An instructional guide to writing effective cover letters.
The Cover Letter
The purpose of a cover letter is to persuade the employer to read your résumé and grant you an interview. The letter should have three recognizable parts: the opening, which explains why you are writing; the main body, which lists two or three of your major accomplishments and gives the reader a good reason to want to interview you; and the closing, which expresses a desire for future communication.
Guidelines for an effective cover letter:
- Always direct your letter to a specific person, preferably an individual with hiring authority. If you do not know to whom you should write, call the company/school/agency operator for the name of the appropriate person to contact. Be sure to spell his/her name correctly and use the proper title.
- Tailor your letter for the specific job and organization. DO NOT use a non-personalized form letter. Answer the question, “Why should I hire you?”
- Keep your cover letter to one page of three short paragraphs.
- When answering an advertisement, cover all of the points requested in the exact order outlined, since some prospective employers use those directions to test the applicant's ability to follow instructions precisely.
- Have several people proofread your letter for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and typographical errors. Your letter must be neat and absolutely error-free. Realize the reader will view the cover letter as an example of your written communication skills.
- Match the paper and font used in your cover letter with your résumé. Use standard fonts. Recommended fonts are Times New Roman or Arial.
- Edit your cover letter carefully. Is it interesting and persuasive? Does it include important aspects of your college experience, your pertinent qualifications and skills, and a bit of your personality? Re-read it from the employer's perspective — does it answer the question, “Why should I hire you?”
Generic Cover Letter Template
You can use the template and suggestions below to frame your cover letter.
Date of Writing
Mr. or Ms. Employer
Title of Employer Organization
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Mr. or Ms. Employer:
1st Paragraph: WHY. Your opening should invite and entice the employer. State why you are writing, usually to apply for a position. If you heard about an opening through a personal reference, tell the employer about it immediately; your reference's name should be the first word of your first paragraph. If you are writing an unsolicited letter to an organization with no announced openings, be as specific as possible about the type of job you are seeking. Tell why you are particularly interested in working for the organization. Do some research to find out the organization's mission, recent history, services, and news and why you believe you fit with their philosophy or culture. Do not restate the company mission, website or prospectus — they already know it!
2nd Paragraph: YOU. Present your strongest and most relevant qualifications for the job, in decreasing order of importance. Keep the employer's perspective in mind! Succinctly expand on information presented in your résumé; do not merely repeat it. Use an example of how your listed skills/qualities tie into the company's culture or meet the job description.
3rd Paragraph: CONTACT. Close by making a specific request for further contact. Make sure your contact information (email, mobile number) is accurate. Keep your tone confident! Remind the reader that you are willing and able to be of service to the organization. Thank the employer for any consideration he/she may give to your application.
(Your Handwritten Signature)
Your typewritten name
Your mailing address City, State Zip