Cover letters are a place for you to tell your story outside of strictly formatted documents or question-and-answers that might be part of an application. They serve as a writing sample, giving a clear example of your written communication skills. You absolutely need a unique cover letter for every position you apply to, rather than just changing the name of the position you’re applying to.
What is included in a cover letter?
The goal of a cover letter is to convince the reader that you are genuinely interested in a specific position at a specific organization and highlight that you (due to your most relevant skills/experiences) are a good fit for the position, the organization and the industry.
Your cover letter should provide insight into how you are uniquely suited for the position. Read the job description a few times—what skills are being highlighted?
Use a formal letter format. Include your address, the date, the contact’s name and address. Whenever possible, address the letter to a (relevant) specific person. If not known, a phrase like “Hiring Manager” is acceptable.
Cover letters are typically three short paragraphs:
- Opening paragraph. State why you are writing, what you’re applying for/type of work you’re looking for, and (if relevant) how you heard about this position. Overall, this paragraph should introduce why this letter exists and why you're interested in the position.
- Middle paragraph. Explain why you are interested in working for this employer and in this kind of position. Relevant past experience can be helpful, but they’ll see your resume. Only include past experience if there’s something specific you want to say about it (like, the course you took being your motivation for this kind of work). Highlight your skills or abilities that are relevant to this job. Avoid words like “try,” “somewhat,” etc. when describing your experience. Stay factual, optimistic and confident. That’s who recruiters are trying to hire.
- Closing paragraph. Reiterate your interest in the position and your enthusiasm to join this organization. Thank them for their consideration of your application, and state that you look forward to hearing from them, and to the opportunity to discuss the position further, etc.
What are some other tips for cover letters?
Cover letters should most often be a single, one-sided page. Keep it short and to the point! It’s ok if your first draft is longer. Editing it down from a longer draft helps you keep the best bits, making a stronger letter overall.
If you're not sure what a good cover should look like, research examples from reputable sources. There are hundreds of resources from job-finding websites to university career services that can help you find examples of good cover letters.
Another tip is to put the cover letter down for a few weeks, then pick it up and pretend you’re the hiring manager. Would you hire the letter writer? As with everything, get as many people (roommate, college career counselors, your undergraduate advisor) to review your documents and give their insight. Is it well-written? Would they hire you? Does it sound like you?
A few don’ts for cover letter writing
- Don't apologize for skills you don’t have. Instead highlight why you are qualified.
- Don't use one cover letter to cover all of your bases. Be sure your cover letter is targeted to each position you apply for.
- Don't regurgitate your resume, which focuses on your list of accomplishments. In a professional, conversational manner, discuss the relevant info in your resume, providing further insight into how you’re a good fit.