COVER LETTER BASICS
What is a Cover Letter?
The structure of the cover letter consists of an introductory paragraph, a middle paragraph for reflecting your unique strengths matched to the employer’s needs, and a concluding paragraph. When writing a successful cover letter please keep in kind:
- Letters should be individualized for each employer
- Double check grammar and spelling and ask someone to proofread your work
- Cover letters are typically one page - being able to write and summarize yourself concisely is an important skill to demonstrate to an employer
- Always include your full contact information on both your cover letter and your resume. Repeating the formatting from your contact information on your resume for a letterhead effect creates a good impression.
- Speak confidently about yourself. Clearly communicate that you are the ideal candidate.
- The cover letter is an extension of your resume.
Addressee's Info & Salutation
Try to address the letter to an individual and include their job title. Check job description and an employer's website. We strongly advise that you meet with the employer or another important figure within the company/organization before sending your letter and resume. If you absolutely cannot come up with a contact name, do not use "Dear Sir/Madam.”
Here are some alternative salutations:
- If you can’t find a person’s name but can find their job title: "Dear Director of College Relations,”
- Address the letter using the job title and add search committee: “Dear Education Director Search Committee,”
- If you’re sending the letter to HR, address it: “Dear Human Resources,”
- If you’re really not sure: “For your consideration,”
Explain why you are writing the letter (be clear about the position or type of position you are seeking). Attract the employer’s interest by briefly touching on your specific knowledge of the organization and/or position. Is this an inquiry or are you applying for a job? How did you find out about the position or the organization? If someone referred you, you may mention their name.
Your middle paragraph(s) should communicate precisely what you have to offer the employer. Why do you want to work for this organization? How has your background prepared you for this position? Select your most relevant details and skills from past experiences that relate to the position/organization at hand. Show the employer how your background matches the
requirements of the job. Avoid vague statements; back up claims with specific examples. Refer to your resume. (Your middle paragraph(s) is critical to your success.) Use keywords from the job description rewritten with personal traits that back up those claims. For example:
Job description requirements: Ability to maintain an excellent work ethic, a high level of energy and exceptional enthusiasm all day
Your cover letter: I am an energetic, enthusiastic student and usually play the role of the motivator on team projects. I have a strong work ethic and am committed to completing tasks on time and to the best of my ability.
Restate your interest and willingness to meet the employer or provide additional information.
Thank the employer for his/her time and consideration of your application/inquiry.
Complimentary Closing & Signature
End the letter with “Sincerely.” Type your name after your closing. Include a signature in black ink if you are mailing or faxing your cover letter. Include a digital signature if possible, but a signature is not necessary if you are sending via email.
Since most resumes and cover letters are submitted via email or online, follow the specific directions given in the job posting for how they would like the information formatted and submitted. If no directions are given, it’s best to save your cover letter and resume as a PDF - cover letter first page, resume second page(s), and title it with your name: “Smith_Jane Resume and Cover,” or with your name plus the job title, “Smith_Jane Admin Assistant.”
A note about online applications
Many employers are now asking applicants to submit an online application. These forms ask for a lot of the same information you would include in your resume so even if you are also attaching your resume at the end, you may cut and paste from your resume for the online form. It’s okay if the information is the same on the application and your resume.