A cover letter accompanies your resume when you apply for a position or inquire about future opportunities.
Think of your resume as a professional timeline. In it, you highlight significant accomplishments and your qualifications by date. But just as a timeline doesn’t provide context for the dates and events cited, neither does a resume; the story is missing.
Your task in writing effective cover letters is to provide a narrative about the development of your expertise in a manner that distinguishes you from other candidates.
Before You Write
- Evaluate the skills and strengths that the employer needs in potential candidates. Read the job listing carefully to learn what the employer sees as important. It may also be helpful to speak to someone who holds a similar position in another organization to gain insight into necessary qualifications. You’ll then be able to write a letter that creates a “fit” in the employer’s mind between you and the open position.
- Research the organization you’re writing to. Read their publications and website. You’ll make a much better impression if you have current information on the organization’s initiatives and philosophy.
- Identify the correct person in the organization to receive your application and their correct title. Address your cover letter accordingly.
Your goal: Make the employer want to meet you. After all, that is the purpose of writing to them—you want an opportunity to discuss your qualifications in person.
Step back from your career and summarize the development of your strengths and experiences that are most relevant to the position for which you’re applying. While you may refer to the resume in the letter, it’s not necessary to repeat the entire chronology of your career.
Keep in mind that many employers view cover letters as an example of your writing ability. In many positions, written communication skills are integral to the job. Your cover letter is an opportunity to clearly establish that you possess that ability.
In most cases, a cover letter should be one page in length. Only individuals with many years of experience applying for executive level positions would write a longer letter.
Cover letters should be written in business letter format, properly aligned and punctuated. Review our Sample Cover Letter (PDF).
Below, learn more about crucial components to include:
The most important goal when writing the opening paragraph is to gain the reader’s attention and to interest them in reading further.
Communicate your interest in the position you’re applying for and how you learned about the opening. Create a clear connection between you and the job or their organization.
If you’ve been referred by a mutual acquaintance, the opening paragraph is a good place to mention that, along with any other relevant details about the referral.
Visualize yourself in the employer’s position and think carefully about what you would look for in potential candidates for the job. Your task is to create a bridge in the employer’s mind between you and the open position. It may be helpful to consider the following thoughts:
- What do you see as your most important qualifications?
- Why are you drawn to this field of work? How does it match your particular abilities, values, and interests?
- How do you evaluate your past experiences? What specific aspects of them were most satisfying and related to this job opportunity?
- Can you think of a moment when you demonstrated a skill that’s relevant to the position?
- What motivates and excites you about your profession?
Once you’ve identified the aspects of your experience that you feel passionate about, you can then write a much more effective cover letter. The body of the cover letter may be one paragraph or it may be more, depending on how you want to organize your thoughts. Just keep in mind that you want every sentence to convey something meaningful about your fit and qualifications for the position.
Leave the employer with a clear sense of your interest in the position and of the contribution you would make to their organization.
You may refer the reader to your resume or to any additional enclosed or material. Express your desire for an interview to learn more about the organization and the position. If the employer is in another city and you plan to be in their area on a specific date, you can indicate that as well.