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.
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.
Match your qualifications to the employer’s needs:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tip: Read your cover letter out loud. This can help you catch awkward phrasing.
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.
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.
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.).
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.
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.
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.
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.