What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is an accompanying letter that serves as the introduction to your résumé and is not optional.  No résumé should be sent without one. The cover letter is created separately and individually for each position for which you express an interest. It is an extension of your résumé and reflects your knowledge of the employer’s needs.

How should cover letters be organized?
The cover letter typically consists of three parts: Introduction, body, and closing. Within these three parts you must get the following three points across:
    •    Why you are specifically interested in the organization
    •    Why they should be particularly interested in you
    •    When and how you will contact them to follow up on your letter and schedule an appointment.
    •    See examples on the following pages
What are some general guidelines for effective letter writing?
Use an accepted business letter format. The most common format used today is the full-block style.  Look at different samples in this workbook until you find one you feel suits your needs best.

Personalize each letter. You should make every attempt to be able to address each letter to a specific individual. This may require that you contact the organization to get the name and title of the appropriate person.  

Use non-gender language. If you are answering a blind ad with no way of obtaining a specific person to whom you can direct the letter, do not use Dear Sir or Dear Madam. Dear Director of Human Resources or Dear Hiring Official are both appropriate. But only do this when it has proven impossible to get a specific name.

Limit your letter to one page.  Clear, concise writing will ensure that you say everything you need to say in as few words as possible. Cover letters should never be more than one page and are usually not more than five paragraphs.  

Avoid overusing the word “I”.  For example, instead of saying “I have enclosed a copy of my résumé,” you can restructure sentences to use “you” more often.  The result would be “Enclosed you will find a copy of my résumé”.  A rule of thumb is to try not to use “I” more than twice per paragraph.

Vary your writing.  Variety makes your letters more interesting and easier to read.  Try to offset long sentences with short ones.  Use transitional words and phrases to help your ideas flow together more easily.

Use attention-getting action verbs and adjectives.  When describing yourself and your qualifications, use adjectives and action verbs to add flavor and arouse interest.  Pick up a copy of the Action Verbs to Enhance Your Résumé handout at the Office of Career Services to provide you with a variety of choices.

Proofread, proofread, proofread.  Check and check again for spelling errors.  Don’t rely on your spell check alone. Read your letter backwards to catch any spelling errors and typos. Check for grammatical errors by reading your letter out loud carefully from beginning to end.  Have other people check for errors as well.  

Remember to sign all your letters.

How can I describe my qualifications and strengths?

Resources that might be helpful include:

  • Phrases from prior performance appraisals and letters of recommendation

  • Current and past job descriptions and standards of performance that clearly express job expectations and responsibilities

  • Desirable characteristics and requested skills for similar jobs advertised in the employment classified section of the newspaper

  • Newspaper editorials and business sections to help write paragraphs about your industry, occupation, or the economy

This page was last updated on: January 5, 2016