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Audience, Content and Format

Writing a Cover Letter

While the resume offers a summary of your education, experience, and skills, a cover letter is an opportunity to tailor your application to each opportunity. 

Cover Letter Basics
Cover Letter Example 1
Cover Letter Example 2

Effective cover letters are constructed with close attention to purpose, audience, content, and format. Along with your resume, a cover letter provides information a prospective employer will use to decide whether you will reach the next phase in the application process: the interview.

A cover letter provides, in a very real sense, an opportunity to let your prospective employer hear your voice. It reflects your personality, your attention to detail, your communication skills, your enthusiasm, your intellect, and your specific interest in the company to which you are sending the letter.

Therefore, cover letters should be tailored to each company you are applying to. You should conduct enough research to know the interests, needs, values, and goals of each company, and your letters should reflect that knowledge.

A cover letter should be addressed to the specific company and the specific individual who will process your application. You can usually find this through research or simply by calling the company to find out who you should address your letter to.

The letter should name the position for which you are applying and also make specific references to the company. Indicate your knowledge of and interest in the work the company is currently doing, and your qualification for the position. You want the reader to know:

  • Why you want to work at that specific company
  • Why you fit with that company
  • How you qualify for the position to which you are applying

In addition to tailoring your application to a specific job with a specific company, the cover letter should also:

  • Highlight the most important and relevant accomplishments, skills, and experience listed in your résumé
  • Point to the resume in some way (as detailed in the enclosed résumé)
  • Request specific follow up, such as an interview

A cover letter should be in paragraph form (save bulleted lists for your résumé) with a conversational, though formal, tone. The first paragraph should be brief, perhaps two or three sentences, stating

  • What job you are applying for and how you learned about it
  • Any personal contacts you have in or with the company
  • Your general qualifications for the job.

The body of your letter should consist of one to three longer paragraphs in which you expand upon your qualifications for the position. Pick out the most relevant qualifications listed in your résumé and discuss them in detail, demonstrating how your background and experience qualify you for the job. Be as specific as possible, and refer the reader to your résumé for additional details.

The concluding paragraph of your letter should request an interview (or some other response, as appropriate). State where and when you can be reached, and express your willingness to come to an interview or supply further information.

Close by thanking your reader for his or her time and consideration.