A strong letter of application or “cover letter” accompanies your resume and presents you as a qualified, intentional, enthusiastic, and informed candidate for a job. By grounding your letter using the position description, you can “connect the dots,” that is your skills and experience and what they are looking for in a candidate.
Some cover letters could also introduce you to an employer, even in the absence of a posted position. Your letter can inquire about potential opportunities, follow-up a networking conversation, or establish a desire to have one at an upcoming job fair or on the telephone or LinkedIn.
The cover letter should target your audience. It should be concise and on-topic at all times. It serves as a “cover page” or accompanies your resume, but it should not simply repeat the resume or even constantly refer to it as this leads a reader to want to skip reading one or the other. A strong cover letter enhances your resume and draws attention to it by presenting an argument (connecting those dots). It won’t get you the job by itself, but, along with a strategically-organized resume, it can get you on the short list and land the interview!
An excellent cover letter will communicate the following four things:
- Your purpose in writing and your strong interest in the job/employer/area of work.
- Why you want to work there/in the position.
- Why they should hire you.
- That you would be excited to have the opportunity/work there.
- In most cases, left-justify all components and paragraphs on the left. Be consistent.
- Use the same size and type font as your resume.
- Keep your letter to one page.
- Single space your letter, or else it will look like a paper or school essay, not formal business correspondence.
- Separate each single-spaced paragraph with a line of space, using the return key.
Your Phone Number
Your Email Address
Include Date: Month/Day/Year
Name of a Specific Person, Title
Address of Company
Dear Ms. McJob:
- Whenever humanly possible (pun intended!), cover letters should be addressed to an individual rather than to a Sir or Madam or “To whom it may concern,” all of which can sound archaic and impersonal.
- Names of real persons to contact can usually be found in the job description, the SCC Job Board, LinkedIn, or on company websites.
- Consider calling the organization directly to ask, if you are unable to find a specific name.
- The greeting should be formal and include a colon, not comma, at the end.
- In the absence of a name, “Dear [Hiring Manager/Human Resources/Search Committee]:” are several acceptable salutations.
- Use the correct prefacing title (Mr./Ms./Dr.) and never “Mrs.” or “Miss” as these can be perceived as unnecessary or even sexist distinctions in a professional context.
- The first paragraph introduces you and states your purpose in writing.
- Keep it short and focused on things like your interest in a specific position, how you heard about it or where you saw it posted, and why you are interested in working for that specific organization.
- If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you may want to do some research. Also, briefly summarize the most relevant or key skills and experience that relate to the job. Present your summary as an argument (ie: “My strong combination of X, Y, and Z makes me an excellent candidate,” or “Related to the job description for [position], I can offer X, Y, and Z and believe I can make contributions/be an asset to you as a [position].”
The Body can be two paragraphs or just one. If you were unable to fully explain your interest in the first paragraph, a first, short, next paragraph describing your motivation to work for that specific employer (why them) or to perform the duties of the job will identify you as a purposeful, informed candidate. Avoid platitudes and flattery and instead be specific.
- Expand on skills, experience and other involvement that are relevant to the position. Be sure to carefully read the job description to identify priorities, key skills, and desired knowledge or experience (these are KEY WORDS for your letter). If the potential employer is asking for someone with excellent communication skills, expanding on your previous experience working as part of a committee to plan an event will directly connect your experience and background to the skill set the employer is seeking. A cover letter is the place to expand on experiences or explain how they relate, as well as a personal “soft skills” or coursework that you may not have had the opportunity to describe on the resume.
Focus on connecting dots between your resume and the job or organization, and be sure to show that you have done your research. Make sure you:
- State what you can do for the company, not what the company can do for you.
- Sell your abilities, skills, and experience, mainly as they relate to the employment needs of the company. First, include related core skills sought in the job description, but these can also include transferable skills from unrelated jobs or community involvement (such as work ethic, flexibility, teamwork, dependability, communication and customer service skills, etc.).
- Write in a direct manner. For example, instead of, "I think you would find me to be a valuable addition to your organization," write: "I know I would be a valuable addition to your organization because [fill in blank]."
- The closing paragraph should be brief and simply restate your strong interest in the job and how much you would appreciate the opportunity to interview.
- Some say applicants should clearly outline what action they will take to follow up (e.g. via email in two weeks) or even request an interview and tell the employer that you will call him or her within a specific period of time – DO NOT DO THIS! It can sound presumptuous and off-putting.
- It is helpful to include your phone number in case your resume and letter become separated once they reach the employer. Be sure to thank the employer for his or her time and consideration of your application.
- “I welcome the opportunity to speak with you about how I can contribute.”
- “I would be very excited to learn more about this opportunity and share how I will be a great fit for XYZ Corporation.”
- “I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss how my qualifications will be beneficial to your organization’s success."
Left justify this, just like the salutation and main paragraphs. As with any job-related correspondence, it's best to opt for a more formal language and tone — a cover letter is no place for "XOXO" or a casual "Take care" or even “Best,” as a closer.
Leave three lines of space, and then type your name, also left justified. Sign your name neatly in the space in-between.
- If mailing your application, use the same resume-quality paper for both the letter and resume.
- Attach letters to resumes with paper clips, not staples.
- When emailing your materials, or when attaching them to an online application, generally save them as two separate documents with titles that identify (“[Your Name] Resume” and “[Your Name] Letter of Application”).
- When possible, save your documents as PDFs, not in Word or as a Google Doc. This locks the formatting.
- Follow directions! If an employer requests a specific format or provides prompts for you to address, these directions supersede any other advice.
- Proofread! Typos or grammatical errors or any other form of poor writing will reflect poorly on any applicant and often eliminate them from consideration. SCC Career Counselors are happy to proofread your letter!