In the work world, letters are an important part of networking and keeping up professional relationships. They range from Letters of Inquiry and Thank You Letters to Letters Accepting/Declining job offers. We at the Career Center can help you with all of these. View Sample Letters to learn more about writing effective letters.
Why and when do you need a cover letter?
The purpose of a cover letter is to persuade an employer to review your resume/application and consider granting you an interview. Every time you make contact with a potential employer—whether it is a company, an organization, or a school system—you should include a cover letter (except when interviewing through On Campus Recruiting). Whether you are following up on a phone conversation, writing to inquire about employment opportunities or responding to a job announcement that states “send resume” you must include a carefully written letter. Your cover letter should highlight your strongest qualifications, not simply restate information from your resume. Watch the video to the right:
Keep it succinct; avoid excess verbiage. Triple check the grammar. Written communication skills are among those mostly highly prized by employers; this is your first opportunity to showcase yours.
What should it look like?
Review the sample cover letters and other types of letters for job seekers.
What should it say?
- Keep your letter to one page; three or five paragraphs are the ideal length.
- Letters should always be addressed to a specific person whenever possible--this may require research or phone calls.
- Personalize each letter to reflect how your skills and experience match the skills and experience this particular employer is seeking.
- Refer to the source where you found the job announcement (i.e. the name of the newspaper, the web address, etc.) as well as name of position to be filled.
- Your cover letter should be professional in appearance.
- Use quality paper and envelopes, preferably the same as your résumé.
Parts of a Cover Letter
The Addressee: Always address your letter to the hiring manager. If you do not have a contact name, call the organization to find out the name and title of the person who is doing the hiring (be sure to get the correct spelling of the name). If you are not able to find out the contact person, use “Director of Personnel.”
Salutation: The salutation should begin with “Dear Mr.” or “Dear Ms.” Also, you should never use a first name in the salutation. Avoid salutations like “Dear Gentlemen, ” “To Whom It May Concern,” and “Dear Sir.”
First paragraph: State your purpose for writing the letter and include the name of the position you are applying for and what makes you the best candidate for this position—for example:
"I am submitting my resume for consideration for the position of Research Assistant at Cambridge Associates. I am confident that my academic background in Sociology, work experience and language skills qualify me for this position."
If you are responding to a classified ad, be sure to mention the publication and the date the ad appeared. If you heard about this position from someone within the organization, say so—for example:
"Juanita X suggested that I’d be qualified for this position."
Keep the first paragraph short and powerful.
Second paragraph: Provide details on how you gained your skills and experience and how they match the qualifications of the position you are applying for—for example:
My academic background in Anthropology and independent study has prepared me with solid research and writing skills which I believe will be an asset to your team.
Read the position description carefully to pull out the terms they are using to describe what they want in a candidate; use those keywords to articulate your qualifications. Researching your career field well and interviewing alums in the field (use the Career Center’s Alumni Mentor database on our web site) will help you make sure that you are highlighting the correct qualities.
Third paragraph: Mention your interest in and knowledge of the organization and in the industry in which you are applying—for example:
"I would welcome the opportunity to work at ABC Environmental Group and to be part of a team committed to reducing toxic waste."
Closing paragraph: Close your letter with a plan of action. Tell your potential employer what you are going to do—for example:
"I will call you next week to schedule a mutually convenient time to meet."
This is another case where knowing your target employer is necessary; often times, the larger organizations will not appreciate a follow-up phone call. On the other hand, making that follow-up phone call to smaller and some medium organizations can be just the thing that distinguishes you from the other candidates enough to land you an interview—for example:
"Hello, my name is xx. I applied to the yy position last week and wanted to verify that you got my materials and that you don’t need any additional information. –listen to reply– I’m really excited about this position, is there someone there I can talk to about it? Do you know what your timeline is for making a decision about whom to interview?"
Obviously, if the employer states “No phone calls,” don’t call!
Sign your letters
Always sign your letters in the space between the complimentary closing and your typed name!