resume to an individual, place your cover letter as the e-mail text. If the employer reads your cover letter first, they will be more interested in your resume. Quite often when people attach their cover letter and resume separately, an employer goes directly to the resume and misses the important information in your cover letter. And sometimes if the employer reads the cover letter first, they are already sold on your skills.

Cover Letter Dos

Keep the following "dos" in mind as you prepare your cover letter:

  • Do customize your cover letter to each job

  • Do be concise

  • Do be consistent with sentence structure (person, transition words, etc.)

  • Do include a valid professional email address and phone number

  • Do make sure your cover letter looks good: email should be formal and nicely formatted while hard copy should be printed on the same paper as your resume, preferably a good quality resume paper

  • Do address your cover letter to a specific person if possible

  • Do refer to your resume

  • Do state your interest to interview for the position

Cover Letter Don'ts

By avoiding these "don'ts," you'll strengthen the quality of your cover letter:

  • Don't lie, exaggerate or include something that you would not feel comfortable discussing in an interview

  • Don't rely on spell check alone! Have someone read over your cover letter for typos

  • Don't use the word "I" or other first or third person pronouns

  • Don't use speckled paper that can be difficult to read once photocopied

  • Don't use curly fonts that may be difficult to read

  • Don't use large fonts or extra spaces to increase the length of your cover letter

  • Don't make your cover letter too long

Still have questions about how to write the most effective cover letter? View the Q&As below to learn more.

  1. How many pages should my cover letter be?

    As a general rule, try to keep your cover letter at one page in length consisting of 3–4 paragraphs.

  2. Should I include personal information on my cover letter?

    Personal information such as marital status, height, weight, hobbies, or photos should not be included in your cover letter.

  3. What size font and type should I use?

    General type should stay between 10–12pt. The best fonts are easy to read and have clean lines such as sans serif fonts including but not limited to Arial, Century Gothic, Futura, Lucida Sans, News Gothic, Technical and Zapf Humanist.

    Other fonts can also be used, such as Times New Roman, Rockwell, Book Antiqua and Garamond.

  4. Do I need to include my e-mail address in my cover letter?

    Yes, it is standard to provide the employer with both a phone number and e-mail address to contact you.

  5. Is it necessary to include a cover letter with my resume?

    Yes, unless the employer has specified otherwise, a cover letter should always accompany your resume.

Formal Writing Habits

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