More often than not, Cover Letters will be the document accompanying your resume when applying for internships and jobs. Spend time understanding the purpose of the Cover Letter and what you should be including to ensure your application stands out amongst other candidates.
Purpose of a Cover Letter
Highlight Experience - A cover letter accompanies a resume being sent to an organization for a specific position or area of interest. The well-written cover letter highlights selective aspects of your background which best suit the employer's needs. The cover letter bridges the gap (or "makes the connection" instead) between your skills and experience and the qualifications of the position.
Capture Attention - A well-written cover letter commands the reader's attention. It stimulates interest in you and your resume as well as reflects your interest and fit within the job and organization.
Ask for an Interview - The opportunity to interview is the ultimate goal of your cover letter and resume.
Cover Letter vs. Letter of Interest
Letters of interest are very similar to cover letters with the main difference being you send a cover letter in response to an existing job posting and a letter of interest if there is a company, position, service you want to provide, etc. that you are interested in but there is no specific opening for the role. A letter of interest (also called an inquiry or prospecting letter) can also be used if you are inquiring about possible openings. Address your letter to a specific individual, usually the person who supervises the functional area where you’d like to work. Be as specific as possible about the type of position that interests you. Ideally, your research will reveal the job titles used by this employer. If not, use generic job titles commonly understood in the field.
What Goes in a Cover Letter?
A well-written cover letter should always accompany your resume or application. Its purpose is to introduce you and expand on the experience in your resume. A good cover letter should:
- Include specific information about why you want to work for the employer
- Exemplify clear and concise writing skills
- Demonstrate your knowledge of the position
- Align your experience with the desired qualifications of the employer
- Make your points succinctly; every point should support your readiness to contribute
Writing a Cover Letter
Know the employer
Research the employer’s organization to see how your experience, skills, and abilities meet its needs. In your cover letter, show why you are a good fit. Send the letter to a specific person whenever possible; otherwise, use “Dear Hiring Representative(s):”
Analyze the job description
Review the job responsibilities and qualifications carefully and design your cover letter to match these as much as possible. Sometimes job listings are vague. In these cases, draw from your experience of similar jobs to infer what skills and abilities might be required or research similar positions online.
Analyze your background
Think about your background in relation to the job responsibilities and qualifications. Ask yourself, “What have I done that is similar to what this job entails?” Consider courses taken, classroom projects, work experience, summer jobs, internships, volunteer experience, extracurricular involvement, and travel. Be sure to indicate in the first paragraph what position you’re seeking. If a specific person recommended you for or alerted you about the position, include their name and title up front.
Breakdown of a Cover Letter
Your opening paragraph tells why you are writing and notes where you learned about the position or if someone referred you. When referring to the position, use the title used by the employer. If someone referred you and no specific title is known, be as specific as possible about the kind of position for which you are applying. Do some research on the organization so that you can state your genuine interest in this particular employer and why it is a good fit for you, not how it will help you. (This paragraph should be 3-4 sentences addressing: what you’re applying for, where you came across the opportunity, why you’re interested in the position, and why you’re interested in the company/organization).
Your middle paragraph(s) should highlight examples that demonstrate your relevant experience, background, and/or coursework that will show the reader why she/he should consider you as a candidate. Be sure to connect your experiences and/or education to the position description. By using examples, show the employer that you have the necessary experience they seek. (This paragraph should be 5-6 sentences. It is always better to highlight one example that can attest to 2-3 skills the employer is looking for. This paragraph should connect for the employer why your skill fit.)
You should include another paragraph detailing additional experience that will demonstrate or connect your background with the position. Consider what is not represented within your resume but applicable/related to the job and/or organization. Also, remember that the reader will view your letter as an example of your writing skills. (This paragraph should be 5-6 sentences. This paragraph should focus on personality fit. Ask yourself, what is it about who you are, how you work, what you’re passionate about, etc. that makes you not only able to do the job, but the ideal candidate for the job.)
In your closing paragraph, reiterate your interest in the position, thank the employer for his/her consideration, and provide your contact information – both email and phone. (This paragraph should be about 3-4 sentences. If the employer requests additional information – i.e. salary requirements, start date, etc. – to be included in the cover letter, this is where you can include that in your cover letter.)
Cover Letter Checklist
_____ Address information and date
_____ Employer/hiring manager contact information
_____ Name of Hiring Manager
_____ Company name
_____ Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr. Last Name:
_____ Position of interest
_____ How you found position
_____ Why you are interested in position
_____ Why you are interested in the company/organization
_____ 2-3 experiences
_____ Skills learned
_____ Position title
_____ Relatable to position of interest
_____ How do these experiences make you a great candidate?
_____ Illustrate your enthusiasm
_____Connect your experience to description
_____ Summarize skills and personal traits you will bring
_____Consider what is not represented in your resume but applicable to the job and/or organization
_____ Express interest in discussing position further
_____ Thank for their time and consideration
_____ Restate contact phone number and email address
_____ End with closing: Sincerely, Thank You, etc.
_____ Sign your name: electronic signature if sent through email, actual signature if mailed out
____ Proofread for typos and accuracy of contact information
Applications via the Web or Email
Many job applications require submission of a resume via email, or through the company website. Depending on the application instructions, there are several ways to apply via e-mail.
- Use the body of the e-mail message as if it were a formal cover letter, and attach the resume (it is recommended that you always submit the document as a PDF).
- You can also place a text version of your resume in the body of your message and attach a formatted version as an attachment or link to an online version.
- Always fill in the subject line. Flag your message with a succinct, informative header "Applicant for (job title)." Some job postings specify what to use in the subject line, such as the job title or a reference number.
- Create a standard signature that is automatically attached to your business e-mails. Include your full name, title or major (if you are a student), phone number, address.
- Answer emails promptly, especially time-sensitive interview requests.
- Always respond to emails in professional, business language.
- Use spell check, and proof-read all your correspondence.
Inspired in part by: Syracuse University Career Services, Cornell Career Services, UC Berkeley Career Center, and RIT Career Services