A cover letter introduces you and your qualifications to the employer and, if effective, generates employer interest to invite you for an interview.

Though you will not always be required to submit a cover letter, you should take the opportunity to do so. A well-written, tailored cover letter that connects your qualifications to the employer’s needs can be persuasive.

Writing a focused, effective cover letter begins with research. Learning the organization’s needs is essential to producing a letter that will persuade the recruiter to consider you for the job. In the letter, you want to offer evidence that you are capable of bringing value to that  particular employer. A “one-size-fits-all” approach to cover letter writing will not work.

The following information and resources may be helpful to you as you begin to write cover letters.   We encourage you to have your cover letter critiqued along with your resume by a member of the Career Center consulting staff.

Before Writing a Cover Letter

Important Questions to Answer before Writing the Cover Letter

Your goal when submitting a resume and cover letter is to persuade the employer to grant you an interview. To be persuasive, you have to understand what the employer needs and address how you can contribute to meeting those needs. A cover letter tailored for each targeted employer begins with research.

Using the job posting and the information available on the employer’s website, answer the following questions. You may also want to consult additional online resources to become more familiar with the industry as a whole. By answering these questions, you will have essential information you need for writing an effective, targeted cover letter.

  1. What are the educational requirements for the job?
  2. What experience is required?
  3. What experience is preferred?
  4. What skills are required?
  5. What skills are preferred?
  6. What is the organization’s mission statement?
  7. How do you think the advertised position fits into the mission of the organization?  What role do you think it has in helping the organization meet its goals?

Match your qualifications to the employer’s needs:

  • How does your academic background match the educational requirements?
  • How does your experience match the responses to questions 2 and 3?
  • How does your skill set match the responses to questions 4 and 5?
  • What specific example(s) from your experience shows that you have demonstrated skills needed by the employer?
  • Employers want to know what value you will bring to the organization and one way to convey that is to think of how you will play a role individually in helping them move forward. Based on your response to question 7, how will you, if hired, contribute to the organization meeting its goals?

Writing a Cover Letter

If you have an opportunity to upload or send a cover letter along with your resume, do it! A cover letter is a marketing tool. Research the employer and craft your letter to demonstrate your knowledge of the organization and how you can contribute to its success.

Format

You can use the standard business letter format shown in the sample cover letter below or on page 34 of the Career Guide (on 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper). Some students choose to use the same heading that appears on their resume to create the appearance of a personal letterhead. For most job seekers, a one-page cover letter is appropriate.

Greeting

Try to identify a specific person involved in the hiring process. If that is not possible, use “Dear Human Resources Manager:” or “Dear Hiring Manager:” Do not use “Dear Sir or Madame:” or “To Whom It May Concern:” as those are considered outdated. Use a colon instead of a comma after the greeting.

First Paragraph

Refer to the position and how you learned about the opening. Include some piece of information to make the reader want to keep reading. If you have a mutual acquaintance whose name will get attention, this is the place to use it. If the job for which you are applying requires creative writing skills, research guidelines for how to write creatively while promoting your qualifications.

Middle Paragraphs

Draw a connection between your qualifications and experiences and the employer’s requirements and needs. Researching the organization will help you tailor this section and keep the reader’s attention. Use examples of how you have demonstrated skills they need.

Closing Paragraphs

In closing the letter, establish your next step. Taking a proactive approach and stating that you will call within the next week or two to inquire about an interview is often an effective way to express your interest and initiative. If employers clearly state they do not want phone calls, do not say you will contact them by phone.

Emailing Your Cover Letter

If you are going to email your resume, then the content of your cover letter can serve as the body of the email. If the employer requests that you attach both cover letter and resume, then your email will be a brief but professional message indicating that the requested documents are attached. Check to make sure they are attached before sending. Type the targeted position title in the subject line of the email. After sending your initial email, send a follow-up message asking if the attached documents were received and readable.

Common Cover Letter Mistakes

  • Spelling and grammatical errors
  • Not tailoring for specific job
  • Failing to show evidence of employer research and knowledge of job
  • Repeating information
  • Making it too brief or too wordy
  • Focusing on what you need or want versus what you can contribute
  • Omitting contact information

Tip: Read your cover letter out loud. This can help you catch awkward phrasing.

Networking/Prospecting Letter

Networking is the most effective job-search strategy, and pursuing leads through letters remains one way to expand your network and possibly obtain a job. A networking letter may be sent via traditional mail or email. An updated resume should accompany the letter.

  1. Tone
    • The tone of a networking letter is professional but not overly formal if you know the individual. If the person is not a close acquaintance, then make the connection for him or her in the first paragraph.
  2. Message
    • To be effective, your letter needs to provide a brief summary of the skills you can contribute to an employer. You may want to include a brief example of how you have demonstrated these skills.
  3. Be Respectful
    • Keep the letter brief and positive. You are asking the reader for a favor, and you don’t want to appear negative and frustrated over your job search.
  4. Ask for Assistance and Direction
    • The purpose of your letter is to get advice and possible job leads. Take initiative to follow up and inquire about other potential contacts.

Sending a Thank-You Letter After a Career Fair or Networking Event

Write a letter after receiving information, advice, or a referral from a contact. Write a letter immediately after talking with an employer at a career fair or interviewing for a job. The letter should be written within 24 hours of the conversation.

Should I Type It or Write It?

Typing your thank-you letter is a way to show you know how to write a standard business letter. Handwritten notes are typically more appropriate for those who assisted you during your on-site interview (receptionist, etc.).

Is It Appropriate to Email a Thank-You Letter?

If you believe the recruiter will be making immediate decisions regarding interviews, you may email your thank-you letter. Write “Career Fair Follow-Up” or something similar in the subject line and use the standard business letter format.

Writing a Thank-You Letter

  • Opening paragraph: Thank the recruiter for his/her time in talking with you at The University of Alabama career fair on (date). You may also want to mention something specific that you discussed to reiterate your interest and help the recruiter remember your conversation.
  • Second paragraph: Restate why you believe that your qualifications (skills, experiences, interests) fit well with the organization.
  • Second or third paragraph: If there were significant points about your experience or qualifications that you did not mention at the career fair, this is an opportunity to share those. This is also an opportunity to respond to questions the recruiter asked at the career fair that you were unable to answer at that time. You do not need to apologize and offer reasons for not responding then; simply provide the information.
  • Closing paragraph: Once again, express your interest and your appreciation for their consideration. If the recruiter gave you instructions for following up or for signing up for an interview, state that you will be taking that action. If no specific follow-up plan was made, state that you would like to stay in touch regarding opportunities and offer your contact information.

Writing a Thank-You Letter After an Interview

A thank-you letter shows thoughtfulness, a characteristic many employers value. Writing a thank-you email or letter also gives you an opportunity to reiterate your interest in the position.

When to Write a Thank-You Letter

The letter should be written within 24 hours of the interview. If you know the organization will be making a hiring decision right away, send your thank-you letter as an email.

Letter Tips

If you prefer to send a letter and time permits, type the letter to make it look more professional and to show that you know how to format business letters. If there were others in the organization who assisted with your interview arrangements, you might send them a handwritten note. Thank employers for their time and express your continued interest in the organization. The letter should be short and to the point; however, you can still mention something you found particularly appealing or interesting.

Resources