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Resources: Cover Letter Development

Cover Letter Introduction

What is a cover letter? And why should you write one? A cover letter is a screening devise used by employers. It should accompany each resume you send to a prospective employer. A good cover letter is as important as a good resume. In fact, in many instances your cover letter is more important than the resume itself. If it does not impress or catch the attention of the reader, he or she may not even look at the resume. The cover letter should be brief and personal, address the needs of the specific employer to whom you are writing, and reflect your natural choice of vocabulary.

Purpose of Cover Letter

The purpose of a cover letter is to highlight four key components:

  1. Introduce yourself.
  2. Create employer interest in you.
  3. Draw attention to one or two exceptional and relevant skills on your resume.
  4. Show an employer that you are interested in his or her company.

Cover Letter Guidelines

Target each cover letter to a specific employer. Address your correspondence to the person with hiring authority, using her/his name and title. A "form" or photocopied cover letter is NEVER appropriate.

In the opening paragraph of your cover letter, introduce yourself, clearly state your reason for writing. Mention your interest and how you learned about the opening, identifying the position for which you would like to be considered and why you are interested in this organization.

In the middle paragraph(s), highlight your educational credentials, employment experiences, and attributes that qualify you for the position. Use specific examples from your extracurricular activities, course work, and employment that demonstrate skills pertinent to the position, such as leadership, decision-making, and communication. Refer the reader to your resume for more details.

In the closing paragraph, you may request an interview. Depending on the circumstances, you should also state that you will call on a certain date to arrange a convenient time for an appointment, or request application materials, or affirm your interest in the position and/or organization.

Type your cover letter, using a computer and high-quality printer, on the same quality paper that matches your resume. Proofread for misspellings, grammatical errors, and poor writing before you submit it to a prospective employer! Poor writing or typos are a sure way to direct your application to the "reject" pile.

Cover Letter Checklist

_____1. Is it addressed to a specific person?

_____2. Is the salutation followed by a colon rather than a comma?

_____3. Have you told the employer exactly what position you are applying for?

_____4. Have you stated why you are interested in the position and the organization?

_____5. Have you told the employer what you can do for the organization rather than what it can do for you?

_____6. Did you use specific examples to sell your skills?

_____7. Is the sentence structure varied? Have you limited the use of the words "I" and "My" to begin sentences?

_____8. Have you requested action, mentioning that you will call, or are available to be contacted for an interview?

_____9. Did you express appreciation for the employer considering your application?

_____10. Is it an original letter rather than a mass-produced copy?

_____11. Is it neat and attractive? Is it free of typographical and grammatical errors?

_____12. Does the whole letter fit on one page?

_____13. Is it laser-printed on high-quality paper that matches your resume?

_____14. Did you sign it? Preferably in black ink!

Tips for Formatting a Cover Letter

Do use quality stationery and envelopes that match your resume. Do use matching fonts for the letter and resume. Do be simple and brief. Say what you mean without a lot of fancy wording. Keep your paragraphs to four to five sentences. Do place the most important items first, followed by facts. Do use the first sentence of each paragraph strategically. Your reader may skim the letter and read only the first sentence. Do use the active voice and action verbs. Do make sure there are no errors or typos. Don't rely solely on the computer's spell-check function. Do keep it short. One page with three to five paragraphs should convey your message. Do sign the letter. This may be obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people forget to sign their letters. Don't address letters to "Dear Sir or Madam," or "To Whom it May Concern." Make a phone call or two to find out the correct name (and spelling) and title of the individual you should contact. Confirm the address while on the phone. Don't make statements you cannot verify. You should be able to cite specific examples of using the skills you say you have.

Don't use vague words and phrases. Avoid overused and meaningless terms such as "hardworking," "strong communication skills," or "loyal."

Tips for Writing a Cover Letter

  1. Write to a specific person. Spell the person's name right and include his or her title if possible.
  2. Write each cover letter separately. Make each job you apply for unique with a personalize sentence or two to show your sincere interest in the specific employer.
  3. Use language that is simple, with clear sentences. Avoid flowery vocabulary that you would not normally use.
  4. Be confident about your experience but don't be tempted to exaggerate your level of skills or experience.
  5. Check and recheck your letter. Concentrate on spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. Use spell check if available or have a skilled writer edit your work.
  6. Make sure the final letter is professional in appearance. Use standard business letter format on stationery that matches your resume.
  7. Complete your letter with a strong closing. State your intention to follow up in a week or two to check on the interviewing process.
  8. Keep copies of everything you send out.