A cover letter accompanies your resume when applying for a job or internship. Your task in writing an effective cover letter is to provide a persuasive argument that shows why you are a good match for the position. The goal of an effective cover letter, coupled with a dynamic resume, is to get an interview.
- Evaluate the skills and strengths that are important to the employer. Read the job listing carefully. Write a list of the key skills and experience requested by the employer. How does your experience and coursework relate? If a detailed posting isn’t available, use your “professional common sense” or ask a career coach for guidance.
- Research the organization. Review the organization’s website, and search the name of the organization online for any recent news articles. Your letter will be more effective if you have current information on the organization’s initiatives and mission.
- Identify the correct person in the organization to receive your application. Address your cover letter accordingly. Look for information in the job posting or online. If you are not able to obtain this information, you can use "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Human Resources Manager" as your greeting depending on the organization.
Setting the Tone
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. Discuss your relevant experience (including work, internships, or classwork), and be sure to use a professional, rather than a casual tone.
- Resist the urge to repeat everything on your resume!
- Highlight experiences you have had, and your strengths and skills that are most relevant to the position.
- Focus on the skills and experience that you are bringing to the employer, rather than why the job is the perfect fit for you.
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.
Parts of a Cover Letter
Cover letters should be no more than one page in length. Review our Sample Cover Letter (PDF).
Learn more about crucial components to include:
Be clear about why you are writing. Tell the employer which position you are applying for and communicate your interest. Create a clear connection immediately between you and the job or organization, and discuss what drew you to the role. If you have been referred by a networking contact, mention that.
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 between you and the open position. It may be helpful to consider the following questions:
- What do you see as your most important qualifications related to this position?
- What experience do you have (jobs, internships, community service, classes) that most closely relates to this position?
- What especially interests you in working for this organization and/or department? (Consider population served, product, or grade level)
- Why are you drawn to this field of work? How does it match your abilities, values, and interests?
- Can you think of a specific time when you demonstrated an important skill that is relevant to the open position?
The body of the cover letter may be one paragraph or two, 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 the organization or department. Express your desire to meet to learn more about the organization and the position.
Remember, generic cover letters do nothing to impress anyone, and the best way to avoid writing them is to take the time to think carefully about the link between you and the position. In order to be invited for interviews, you must be distinctive.