Cover letters and résumés form the majority of job application documents. They indicate your interest to an employer and provide information about your academic and professional background. There are a few types of cover letters, but here we will focus on cover letters that accompany an application to a known job opening. Different disciplines or job fields may have different preferred styles for cover letters and résumés, so check with a field-specific source to make sure your documents will be accepted.
Writing a Cover Letter
- Use the format and layout for a standard business letter. A cover letter/résumé book or career center can help you use this format correctly, or your word-processing software may have a template you could use.
- Address the letter to the hiring manager, if possible. If you don’t know the person’s name or gender, use a generic salutation such as “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.”
- If you have any recent gaps in your employment history, use a body paragraph to explain the reason–whether you were laid off, went back to school, spent time as a stay-at-home parent, etc.
- Proofread your letter. It is the first thing a hiring manager will read, and any mistakes or errors could make them stop reading and not consider your application.
- Write a different cover letter for each position for which you are applying. This takes time, but a hiring manager will know if you’ve submitted a generic, multi-purpose cover letter.
- If possible, include information that reflects what you know about the company and the position.
Intro (3-4 sentences)
Indicate why you’re writing, the position you’re interested in, and a brief (one or two sentences) summary of your qualifications.
Body (2-3 paragraphs)
Explain how your academic and professional experience has prepared you for the position, giving concrete examples of how you’ve used skills that match those in the job description.
Note: Be careful not to repeat your résumé here. The purpose of the cover letter is to convince or explain to the reader why they should read your résumé and grant you an interview.
Conclusion (one paragraph)
Thank the reader for their time, and indicate when and how you will follow-up with them. Include information about the best method and time to reach you.