A cover letter is a one-page business letter that expands upon relevant experiences and skills, demonstrates writing skills and clarifies any issues (experience, GPA) that may need to be addressed. It answers two questions: 1) Why are you interested in this job? 2) Why are you qualified for this job?
Cover Letter Content
Consider creating a “letterhead” that matches your resume, setting margins and type to match so you present a packet of information that goes together. Please note that some people may prefer a traditional business letter format.
Ideally, address your letter to a person. Call and ask to whom to address the letter; ask for correct spelling and title or research on CareerShift (e.g.: Dear Mr./Ms./Mx./Dr. LastName). Address to “Hiring Manager for [name of position]:” if you cannot identify a specific person. Avoid “To whom it may concern,” and do not use “Sir/Madam.”
First paragraph should include…
- The job for which you are applying
- How you learned about the position/company
- Attention getting summary of your personal traits and skills that make you a fit for the position and organization
- If a senior, include education and graduation date
- If applicable, include the name of a person who referred you
Consider including a company fact if it is something you have been following or mention how their mission or value statement is significant to you. However, do not use space educating them on their organization or the position.
Second paragraph should include…
- Three (just a suggestion) skills listed in the job description
- Examples of how you have demonstrated selected skills in the past through previous work, volunteer or leadership positions
- Focus on your past successes and outcomes
This section should expand on what is listed on your resume, so do not reiterate your resume or direct them to your resume. They know it’s there.
Third paragraph should include…
- Appreciation of the reader’s time and attention
- What you want the next step to be: 1) How and when you will follow-up or 2) Your hopes for them to follow-up
- If applicable, share your availability and flexibility in geographic location
- End the letter with Sincerely, three spaces and your name. Don’t worry about signature if you are submitting online.
- Have someone else (family, friend, advisor, faculty member or Career Services staff member) review your cover letter. Computer spell/grammar checks do not catch everything. Remember, potential employers take cover letters very seriously.
Attaching Cover Letter/Resumes to Email
Many of your communications with potential employers will likely be via email. To utilize email to its full potential, do the following:
- Type the position title in the subject line.
- Check to make sure attachments are attached before sending.
- Don’t include email address, date or employer’s address in the email body as that is transmitted electronically.
- Don’t leave spaces between the closing and the typed name as there will be no signature.
- Do follow-up initial email with brief email asking if attachments were transmitted and readable. Gracefully, let the employer know that you will resend attachments if there was a glitch in the transmission.
Typical Cover Letter Mistakes
- Sending resume without a cover letter
- Appearing lazy, failing to address letter to a specific person
- Focusing on what you want from the employer instead of what you can do for them
- Appearing generic, not tailoring how your skills/experience match the specific needs of the job/company
- Allowing misspellings or incorrect grammar/punctuation
- Rehashing your resume
- Rambling, focusing on your whole story instead of just the relevant part—you have the interview to expand
- Using qualifiers such as “I feel” or “I believe”—simply and confidently state your skills and what you offer
- Leaving the ball in the employer’s court—state that you will follow-up if possible
Use simple and straight forward sentence structure, but avoid starting every sentence with “I” or “my.” The reader should reach the end of your letter thinking, “This person fits the job!” because you used the language from the job description and confidently told them that you are the match.