Writing a Cover Letter

What is a cover letter?

So you’ve developed a resume for the perfect summer job or internship and suddenly you notice that the job announcement says, “send resume AND cover letter to...” But what is a cover letter?

Letter of application, interest letter, cover letter, all of these are names for the same thing. A cover letter serves the purpose of introducing the reader, recruiter, or employer to you and to your resume. In many ways, cover letters are just as important (or maybe more important) than resumes, because if the cover letter doesn't impress your audience they won't even read the resume!

In general, cover letters need to communicate the following things:

  • Why are you writing? (i.e. what position are you applying for and how did you hear about it?)
  • Why does the position interest you?
  • How do your skills prepare you for success in the position? (i.e. how do your skills and experience match the job description?)
  • What now? (i.e. how will you follow up from this point on?)

Like resumes there is not ONE correct way to develop a cover letter, and with time and practice cover letters become easier to write. There are a few things to keep in mind when developing a cover letter:

Tailor each cover letter to the position. Seasoned recruiters can spot a form letter immediately. You may find that if you are applying to similar positions, you can borrow phrases and ideas from previous cover letters, but be sure to personalize each letter. How? Try incorporating information you know about the organization into the letter. If the position announcement asks you to incorporate specific information in the cover letter, make sure you do so. You don’t want to be eliminated from the list of potential candidates because you didn’t follow directions.

  1. Be clear and concise. While there is no hard and fast rule about length, cover letters should be limited to one page. Therefore, you will need to communicate your personality, qualities, desire, experience, and skills clearly and concisely. Your cover letter should highlight the things that you most want to communicate, making the reader curious and causing them to read your resume.
  2. Use concrete examples. Don’t use general phrases like, “I communicate well” without supporting them with a concrete example of when and how you have used your communication skills effectively.
  3. Be proactive. Many people wrap up their cover letter by saying things like, “I look forward to hearing from you” or “Please feel free to contact me at...” Don’t put the burden of follow-up in the reader’s hands. In most cases they won’t. Tell them that you will follow-up in two weeks to introduce yourself and set up a time to meet in person. Then make sure you DO follow-up. Be bold, but follow the rules too. If the position announcement states, “No phone calls, please” then follow up with a brief note rather than a phone call.