What is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter is an additional communication, most often sent with your resume, which further explains how you heard about a position, why you are interested in applying, and the skills that would make you a great fit. It is sometimes called an application letter or letter of inquiry, depending on if it is sent in response to a job opening or e-mailed to a company for which you would like to work. Employers receive hundreds of letters and resumes for each advertised position vacancy. Your letter, therefore, will have to be well written and designed to attract attention in a positive way.
When to submit a cover letter:
- If the application directly asks for a Cover Letter
- If there is a space to upload an additional file other than your resume or lists “Cover Letter Optional”
- Unsure? Contact the company’s recruiter or clarify if you’re attending a Career Fair or other event
Not all job positions require or ask for a Cover Letter. If the job description does not specifically ask for the file and there is not an upload box, the company may not want to review this additional file.
Your cover letter should:
- Communicate something personal about yourself and,
- Include information specific to the division, organization, or company to which the letter is being sent.
This lets the reader know that you have spent some time researching the organization and writing a personal letter. When a cover letter is not tailored to the specific company and position, it will most likely elicit a negative reaction or be immediately disregarded. To receive a positive response, it is imperative that you research every company to which you apply in order to give knowledgeable and specific reasons for your interest in that company and how you can meet their needs.
Do not repeat your resume; use the cover letter to interpret and expand the resume, by stressing relevant details through examples.
- Communicate your ability to assist and support the organization.
- State explicitly how your background relates to the specific job.
- Emphasize your strongest and most pertinent characteristics.
- Demonstrate that you know both the company and yourself, and why you are a fit.
- Cover letters should never be duplicated.
Cover Letter Format
Each Cover Letter should be typed, single-spaced, one page in length, and addressed to a specific individual in charge of the department or unit in which you want to work or to the human resources department. If you are not able to find a specific contact for the position, the following options for addressing the letter are acceptable: “Dear Hiring Manager”, “Dear Hiring Committee”, or “Dear Search Committee”. Avoid addressing the letter using “To Whom It May Concern”, “Hello”, or “Dear Sir or Madam”.
Remember to use correct grammar and triple-check the letter to avoid spelling, typographical, or grammatical errors. Lastly, save and submit your cover letter as a PDF file so your formatting will stay consistent no matter what program is used to open the document. Your file name should be professional, including your First & Last name, along with the position title or company.
Remember: The letter and resume are examples of your written communication skills and organizational abilities. A sample letter has not been provided because your letter of application must communicate your ambition and enthusiasm in a unique and assertive manner. Check the template provided in the guidebook on page 26 and write your own letter that is unique to your background, skills, and experiences.
In addition to the above template, another acceptable Cover Letter format is below:
Paragraph 1: Introduction
Paragraph 2: Skill/Requirement #1 (from Job Description)
- Example: Communication
- Write a STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) story describing a time when you used Communication as a skill. This could include an experience during a group project, an example from a student organization you’re a member of or a situation at work. Make sure to be specific and relate your story back to the job description.
- Sample paragraph: In my current role as a Resident Assistant on campus, I am responsible for maintaining a strong level of both written and verbal communication with 40 resident students on my floor. This past semester, I took the initiative to send a weekly newsletter to all residents to share upcoming events, academic deadlines, and relative campus updates. This promoted a sense of community by encouraging residents to become acquainted and created opportunities to participate in floor/building activities. Additionally, I serve as a peer helper when residents have a concern or problem and mediate conflicts that may occur between roommates.
Paragraph 3: Skill/Requirement #2
- Example: Teamwork
Paragraph 4: Skill/Requirement #3 (Optional)
- Example: Time Management
Conclusion & Salutation