Everything You Need to Know About Cover Letters
Learn everything you need to know about cover letters with this comprehensive guide.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a single-page letter written to the person or organization listing the job you are applying for. A well-written cover letter should not only introduce you as a job candidate, but also provide additional context beyond your resume. Tailoring your cover letter to each job you apply for allows you to express your interest in both the role and the company while also demonstrating how your skills and experiences meet each specific job description.
When should I write a cover letter?
You should write a cover letter for every job or internship you apply to, even if the employer does not specifically ask for one. Taking the initiative to craft a personalized letter demonstrates a higher level of interest and attention to detail that may elevate you above other candidates. A strong cover letter serves as your personal pitch for the role.
Who should I address a cover letter to?
Whenever possible, address your letter to a specific individual within the organization who is responsible for the hiring decision. While you can typically find a name listed within the job listing; if a name is not listed, check the organization’s website for the appropriate person or use LinkedIn as a research tool. If you cannot find a specific name, address the letter as “Dear Recruiting Coordinator,” or “Dear Hiring Manager,”.
Where should I send a digital cover letter?
When applying for a position, most listings will either have their own portal to which you can upload your cover letter or request that you email your document to a specific address. Always upload your cover letter and resume as a PDF unless directed otherwise by the application. When saving your cover letter, use an appropriate and informative file name. For example, use “JaneDoe_CoverLetter” rather than “UpdatedCoverLetter” or “CLVersion3”. Keeping a file name clean and to the point may be helpful to the recruiter or hiring manager.
How do I write a cover letter?
While you should write a unique cover letter for each job you apply to, you don’t have to start from scratch each time. Follow our tips and tricks so you can craft a successful cover letter.
Cover Letter Structure
The header of your cover letter includes your contact information, by which the employer can get a hold of you. Be sure to include your name, your phone number, and email address. If you have a header atop your resume, it’s a good idea to also use that as the header of your cover letter as well. If you are submitting a digital cover letter, there is no need to include the employer’s address information. Simply begin the letter with an appropriate greeting, such as ‘Dear’ and the hiring manager’s name, following the ‘Who should I address a cover letter to’ section above.
Introduce yourself as a job candidate! You might want to include:
- The purpose of your letter (what position you’re applying for)
- How you heard about the position, especially if it’s through a personal connection
- Your education or any exceptional work experiences relevant to the position
- Personal mission statement and how this statement relates to the job/internship
Some job and internship listings will ask the candidate to use the cover letter as an opportunity to answer specific questions detailed in the posting. However, if the company asks for a general cover letter, use the body of your letter to dive into the experiences you list in your resume and provide additional context. Highlight specific experiences, accomplishments, or projects you completed that are relevant to the job description and share detailed outcomes.
Wrap-up your cover letter and leave a lasting impression with the hiring manager. It’s a good idea to include:
- A variation of your mission statement, to mirror your introductory paragraph
- The role you’re applying for
- A personal “Thank You” and an appropriate sign-off
If you’re short on experience, or having a difficult time beginning the body of your cover letter, consider asking yourself these questions to get going in the right direction.
What are my professional accomplishments?
- University experience
- Work or internship experience
- Volunteer experience
What are my professional goals?
- What industry do I want to work in and what drives me to want to work there?
- What type of daily work do I want to do?
- What type of workplace do I see myself excelling in?
What are my personal goals?
- Does the job or internship I’m applying to help me pursue short-term or long-term goals?
- Could this job or internship provide me with an opportunity to move up in the workplace or provide me with skills to pursue a more intensive role?
What is the intersection of my personal values or passions and professional goals?
- What is my personal or professional mission statement?
- How can I align my personal values or passions into my daily work?
- Does this job or internship connect to my personal or professional mission?
Once you’ve answered these questions, consider highlighting your...
- Describe your degree, school, and university, as relevant
- Highlight any relevant links from your university to the role you’re applying to
- Relevant coursework or academic experiences, including but not limited to classes/research experience
- Elaborate on the work experiences listed in your resume
- Make those experiences relevant to the reader by linking them to the job you’re applying for
- Share any relevant societies, clubs, or volunteer experiences
- Draw parallels between your non-work experiences and the responsibilities and duties of the job
Formatting Tips & Tricks
There are two things to keep in mind when formatting your cover letter:
Always include your name and contact information at the top of your cover letter. Re-using the same format as your resume is helpful to maintain uniformity. Formatting this information so it fits into the header is not only a good way to save time adjusting the rest of your letter, but also saves valuable space.
While a cover letter should never exceed a single page, playing with font size and margins can help create space after you’ve exhausted the editing process. Use a size 11 font or reduce the margins from the standard 1” to get some extra space. Just be sure to print out your letter to make sure it’s still easy to read. Save as a PDF to maintain the formatting!
Remember that just as every cover letter you write is unique, you as a job candidate bring something unique to the table. Own your experiences, showcase your skills, and don’t apologize for something you think you might be missing. Writing a cover letter can seem like a daunting task, but you will improve with practice. Proofread profusely, and if given the opportunity, have extra eyes look at your cover letter and provide feedback.
Learn more about what an elevator pitch is and how to use one.
Learn how to construct a successful resume when you have less professional/internship experience.