A cover letter introduces you to a potential employer. By using the position description, you can connect your skills and experience to what they are looking for in a potential candidate. A cover letter could also serve as your introduction to an organization, even if they do not have a position posted. These letters of inquiry are a great way to network yourself into an interview or job. The cover letter should be concise and well-written—if a potential employer reads your cover letter and is intrigued, they will then read your resume. So your cover letter should not repeat your resume verbatim, but enhance it. Together the cover letter and resume can help land you an interview.

When Do I Need One?

Always. A potential employer can’t tell why you are interested in a position with just your resume. Sometimes employers will not specifically ask for one but it is better to provide more information than less. It shows enthusiasm, organization, and, most importantly, sincere interest in the position.

Structure

The Heading

  • Your contact information
  • Your name
  • Local address
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • [space]
  • Include date: month/day/year
  • [space]
  • Address of the company
  • Name of a specific person, Title
  • Address of company
  • [space]

Letter Salutations

Cover letters should be addressed to an individual rather than to a sir or madam. Names of persons to contact can usually be found on Handshake or on company sites.  Call the company directly if you are unable to find a specific name. The greeting should be formal and include a colon, not comma, at the end.

Letter Components

The First Paragraph: Introduction

The First Paragraph is a basic introduction. Keep it to 2-3 sentences outlining the position, how/where you heard about the position (if you have heard of a vacancy), and why you are interested in working for that specific organization. If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you may want to do some research. Also, briefly introduce your background and experience.​ 

If you are writing as the result of a personal referral or recommendation, mention the person’s name in the first sentence. 

The Body

The Body can be 1-2 paragraphs long. It should expand on specific experiences and involvement that are relevant to the position. Excellent guidance for this section is the position description. If the potential employer is asking for someone with excellent communication skills, expanding on your previous experience working as part of a committee to plan an event will directly connect your experience and background to the skill set the employer is seeking. The cover letter is the place to expand on experiences such as study abroad or coursework that you may not have had the opportunity to describe on the resume. 

Focus on drawing a link between your resume and the company, and be sure to show that you have done your research. Make sure you:

  • State what you can do for the company, not what the company can do for you.
  • Sell your abilities, skills, and experience, maily as they relate to the employment needs of the company.

Write in a direct manner, for example:

"I think I would be a valuable addition to your organization."
Instead write: "I know I will be a valuable addition to your organization."

The Closing

The closing paragraph should be brief and clearly outline what action you will take to follow up (e.g. via email in two weeks). Request an interview and tell the employer that you will call him or her within a specific period of time. It is helpful to include your phone number in case your resume and letter become separated once they reach the employer. Be sure to thank the employer for his or her time and consideration of your letter.

Some examples:

“I welcome the opportunity to speak with you about how I can contribute.”

“I am very excited to learn more about this opportunity and share how I will be a great fit for XYZ Corporation.”

“I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss how my qualifications will be beneficial to your organization’s success.”

“I will call you next Monday to follow up on my application and arrange for an interview.” 

Closing Signature

As with any job-related correspondence, it's best to opt for a more formal language and tone — a cover letter is no place for "XOXO" or even a casual "take care" as a closer. Some examples:

  • Sincerely
  • Regards
  • Best
  • Best regards
  • Kind regards
  • Respectfully

Dos and Don'ts

This section is from the book, "Emily Post's Etiquette". Emily Post was an American writer and socialite who became the most famous authority on how to behave graciously in society and business.

  • Do highlight your skills and abilities by relating your specific accomplishments. Merely listing jobs you have held will leave the reader wanting more.
  • Do your homework even before you write your cover letter. Knowledge of the company will give you credibility and prepare you for interviewing. A well-thought-out letter can also be a big factor in getting you an interview.
  • Do tailor each letter to the company and the job, indvidualizing each. Never send photocopies or a generic, one-seize-fits-all letter.
  • Do keep the resume to one or two pages, and the cover letter to one.
  • Do keep your cover letter and resume direct and clear; don't try to be funny unless you're applying for a job as a comedy writer.
  • Don't use your current job letterhead or business card. If you wish, have a personal card printed with your home address and phone number. Get a personal email address as well so you aren't using your work email.
  • Don't simply repeat the facts from your resume in your cover letter. Use the letter to point out and expand on information that directly relates to the job you're seeking.
  • Don't sell yourself with capabilities you don't have. Letters that make extravagant claims like, "There's no task I can't accomplish" are both inflated and untrue.
  • Don't include personal material unless it relates to the job. Your hobbies, world travels, creative jobs during school years might be relevant (if you do mention them only do so briefly), but other personal information (age, marital status, health history) should be omitted. Many times, something unusual from the personal part of your resume gets you in the door. "Founded and ran a lawn-mowing business for four years" on a college graduate's resume shows a lot of positive history to an interviewer.

Next: Cover Letter Examples