Writing a Cover Letter

A great cover letter can be the key to finding a job, but a lot of students don't know what a cover letter is, or what it is supposed to include. To get started on writing a great cover letter, look at some of our sample cover letters and read through the frequently asked questions below:

Cover Letter Questions

1.  Why bother? 

The purpose of a cover letter is to stand out from the crowd and get your resume read. To do this, you will need to:

  • Read the job description and organization website carefully. Highlight your skills specific to the job.
  • Convince the recruiter that you "fit the bill" and are a great match for their opening and organization.
  • Give the employer high expectations for you. Make them want to meet you in person.

2.  Who am I trying to impress? 

A recruiter! Make sure you find a person to whom you can address your cover letter. If it is not listed on the job posting, look on the organization website for a Human Resources Manager. If you can't find anyone listed online, call the office and ask for the contact information for the person who handles recruiting. The recruiter will use your cover letter to:

  • Determine your writing skills
  • Evaluate your level of professionalism
  • Get a sense of who you are including the following: 
    • Experience
    • Skills
    • Personality
    • What you're doing now
    • What you want to do
    • Why you're applying for the job
  • Determine if you may be a good match for their opening

3.  What are the basic rules for writing a cover letter?  

  • Keep it simple: one page maximum!
  • Single-space everything and put one space between paragraphs.
  • Use standard business letter format.
  • Be direct and concise. Like your college essay, there is not enough space to be wordy!
  • Be absolutely positive that there are no typos.

4.  Where do I start? 

The trick to writing a great cover letter is to put yourself in the employer's shoes. This requires doing research!

  • Google the organization and see if they are in the news.
  • Ask professors, peers, employers, and advisors what they know about the organization
  • Talk to anyone you know who works at that organization
  • Know the employer?
    • Scour the internet to gain an understanding of the work they do.
    • What different areas of focus do they have?
    • How big is the organization? Are there different offices? Is it growing?
    • How do they market themselves?
    • What type of language do they use? (Use this language in your letter!)
    • What is the organization's mission statement?  What are there company values?
  • Who is the ideal candidate? 
    • Look up employee bios on their website and see what experience they highlight.
    • What are the qualifications listed in the job posting?    
    • What are the functions of the job?

5.  How do I stand out? 

By making it clear to your employer that you "fit the bill." You want the recruiter to read your cover letter and think, "Wow! This candidate really gets us and the work we do, and has the experience and knowledge to be a great match for our opening and organization. I want to meet this candidate!"

6.  Does my writing matter? 

Yes! Your cover letter, along with every email, phone call, or note sent to this employer, will be considered when your application is on the table. Be as professional as possible at all times! Be absolutely positive that there are no typos in any written correspondence. The employer will take this as a sign that you are careless in all that you do. If you are worried about your writing, send any written correspondence to your Bottom Line advisor for edits.

7.  How do I follow up? 

After you submit your materials, wait at least a week to hear back from an employer. If you have not heard, call Human Resources or a recruiter and ask if the position you applied for has been filled or not. If the position is still open, ask if you can double-check with someone that your application has been received. You should only make one check-in call. Anything more than that will seem pushy to the employer. If the job posting says, "No calls please!" then follow up via email.

8.  Before you send out a cover letter, email it to your Bottom Line advisor for feedback!

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