How to Write a Cover Letter

The Cover Letter You NEED

Applying for a job with a great resume can be stressful on its own.

Add a cover letter to the mix and things can become complicated if your first impression (via the cover letter) isn’t done well.

There is, of course, a lot of information out there on how to create the perfect cover letter. That is to say nothing on the template, formatting and style of the cover letter itself.

Some of us are eloquent writers that can whip up a cover letter any day.

Many of us on the other hand struggle with writing, let alone writing about ourselves in a concise, professional manner, conveying the best attributes of our careers to align with the current position at hand.

Although there is a lot of information out there on how to write a cover letter, we decided to keep it academic and follow the rules of thumb that Purdue OWL gave us:

Formatting Your Cover Letter

Your cover letter should convey a professional message. Of course, the particular expectations of a professional format depend on the organization you are looking to join.

For example, an accounting position at a legal firm will require a more traditional document format. A position as an Imagineer at Disney might require a completely different approach. Again, a close audience analysis of the company and the position will yield important information about the document expectations. Let the organization’s communications guide your work.

For this example, we are using a traditional approach to cover letters:

  • Single-space your cover letter
  • Leave a space between each paragraph
  • Leave three spaces between your closing (such as “Sincerely” or “Sincerely Yours”) and typed name
  • Leave a space between your heading (contact information) and greeting (such as, “Dear Mr. Roberts”)
  • Either align all paragraphs to the left of the page, or indent the first line of each paragraph to the right
  • Use standard margins for your cover letter, such as one-inch margins on all sides of the document
  • Center your letter in the middle of the page; in other words, make sure that the space at the top and bottom of the page is the same
  • Sign your name in ink between your salutation and typed name

Organizing Your Cover Letter

A cover letter has four essential parts: heading, introduction, argument, and closing.

In your heading, include your contact information:

  • name
  • address
  • phone number
  • email address

The date and company contact information should directly follow your contact information. Use spacing effectively in order to keep this information more organized and readable.

Addressing Your Cover Letter

Whenever possible, you should address your letter to a specific individual, the person in charge of interviewing and hiring (the hiring authority). Larger companies often have standard procedures for dealing with solicited and unsolicited resumes and cover letters. Sending your employment documents to a specific person increases the chances that they will be seriously reviewed by the company.

When a job advertisement does not provide you with the name of the hiring authority, call the company to ask for more information.

Even if your contact cannot tell you the name of the hiring authority, you can use this time to find out more about the company.

If you cannot find out the name of the hiring authority, you may address your letter to “hiring professionals” – e.g., “Dear Hiring Professionals.”

The Introduction

The introduction should include a salutation, such as “Dear Mr. Roberts:” If you are uncertain of your contact’s gender, avoid using Mr. or Mrs. by simply using the person’s full name.

The body of your introduction can be organized in many ways. However, it is important to include, who you are and why you are writing.

It can also state how you learned about the position and why you are interested in it. (This might be the right opportunity to briefly relate your education and/or experience to the requirements of the position.)

Many people hear of job openings from contacts associated with the company. If you wish to include a person’s name in your cover letter, make certain that your reader has a positive relationship with the person.

Most important is to briefly overview why your values and goals align with the organization’s and how you will help them. You should also touch on how you match the position requirements. By reviewing how you align with the organization and how your skills match what they’re looking for, you can forecast the contents of your cover letter before you move into your argument.

The Argument

Your argument is an important part of your cover letter, because it allows you to persuade your reader why you are a good fit for the company and the job. Carefully choose what to include in your argument. You want your argument to be as powerful as possible, but it shouldn’t cloud your main points by including excessive or irrelevant details about your past. In addition, use your resume (and refer to it) as the source of “data” you will use and expand on in your cover letter.

In your argument, you should try to:

  • Show your reader you possess the most important skills s/he seeks (you’re a good match for the organization’s mission/goals and job requirements).
  • Convince your reader that the company will benefit from hiring you (how you will help them).
  • Include in each paragraph a strong reason why your employer should hire you and how they will benefit from the relationship.
  • Maintain an upbeat/personable tone.
  • Avoid explaining your entire resume but use your resume as a source of data to support your argument (the two documents should work together).

Reminder: When writing your argument, it is essential for you to learn as much as possible about the company and the job (see the Cover Letter Workshop – Introduction resource).

The Closing

Your closing restates your main points and reveals what you plan to do after your readers have received your resume and cover letter. We recommend you do the following in your closing:

  • Restate why you align with the organization’s mission/goals.
  • Restate why your skills match the position requirements and how your experience will help the organization.
  • Inform your readers when you will contact them.
  • Include your phone number and e-mail address.
  • Thank your readers for their consideration.

A sample closing:

I believe my coursework and work experience in electrical engineering will help your Baltimore division attain its goals, and I look forward to meeting with you to discuss the job position further. I will contact you before June 5th to discuss my application. If you wish to contact me, I may be reached at 520-777-7777, or by e-mail at xyz@gmail.com. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Although this closing may seem bold, potential employers will read your documents with more interest if they know you will be calling them in the future. Also, many employment authorities prefer candidates who are willing to take the initiative to follow-up.

Additionally, by following up, you are able to inform prospective employers that you’re still interested in the position and determine where the company is in the hiring process. When you tell readers you will contact them, it is imperative that you do so. It will not reflect well on you if you forget to call a potential employer when you said you would. It’s best to demonstrate your punctuality and interest in the company by calling when you say you will.

If you do not feel comfortable informing your readers when you will contact them, ask your readers to contact you, and thank them for their time. For example:

Please contact me at 520-777-7777, or by e-mail at xyz@gmail.com. I look forward to speaking with you. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Before You Send the Cover Letter

Always proofread your cover letter carefully. After you’ve finished, put it aside for a couple of days if time allows, and then reread it. More than likely, you will discover sentences that could be improved, or grammatical errors that could otherwise prove to be uncharacteristic of your writing abilities.

Furthermore, we recommend giving your cover letter to friends and colleagues. Ask them for ways to improve it; listen to their suggestions and revise your document as you see fit.