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Writing Center: Cover Letter

A guide to information to help you research and write more effectively.

FAQs About Cover Letters

What is a cover letter? 

A cover letter is sent along with your resume to provide additional information about yourself and how your skills and experience are relevant to the position you are applying for. 

What is the purpose of a cover letter? 

The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce yourself and summarize your professional background. The cover letter shows the employer or admissions committee how you fit into the position you are applying for. 

How long should a cover letter be? 

Your cover letter should be a one-page document, usually around 4 paragraphs or 250 to 400 words. 

What is the most important thing to include in a cover letter? 

You should let the admissions committee know why you are the best candidate for the position. You should answer the question of “Why should I hire this person?” for the admissions committee. 

Can I send the same cover letter to all companies? 

No, your cover letter should be specific to each position you apply for. While you can maintain the same general structure in your cover letters, you should modify each cover letter to explain why you are interested in each specific position and why you are a good fit for these positions. 

Should I include references in my cover letter? 

You should not include references in your cover letter unless the company specifically requests that you do so. 

Tentative Structure For Cover Letters

  1. Header with the date of application and your contact information 
  2. Salutation or greeting to the hiring manager
  3. Opening paragraph 
    1. Grabs the reader’s attention, tells them what position you are applying for, and where you saw the position listing 
    2. Briefly explains what you plan to do for the company or your main experience or qualification that makes you a good fit for the position
  4. Middle paragraph(s)
    1. Explains how your professional background, experience, and skills make you a good fit for the position. Focuses on only a few of these qualifications 
    2. Mentions what the company is looking for and explains how you will fulfill these needs
  5. Closing paragraph 
    1. Requests an interview, phone call, etc., explains how you plan to follow-up, and thanks the reader for considering you 
  6. Letter ending and signature 

Cover Letter Brainstorming Worksheet

Instructions: Fill in your answers to the following sections on a scrap piece of paper. This information will be used to help you develop a professional resume. 

Section 1: Contact Information

Your name: ______________________________________________________________________

Your phone number / email: _________________________________________________________

Your Address: ____________________________________________________________________

Section 3: The Date 

The date you are sending the cover letter: ______________________________________________

Section 2: Address of the Company

Fill in the information for the person you are sending the letter to. 

Name:___________________________________________________________________________

Title: ___________________________________________________________________________

Company & Address: ______________________________________________________________

Section 3: Opening Paragraph

What is the title of the job you are applying for? _________________________________________

How did you discover the job opening? ________________________________________________

Why are you interested in this type of work? ____________________________________________

What can you provide for the company? _______________________________________________

Section 4: Middle Paragraphs 

What is the employer looking for? What are the needs of the company? What skills or characteristics does the company need? List 3 - 5 answers. 

  1. __________________________________________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________________________________________
  3. __________________________________________________________________________
  4. __________________________________________________________________________
  5. __________________________________________________________________________

What do you have to offer to the company that matches those needs? 

  1. __________________________________________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________________________________________  
  3. __________________________________________________________________________
  4. __________________________________________________________________________
  5. __________________________________________________________________________

What are your top assets for this position, including your skills, characteristics, knowledge, and experience? Why are these assets important? 

  1. __________________________________________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________________________________________
  3. __________________________________________________________________________
  4. __________________________________________________________________________

Section 5: Closing Paragraph

What would you like to happen after your cover letter and resume are read? (Interview, phone call, email, etc.) 

________________________________________________________________________________

Is there any information that they are expecting you to send along with your cover letter? (Resume, salary requirements, references, etc). ________________________________________________________________________________

What next steps will you take after your resume? (Phone call, email, etc.) 

________________________________________________________________________________

Instructions: Once you have filled out the above sections, you can begin formatting your cover letter by entering this information into a document. You can use the tips below to help format your cover letter.

Tips For Writing Cover Letters

  • Address your cover letter to a named individual, rather than “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam”
    • Addressing a named individual demonstrates that you care about the position enough to do research about the person in charge of hiring 
  • Ensure that you tell the hiring committee what you can do for them 
    • Do not solely focus on what the company can do for you 
  • Consider ending the cover letter with a proactive ending, such as a request to interview or a promise to follow up with a phone call
    • Proactive cover letters can be more effective than saying lines like, “If you are interested, please contact me”
  • Write in your own voice and show your personality through your cover letter
  • Avoid mentioning your weaknesses or skills that you are missing 
  • Use data or metrics to show the reader how productive you have been in previous positions
    • Highlight how many employers you supervised, what percentage you increased profits, etc.
  • Avoid making your cover letter a written version of your resume 
    • Provide specific examples of what you will bring to the company and what you have done in the past for companies
  • Look at examples of cover letters from people in the industry you’re applying to
    • These cover letters will demonstrate the format and information you should use
  • Follow the instructions provided in the job posting

Checklist For Cover Letters

Formatting 

  • Your name and contact information are listed at the top of the cover little 
  • The date of application is included between your information and the company’s address
  • The name and title of the hiring individual are listed near the top
  • The name and address of the company you are applying to is included near the top
  • The salutation to the individual is professional and contains the correct title (Dr., Mr., Mrs., etc.)
  • The cover letter is free of grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors
  • The writing has clear, concise sentences 
  • The overall tone is positive 
  • The cover letter is no longer than one page
  • The writing is left-justified 
  • The paragraphs are not intended 
  • One space exists between each paragraph 
  • The letter concludes with a salutation  
  • The letter contains your signature and written name at the bottom 

Opening Paragraph

  • Mentions the position you are applying for 
  • Explains how you became aware of the position 
  • Briefly describes what you plan to do for the company or your main qualification for the position 

Middle Paragraph(s)

  • Explains how your professional background, experience, skills, etc. make you a strong candidate for the position 
  • Describes what the company is looking for and how you fulfill these needs
  • Provides examples to support your statements 
  • Includes relevant accomplishments and achievements with data or metrics when necessary 
  • Demonstrates knowledge of the position and company you are applying for

Closing paragraph

  • Indicates a desire to hear from the employer 
  • Explains the next step you would like to be taken or you plan to take
  • Thanks the employer for taking the time to read your application

Additional Resources For Cover Letters