The cover letter is simply a letter that accompanies your résumé and serves as an introduction of your qualifications. Its main purpose is to interest employers in your résumé. An effective résumé will often lead to an interview invitation, which may result in a job offer. The cover letter, therefore, is extremely important and MUST communicate how you can contribute to the organization in a meaningful way. Forget about your needs: Employers are primarily interested in how your skills can fulfill their needs. Remember, a cover letter is a sample of your writing, so a well written cover letter can earn you points!
Cover Letter Writing Tips
- The cover letter is an extension of your résumé. Both should be on the same kind of paper, and have the same font style.
- Each cover letter should be addressed to a specific person. If after doing some research you find no appropriate name, list a generic title (“Dear Search Committee or Hiring Manager for X position”, etc.) followed by a colon.
- Take the time to customize your cover letter to the position you are applying for. Specifically, use the keywords found in the job description within your cover letter. Above all, stress your skills, abilities, and what you can do as a result of your background, training, experience, or education.
- Avoid flowery phrases about personal growth, challenge, advancement, etc. These phrases often say nothing. Instead, speak directly about concrete reasons why the employer should be interested in you.
- Let your personality show. Be warm and personable. Most letters are dull and mechanical, so make yours the one that is different.
- Avoid repeatedly using the personal pronouns “I” and “My”.
- Effective cover letters are short and concise, no longer than four or five paragraphs. The cover letter should be formatted like a business letter and not exceed one page in length. See the back of this sheet for more suggestions.
- Always end the cover letter with “Sincerely” and your name. If sending a hard copy, be sure to actually sign the letter.
- If you do not receive a response within seven to fourteen days, you may follow up with a phone call or a note expressing your interest, unless the job posting indicated that you should not contact the employer.
Creating an Electronic Cover Letter
If you are emailing your cover letter:
- Include a descriptive subject line like “Application for the [name here] position.”
- Address the email to the recipient followed by a colon (e.g.. Dr. Smith:). There is no need to list the mailing address, etc., as you would at the beginning of a printed cover letter.
- Paste your Word version cover letter in the body of the email.
- Limit each line of text to 60 characters to avoid hanging lines. Tip: email the cover letter to yourself, friends, etc. to assess how the email will appear to the employer.
- Consider also attaching a Word or PDF version of your cover letter to the email to ensure the appearance of the cover letter remains intact when printed.
If you are submitting a cover letter and résumé through an online application system:
- The same guidelines apply in this situation as in developing a “paper” cover letter.