What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is sent with a resume to introduce yourself to an employer. The purpose of the cover letter is to get the employer to view your resume and grant you an interview. It is essential that a cover letter is well written as it also serves as a representation of your written communications skills. When you are applying for a specific position, you should have that position description in front of you while composing your cover letter to best tailor your skills and qualifications to the position.
Formatting your cover letter
- A cover letter should be one page in length with 3-4 single spaced paragraphs and formatted as a professional letter.
- Use a block format for your cover letter to the left margin and do not indent your paragraphs. Double space between each paragraph.
- Begin with a one inch margin on each side. You can expand the margins if needed. Your font size should be between 10-12 point font, and the same font style as your resume.
- Use the formal greeting “Dear” and address your contact as Mr., Ms., or Dr. and his/her last name followed by a colon. If the contact person’s name is not listed on the position description, you may want to look on the website or call the organization to inquire who to address your application to. Your application materials are more likely to be reviewed if it is sent to a specific person.
- If you cannot find the person’s contact information, address your letter to “Hiring Manager,” “Search Committee” or “Human Resources.”
- End your letter with “Sincerely,” leave about 4 single spaces for your hand written signature and type your name again at the bottom of the letter. If you are submitting your cover letter via email, you may choose a font with a style similar to handwriting or scan your handwritten signature on your cover letter.
- If you are submitting your cover letter and resume via email, attach both as separate documents at the bottom of the email. In the body of the email, include a brief paragraph that states your intent and refers to the attached documents. Another option is to include the cover letter in the body of your email and upload your resume as an attachment.
- If you are presenting your cover letter in person, use quality bond paper (20 pound). You will want to stick with white and off white to ensure your cover letter is easy to read.
Tips for cover letters
- Cover letters are an important part of the application process and should always be free of grammar mistakes. Always proofread your cover letter. Do not solely rely on spell check. Some employers may eliminate candidates based on errors.
- Cover letters are meant to be concise and detail specific examples of how you have developed the desired qualifications for the position.
- You will need to write a different cover letter for each position you are applying for.
- Personalize your cover letter by including something specific about the organization. (See “Researching Employers” in the “Search for Jobs and Internships,” section of our website)
- Make sure that your cover letter is a unique and personal document. It is a great idea to look at examples of cover letters, but also important to make it your own.
- Use different sentence structures in your cover letter. Avoid beginning every sentence with “I.”
- Focus on your strengths rather than your shortcomings.
- Avoid reiterating the information on your resume. Instead, expand on the information that is most relevant.
- Focus on how you can add value to the company and your skills rather than how the position would benefit you.
- Show enthusiasm for the position and the organization.
Anatomy of a cover letter
Your cover letter should look something like this and include information in each paragraph similar to what is discussed below:
Your full address
City, State Zip Code
First and Last Name of Employer
Title of Employer
City, State Zip Code
Dear Mr./Ms. _____________ :
In this paragraph, state the position you are applying for (the exact title) and how you heard about the position. Try to capture the employer’s attention by mentioning specific information about the company and position, and why you are interested in them. Demonstrate that you have done some research on the company. You may want to mention your connection to the organization or names of specific people within the organization that you have connections with. You may want to give a brief overview of your qualifications that make you a good fit for the position and entice the employer to continue reading your cover letter.
Middle paragraph (s)
The middle paragraph is the body of your letter and can be split into two paragraphs based on the content. Focus on the needs of the employer and pull out skills and qualifications directly from the position description to elaborate on your most relevant experiences. Be sure not to just list your skills or qualifications. Instead, use specific examples (from previous jobs, internships, classes, activities, volunteering, projects, etc) to describe when, where, and how you developed the desired qualifications. Demonstrate that you have done company research to convince the employer that you are the best fit for the position. Avoid reiterating your resume, but you may want to expand on the details, or summarize some highlights from your resume.
In the closing paragraph, restate your interest in the position and organization and briefly summarize your qualifications. Indicate your interest in an interview. Unless you have been instructed otherwise, you may want to be proactive in indicating when and how you will follow up with the employer. Contacting an employer directly after submitting your application is advantageous because 1) it demonstrates your interest in the position, 2) it allows you to ensure the employer received your application, 3) it helps discern where the employer is in the interview process. Thank the employer for their time and consideration.
Your full name typed
Enclosures: (This indicates there are other documents, such as resume and references, if submitting a paper copy.)
Example cover letter
It is essential that a cover letter addresses the qualifications of the position and why you are a good fit for the company. Click below to see a cover letter that was written by Michael Anical (Resume Example on pg. 7 of the Resume Writing Guide). The letter was created for the following job:
Controls Engineer Job Desciption
- Participate in product development initiatives for unit and system level controls
- Communicate with customers and provide solutions
- Develop and facilitate technical training classes and participate in seminars
- Job Qualifications:
- Bachelor’s degree in engineering discipline
- Experience with Pro-E and Excel
- Ability to manage multiple tasks
- Ability to function in a team environment
Cover letter guide and samples