What is a Cover Letter?

The purpose of a cover letter is to convince an employer that your skills and background make you worth interviewing. While a resume summarizes your experience, a cover letter persuasively relates that experience to the specific job to which you are applying. Although a cover letter is not always required, when it is, it gives you the opportunity to explain why you’re interested in that particular company, making you a more attractive candidate to that employer.

CAREER TIP: It’s true that some employers barely glance at cover letters; however, many others review them attentively. View it as an extra opportunity for you to promote yourself and increase your chances of getting an interview by sending a well-written cover letter with every application when requested.

Writing your Cover Letter

A cover letter is your chance to tell YOUR story! Make sure each cover letter is uniquely tailored. It is crucial that you are not simply restating your resume but putting your accomplishments in context. This will give potential employers an insight into your personality, something that’s hard to discover by just skimming your resume.

A strong cover letter will demonstrate:

  • Knowledge about the job, the company, and the industry
  • The effort you have put into your job search and enthusiasm for the job
  • Writing and organizational skills
  • Understanding about yourself, your skills, and your potential contributions

Targeting your Cover Letter

There are four main components of writing a cover letter:

This is the most important step to determine your fit for the position, so don’t skip this! Gather background on what the hiring team is looking for through networking, researching, and analyzing the job description, especially keywords in skills/responsibilities sections. Your research can not only help you identify where you can add value to the organization, but more importantly, it can help you determine if the company fits your own values and needs and is a place you could thrive.

CAREER TIP: When it’s a good fit, cover letters are not that hard to write! Examples of matching experiences or stories explaining your motivation to apply should come to mind. If you are twisting yourself into knots to try to explain why you should be hired, this is a sign that it may NOT be a good fit!

As part of preparation, it is important to carefully review the job description and identify the most important keywords and skills categories.

Prepare and organize your thoughts by identifying which of your skills and experiences best demonstrate your fit to the role and the organization. Organize which of your experiences and accomplishments match each skill category or job requirement.  All experiences could be relevant!

Once you have organized your thoughts and have your key themes and stories ready, begin incorporating these into your cover letter. This helps keep your document concise, short, and to the point as employers don’t want to read a lot when they have many candidates’ applications to review.

First, construct 3 – 4 paragraphs organized around key themes of the job description and explaining how your background makes you a good fit for the role/organization. Make sure you date your letter and use the same heading as your resume. When writing your greeting, be sure to address a specific person if possible, or simply write “Dear Hiring Manager”. Stay away from “To Whom It May Concern”, do not use this as a greeting.

Next, open with which position you are applying to and where you found it. This makes it easier for the hiring manager to track your application. Don’t forget to mention why you are applying to that specific company in your introduction. This is critical because it shows them that you’ve seriously considered them, and that you’ve done your research.

Lastly, summarize what makes you an ideal candidate. Avoid the word “perfect” here and try to find a natural way to say this. Here is where you’ll tie in some of that prep work you’ve done to highlight key skills, themes, etc. about yourself – almost like a thesis statement.

One of the most important steps when writing your cover letter is for you and others to review it! Proofread, proofread, and proofread some more! The more reviewing of your document(s), the better! One typo or error might make the difference in being chosen for an interview or not. Review the application instructions carefully and make sure you follow them.

We recommend reading your cover letter out loud to make sure your words sound right as this allows you to pick up on any grammatical issues or sentence errors. Have trusted members of your network (family, friend, advisor, professor, Career Design) read your cover letter. Be open to other’s feedback, but make sure to take in comments and incorporate as you see fit. This is, after all, your own words and body of writing and you need to stand behind it 100%. Give yourself some time for the editing process. This will help reduce any stress for when you are ready to submit your application materials. You will likely revise your cover letter many times before it is good to be sent.