Writing a Good Cover Letter

Your application will likely be one of many a recruiter or hiring manager receives. How can you stand out from the crowd? A good cover letter is one way to attract positive attention and encourage the reader to consider your application further. This one-page document speaks volumes about your interest, personality, and qualifications.

The goal of your cover letter should be to help the hiring manager see your "fit" with the open position, prompting a closer review of your resume and ultimately a job interview. While writing this kind of letter may seem like an impossible task, here are a few tips to make the process not only manageable, but also effective:

  • Share your connection. Have you been referred to the position by a mutual friend or by someone currently working at the organization? It can be helpful to mention these kinds of connections early in the cover letter, but only if a professional relationship exists.
  • Customize your message. It's a good idea to prepare alternate versions of your cover letter in advance, essentially creating templates that allow you to react quickly to a job opening. But, it's important to tweak your presentation to target the specifics of each position and company. Start by using the name of the hiring manager if at all possible, or the company's name, avoiding generic salutations such as "to whom it may concern."
  • Elaborate on your qualifications. Your cover letter should not simply repeat or restate your resume, but instead highlight what makes you a great candidate for the position. Briefly explain how your experience and qualifications meet the needs of the company. Look to the job announcement for clues and keywords and research the industry to find out more about what is expected in a cover letter.
  • Share examples and stories. Describe, again briefly, a recent project or professional development experience that relates to the company's mission or the particular qualifications of the position. Let them know how you are uniquely qualified to contribute to their work and goals.
  • Express your interest. Why are you applying for this job? Let the employer know a little bit about how the company's culture, vision, and mission match with your work values and career goals. This also shows that you've done your research and aren't just sending out applications blindly.
  • Check your formatting. Follow the instructions provided by the company as they relate to file type (e.g., .doc, .PDF, .txt) and submission (e.g., email attachment, online form, print and mail). The heading (i.e., your name and contact information) should be consistent with what you present on your resume, and the letter should be no more than one page in length.
  • Pay attention to detail. A cover letter is a form of business correspondence and should be professional in tone. Carefully review your final versions to make sure that there are no errors in spelling or grammar. Remember that your application materials are also samples of your written communication skills.
  • Continue to review and revise. Keep all of your application materials, including your cover letter, up-to-date and ask others to review and provide feedback. Check with your school's career center for cover letter samples and critiques, as well as for support in other aspects of your job search.

Whether it's a printed document or a digital file, your cover letter can make the difference in persuading a manger to consider you as a qualified applicant. Your cover letter may be your first impression with a potential employer, so take the time to make sure it's a positive and professional one.