How to Craft a Cover Letter

The majority of resumes sent to employers are excellent. An accompanying cover letter can make the difference and open the door to the interview room. It is personal presentation, writing sample and persuasive argument, all in one concise page of text. A cover letter tells three things: how great you are, how great the company is and how absolutely great you would be together.

There are two general types of cover letters. They follow a similar format, simply with greater or lesser degrees of specificity.

  • The first one is more encompassing, letting an employer know that you have great respect for their organization and would like to be part of their success. These inquiry letters are appropriate when you are not aware of a specific opening (and there is no indication of such at this time; you know this because you’ve searched). This would be a letter of inquiry – you are inquiring about potential employment opportunities.
  • The second, more common, type is the cover letter that is sent in response to a specific job notice. You are aware of it because it is on their website, or someone let you know about it or you saw an ad in a professional journal…no matter the method, you are aware that the employer is actively seeking employees. This would be a letter of application.

In the opening paragraph, you state that you are applying for or inquiring about a specific job. If the job is advertised, you should use the title provided; if you are inquiring, you can be more generic (“nursing home administrator” or “accountant”) but should let them know for what you are qualified. Tell them from where or whom you learned of the position, especially if an individual brought it to your attention – mutual acquaintances can be powerful links.

Next, indicate why you are interested in the position, the employer, and its products, services or mission. Highlight your own accomplishments in relation to their profile. Stress a few particular qualifications and refer them to your resume for a fuller picture. Inform the potential employer how you are uniquely qualified to help them solve their problems, progress toward their goals, and in general be better off with you than they are without you.

In the concluding paragraph, request an opportunity to meet face to face. For example, if you will be at a conference at which they will be represented, indicate that you will seek out their booth; if travel to their corporate headquarters is in your future let them know the dates you will be in their area; if the organization is local, request an interview.

As you prepare your cover letter, consider the following suggestions:

  • Do not use a generic form letter, but instead craft each letter to the specific opening or inquiry. 
  • Do your research. There is little that indicates a lack of interest more than “To whom it may concern: I am interested in a position within your organization.” Find out exactly to whom the letter should be addressed, including correct title. Provide specific reasons for your interest in the position for which you are applying. Name the organization for whom you wish to work, and convey that you possess knowledge of their operations. 
  • Follow standard business letter layout and full block formatting. 
  • Highlight your skills that would be most beneficial to this employer and provide concrete evidence to demonstrate these attributes.
  • Be professional and brief. Cover letters rarely exceed one page.
  • Proofread! Be sure your letter is perfect, with no typographical or grammatical errors. It should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway, that you must get the name of the organization to whom you are applying or inquiring correct.
  • Double check to be sure you have included a variety of sentence structures; don’t consistently start sentences with “I.” 
  • Track the letters you send out and make a timeline/calendar for follow-up communication.
  • Be sure to include your contact information in the closing paragraph of the letter in order for the employer to get back to you (yes, the information is on your resume, but you want to make things as easy and painless as possible).
  • If you are submitting your materials as attachments to an email, be sure the documents can be easily opened and read. You should submit all digital documents as PDF's.
  • If you are submitting hard copy, use quality paper and be sure to sign your letter.
  • Thank the employer for taking time to read your materials.

Once you have prepared an initial draft of your cover letter, bring it with you to the Student Success Center and receive feedback that will enhance its effectiveness. Use this checklist prepared by Monster to prepare for this conversation and assess the quality of your letter.