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Section11.3Cover Letters

What is a cover letter?

Chances are, if you are applying for a job or internship, you will be required to write a cover letter. Cover letters are short, one-page letters in which you introduce yourself, identify which position you are applying for, and explain why you are interested in and qualified for that position. Cover letters can be a crucial part of an application because in many cases it is the one place where you will be able to present yourself as a person rather than just a list of past experiences and jobs (as is the case with your resume). A cover letter will be among the first things a potential employer will read, so it's important to put some time and effort into the crafting of your cover letter.

Address

A cover letter is a version of a business letter. Include your name, your address, the date you are applying, the hiring manager's name and title (if you have it), the company/agency name, and the company/agency address.

Cover letters are generally addressed to the individual who will be doing the hiring. If you know their name, feel free to address them formally with their appropriate title, even if you know them well (e.g., Ms., Mr. Dr., etc.). If you do not know the name of the person who is hiring, you can address the letter to the appropriate role: hiring manager, program director, company recruiter, or internship coordinator. Again, it's important to address all roles formally.

  • Dear Ms. Smith:
  • Dear Mr. Smith:
  • Dear Dr. Smith:
  • Dear Hiring Manager:
  • Dear Program Director:
  • Dear Recruiter:
  • Dear Internship Coordinator:
List11.3.1Greetings

Here's an example of how all of the above fits together:

Body

When writing the body of your cover letter, don't beat around the bush. Be clear, concise, and straightforward about why you're writing and how you meet their qualifications. The body of your cover letter should generally be about three to four (short) paragraphs long, so you don't have time to be flowery.

First Paragraph

Your first paragraph should introduce yourself, specify which job you are applying for and why you are interested, and provide a brief summation of your qualifications. For instance, you might begin with something as straightforward as “I am writing to apply for the position of .” You may also mention where you found out about the position (on the agency's website, through a professional connection, etc.). You might then mention a little bit about yourself and your experience (“As a graduate in neuroscience at the University of Puget Sound . . . ,” “As a raft river guide in Alaska last summer . . .”). You can finish the paragraph with a brief list of the qualifications you feel are pertinent to the available position (“I believe my , , and have prepared me particularly well for the position of .”) Remember that it's also important to show interest in the position: Why are you applying? Why are you excited for this opportunity? What contributions can you bring to the position? What will you get out of it (though, keep in mind that the employer is probably not as interested in what you will gain from the position as what you will bring to it)?

Second–Third Paragraphs

Your next couple of paragraphs should build on the ideas you introduced in your first paragraph by demonstrating in more detail why you are qualified for the position. In these paragraphs you can use more qualitative statements and specific details to emphasize those skills that best demonstrate your competency. The job application will likely include a list of the qualifications and duties of potential candidates, so try to choose experiences that exhibit those skills and competencies. Select a couple of these experiences to elaborate, making sure to include your responsibilities in those roles, the duties you performed, and what you learned from them that would be valuable for you in this position. If you don't have experience doing this job in particular, try to emphasize those parts of your past jobs that do fulfill qualifications specific to the job and your willingness to learn new skills. However, it's important to be honest when writing your cover letter; eventually your true qualifications will become clear, so don't exaggerate or misrepresent yourself.

Fourth Paragraph

In your final paragraph, it's important to remind the reader of your interest in the position and what you think you can contribute to the agency/company. To do this you can reiterate those specific skills and competencies that make you especially qualified for the position. Finally, provide your phone and email contact information so they may get in touch with you and let them know you are excited to meet with them in person. Thank them for their time and the opportunity to apply for/consideration for the position.

Closing

Closings for cover letters should be formal. “Sincerely” and “Thank you” are good go-to closings. Below this, sign your full name in ink (if you can), with your name typed below the signature.

Be specific.

When writing your cover letter, be specific about the skills and competencies you bring to the position.

Demonstrate your knowledge of the position and/or company.

It's important to write a separate cover letter for every job to which you are applying. Even if you apply for a million jobs, you should make sure each and every cover letter is tailored to each position.

Avoid overused character traits.

While it may be tempting to use phrases that highlight positive qualities about your work ethic (passionate, determined, hard worker, self-starter, fast learner), these characteristics are often perceived as overused and lazy attempts to market yourself. Instead, try to demonstrate these qualities through your specific experiences.

Don't just rewrite your resume.

Don't do it. Your cover letter should emphasize two to three experiences that demonstrate your specific qualifications for that position.

Use clear and simple prose.

Cover letters should be no more than one page, so you'll have to be selective with the language you use.

Keep it formal but conversational.

Even though you should be formal while addressing your prospective employer, you don't need to be overly formal—try to keep it conversational.

For more tips and tricks on how to write a great cover letter and resume, see the “CES Cover Letter and Thank You Note Guide” from the Career and Employment Services webpage. When in doubt, visit Career and Employment Services!

List11.3.2Tips for Writing