A cover letter is a vital component of your job application correspondence. Each time you send out a resume, you will need to include a focused, well-written cover letter. In order for a cover letter to be effective, it should be unique to the position for which you are applying. This means that you will have to write a new cover letter each time you apply for a new position. This can be time-consuming, but it is well worth the time to present a professional and positive image to your prospective employer.
Why send a cover letter?
A cover letter explains to a prospective employer who you are, why you’re sending a resume, and why you’d be a good addition to their organization. It provides you the opportunity to clarify precisely how your skills and background will contribute to the organization. Of course, in order to do this well, you will need to research the organization and the position itself. A good cover letter will address some of the specific requirements for the position and attributes of the organization, and will clarify how your background will make you a good fit.
Your cover letter should be concisely written and no longer than one page. Use the same font as you used in your resume, and print out the cover letter on paper that matches your resume. The tone of the letter should be professional, but don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm about the position. After you have written your letter, check to see that you have varied your sentence structure. (For example, do not start all of your sentences with “I.”) As with any correspondence you send to a potential employer, make absolutely certain your cover letter contains no typos or errors. Proofread, proofread, proofread!
Elements of a Cover Letter
Your Contact Information: At the top of the page, list your address, city, state, and zip. You may include your email address and phone number if you choose. After your address, leave one blank line, and then type the date.
- Employer’s Contact Information: Following the date, leave one or two blank lines, and then type the name, title, organization name, and address information of the employer.
- Salutation: Address your letter to a specific individual, if at all possible. If a specific contact person is not named in the job listing, try looking at the employer’s website or calling their main number to ask for the name of the proper contact person. If it proves impossible to find the name of a specific individual, you may use the more generic salutation of “Dear Employer” or “Dear Name of Organization.” Note that the salutation in a business letter should be followed by a colon rather than a comma.
- First Paragraph: This is your chance to grab the reader’s attention. Use the first paragraph to introduce yourself and explain why you are writing. Make it clear what position you’re applying for, and state how you learned of the opening. Be sure to convey some enthusiasm about the organization and the position open. If you are writing an inquiry letter when there is no immediate opening that you know of, identify the type of position or general professional area in which you are interested.
- Middle Paragraph(s): Use this section of your cover letter to make a case for why you’re the best person for the position. Make specific reference to qualities listed in the position description, and explain how you have demonstrated/developed these qualities yourself. Point out any specific achievements or accomplishments of yours that are particularly applicable to the position. You may also speak to how your academic training has prepared you for this position. If you are applying for a position with a nonprofit organization, you should be sure to explain how your background coincides with the organization’s mission. You can elaborate on points you’ve made in your resume, but take this opportunity to go into more depth on a few of the particularly relevant ones.
- Closing Paragraph: Reiterate your interest in the organization/position, and thank the reader for considering your application. You should also indicate that you will follow up on this letter (and make sure that you do so with a phone call in a week or so!)
- Signature: Most business letters are closed with “Sincerely.” Leave three or four blank lines and then type your name. In the blank space above your typed name, sign your name in black or blue ink.