Writing a Cover Letter

Why do you need a cover letter?

Cover letters are used as a means of introduction. Your cover letter allows you to briefly present yourself as the perfect candidate by highlighting your most impressive and relevant experience.

Cover letters may not always be required when applying for internships, but are certainly appropriate to show a potential internship site that you are serious. When writing an internship cover letter, you may not have much relevant experience. It is okay to instead describe your educational background or focus on your desire to work in the chosen industry or career field. This way, you can still demonstrate your sincerity and interest in the career field.  

You should write a different cover letter for EACH position to which you apply. Incorporate information from the job description into your cover letter to demonstrate that you have the skills the employer is seeking. If your cover letter is well written, it will lead the employer to the other part of your application - the resume. If your letter is poorly written, the employer may not even take the time to review your resume and your application has a good chance of ending up in the trash. Be sure your first written impression is a good one by following the steps below.

 


The Basics

Your cover letter should use the same font style as your resume, be no longer than one-page in length and contain 3-4 short paragraphs. A busy employer will probably not read a long cover letter, squeezed onto one page with small fonts and shrunken margins. Your cover letter should appear neat, easy-to-read and appealing to the eye.

 

Business Format

Two addresses should appear at the top of every cover letter you send; one belongs to you and the other to the person receiving your letter. For your address, you have two choices: copy the heading style from your resume or use traditional business format. 

For traditional business format, include your street address, city, state and zip code. Underneath the address block, skip one line and enter the current date (or the date you plan to mail the letter). Take time to spell out the entire month.

Next, skip one line and enter the contact information for the person receiving your cover letter. Begin with the contact's name, his or her title, the department or division, the name of the company, street address, city, state and zip code. In some cases, you may not know the name of the contact person, especially if you are responding to a public advertisement for a position. Do your best to find the name of the person responsible for hiring this position by searching the Web and/or telephoning the main office. If the company will not provide you the name, simply omit the name and title from the address information and only include that which you know.

 

Salutation

Letters targeted at the appropriate hiring manager or human resources person are more likely to be read and received positively than letters mailed "To whom it may concern." Underneath the last line of the company address, skip one line and type "Dear Ms." or "Dear Mr." or "Dear Dr." and enter the last name of your contact person, followed by a colon.  Be careful to use the correct gender when addressing your cover letter and never use "Dear Mrs." or "Dear Miss" in a formal business letter.

If you do not have a specific contact name, there are a few options for addressing your letter:

  • To whom it may concern:

  • Dear Human Resources Director:

  • Good morning:

  • Dear Selection Committee: (only use if you know a group is involved in the hiring process)

  • Dear Board of Directors: (only use if you know this is the group reviewing your application)


The First Paragraph

Generally, you should begin your first paragraph by clearly stating the purpose of your letter. Why are you contacting this person (to apply for a job), which position are you applying for (name of position or department), and how did you hear about the opening, are questions that should be answered in the first few sentences.  

It is very impressive to an employer if you can demonstrate knowledge about their organization.  For example, cite information that attracted you to the company or a specific reason why you desire to work there. Check out the company's Web site and research local papers to see the latest news updates.

Lastly, you want to include in the first paragraph a short statement that expresses your honest desire to work for the organization.  Briefly, demonstrate that you are a worthy applicant and entice the employer to keep reading.  

 

The Middle Paragraph(s)

This is the part of the cover letter where you indicate your desire to work in the field and call attention to your strengths by highlighting one or two of your special accomplishments. If you feel as though some of your skills have not been well described on your resume, you can discuss those here.  

The second and optional third paragraph(s) of your cover letter tell more about yourself and why you're the perfect candidate for the job. Be sure to link your skills to the needs of the company and the requirements for the position. The middle paragraph(s) are your opportunity to draw attention to key facts in your work history or educational/training background. You can also mention any connection or prior experience you may have with the company.

It is NOT, however, sufficient to simply state what you believe to be true. You must show or demonstrate that truth. For example, your letter might say, "I am a hard-working, intelligent individual who is very creative and a good listener."  Well, anyone can say this. A successful cover letter will describe a job, class or group project where the candidate used and showed those skills. Don't claim to be creative, provide an example of something creative you did. If you are hard working, describe why or how you know that. Explain about a time when you worked really hard to achieve a goal and share how that project turned out.  Your comments should always be backed up by specific examples.

 

Final Paragraph

The final paragraph is your farewell. You should restate your interest in the position and thank the employer for reading your letter. It is appropriate to suggest a time when you'll be getting in contact by phone or to indicate that you will wait for a response. Don't forget to provide your telephone and/or e-mail address again in this paragraph of the letter. The following are sample sentences you may include in your final paragraph:

  • Thank you for your time.
  • Thank you for reviewing my qualifications.
  • Thank you for your consideration.
  • I look forward to your reply.
  • I look forward to hearing from you.
  • I look forward to your response.
  • I look forward to your call.

 

Closing

Although the closing of your letter will probably be just one word, it is an important part. Many candidates write impressive cover letters, only to ruin the overall impression with a horrible closing. It is NOT appropriate to use any of the following as a closing to your cover letter:

  • See ya,
  • Thanks a lot,
  • With great honor and respect,
  • Humbly yours,
  • Always yours,
  • With Sincere Thanks and Heartfelt Appreciation,

There are a few "tried and true" methods of closing your cover letter that are safe and effective. You might think these are boring, but boring is better than silly or cheesy. Career Services recommends you use a traditional closing such as:

  • Sincerely,
  • With sincere regards,

After your closing, skip three lines and type your full name (as it appears on the top of your resume).

 

Your Signature

This part is easy - DON'T FORGET TO SIGN YOUR NAME! Nothing looks worse than a letter with a big white space where the signature is supposed to be. E-mailed cover letters should simply include a typed name underneath the closing. 

 

Enclosures

Below your typed name, skip one line and type the word "Enclosure." This indicates that another document (probably your resume) is included in your application packet, which you have mailed to the employer. If the employer asked you to submit writing samples or a reference list, the word "Enclosures" should be followed by a number in parentheses indicating how many separate documents you have included with the cover letter.

 

Do's and Don'ts

DO use spell check - misspelled words on a cover letter will almost certainly send your application packet straight to the bottom of the pile, if not the trash.

DO proofread your letter several times.  Spell check can't always catch "there" vs. "their" and may not notice that you typed "Rolling" instead of "Rollins."

DO ask someone else to proofread your cover letter.  It's always a good idea to have fresh eyes review your work to catch any small mistakes you may have missed.  Don't forget, Career Services can help!  Drop off your cover letter in the office and pick it up the next day with plenty of tips and suggestions written in the margins.  

DO keep your cover letter brief.  Busy employers do not want to read detailed, lengthy descriptions of your entire work history from age 12-present.  Stick to the highlights and keep your cover letter on one page.

DO use professional language.  Remember, this is an employer's first impression of you as a potential employee

 

DON'T hide your reasons for writing the letter down in the last paragraph.  Begin your letter by telling the reader why you are writing.

DON'T begin your letter with something like, "Hi, My name is Sam Smith and..."  The employer can read your name at the bottom in the signature.

DON'T overuse the thesaurus.  Speak in everyday language that is clear, easy to understand, and professional.  If you don't really know the meaning of a word, don't use it in your letter!

DON'T use the same cover letter every time you submit a resume.  Tailor your letter to be specific to the job for which you are applying. 

 

 

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Resume Writing Guide

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Resume Writing Guide
(Experienced Candidates)

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Cover Letter Guide

 

 

 

 

 


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