Cover Letters

Overview

The cover letter works in conjunction with your resume to explain why you are applying for the job. It should be brief (250-300 words) and describe a few experiences and skills that make you a good fit for the position, speaking directly to the requirements and duties listed in the job ad.

Sections
  • Heading (your contact information, the employer’s contact information, greeting)
  • Body
    • Introduction—who you are, what the document is, and why you are sending it; you might include how you heard about the position, why you’re interested, and briefly mention how you meet the position requirements 
    • Argument—most important; persuades reader that you are a good fit; carefully choose what to  include; refer to your resume, but instead of simply repeating everything, use the cover letter to highlight important points
      • Example: if the cover letter accompanies a resume for a job at a bank, you might mention the job you held one summer as a bank clerk and the finance classes you’ve taken.
  • Final/closing paragraph—restate main points and why you align with the company; tells readers what you will do after they receive your materials; thank them for their time and consideration. 
  • Closing—“Sincerely,” and your name. 
Preparation and Deciding What to Include
  • Read the position advertisement carefully and where possible refer to the qualifications they are looking for.
  • Research the company/organization and understand their mission and goals. It may also be helpful to do additional research on the industry and the company’s top competitors.
  • Call “insiders”—anyone who works at or has special knowledge of the organization or someone you trust who knows about the field/job.
    • Ask yourself:
      • What does the organization value?
      • What are the requirements of the job? What kind of person will they need to fill this position? How can I show them that I am that kind of person?
  • When choosing what experiences to include, ask yourself “Why is this experience relevant to this position?” Highlight those experiences that show that you are the best fit the position.
  • Use the cover letter to offer information that isn’t apparent from the resume. Don’t just list your previous positions. Your resume will tell the reader what your skills and experience are. Your cover letter will explain what they mean.
  • Write in the language and vocabulary of the company you’re applying to. For example, if it’s a British company, you’ll want to make sure you don’t use words that have different definitions in American English and British English. And if you choose either American or British English, use that language throughout. 
Formatting Details
  • The entire document should be single-spaced.
  • Leave one extra space between the heading and the greeting.
  • Leave three spaces between the end of the letter and the closing.
  • Leave one space between each paragraph.
  • Justify the body of the letter and make sure margins are even on the left and right side.
  • Sign your name in ink between the salutation and typed name—if you need to submit your application digitally, sign the letter and scan it as a PDF. 

Download the handout associated with this post for a formatting example.

Download a Sample Cover Letter

Download a Sample Letter with Explanation