Cover Letter Basics

A cover letter is an essential part of your job search communication with an employer or graduate school. A cover letter or letter of application should always accompany your résumé whether it is mailed, emailed or faxed. For specific positions, your cover letter should be tailored to each individual employer and reflect your interest in the organization or position advertised. While the résumé provides an overview of your background, the cover letter allows you the opportunity to highlight those aspects of your background that are relevant to the particular position you are seeking and gives the employer a sample of your writing skills.

Basic Tips

  • Letters should be addressed to a specific individual (preferably the person in charge of hiring or a manager/supervisor of the department to which you are applying). Make every effort to find the name of the individual, but when that is not possible, address the letter as "Dear Hiring Manager."
  • Research the organization and use what you learn to address why you want to work with the employer.
  • If you have a job description with required or preferred qualifications, use your cover letter to show how you meet the requirements for the position. Use key words from the description.
  • Focus on what you can do for the employer, not how the job will benefit you.
  • Don't start every sentence with "I." Use some variety in your sentence structure.
  • Instead of repeating your entire résumé, highlight relevant experiences or elaborate on specific areas that relate to the position. Use concrete skills and examples.
  • Don't apologize for not having certain qualifications.
  • Keep your letter short and simple. It should not be more than one page.
  • Your letter should be flawless. Keep it free of spelling and grammar errors.
  • A professional cover letter should be typed in a business format.
  • If mailing the letter, print it on paper that matches your résumé. Sign the letter in the space above your typed name with a pen.
  • You can choose to insert an image of your signature if you are emailing the letter. Career Services can help you by scanning your signature and supplying you with an electronic signature document.