How to Write a Cover Letter

Written by

George D. Baker


August 14, 2014


Cover letters are a tricky concept to master. When submitting a job application, you will need to know how to write a cover letter for a resume, as an email attachment or printed. Educate yourself with this general cover letter guide, plus tips on how to write a cover letter for a job or internship.

Learning how to write a cover letter effectively can be a stressful process, but if you follow some simple steps you can compose a cover letter that will capture the attention of the employer and get your resume noticed.

Types of Cover Letters

In general, there are three types of cover letters: an application letter responding to a posted job opening, a prospecting letter inquiring about potential positions, and the networking letter that requires information and assistance in searching for jobs. In this article we will focus on teaching you how to write an application letter.

It is sometimes difficult to know what kind of employee you are based on your resume alone, as resumes are often very concise and densely written. Think of your cover letter as a friendly introduction to your resume, giving your reader another opportunity to learn more about you.

Like your resume, your cover letter should provide the reader with specific information about your career-related intentions while at the same time attracting attention to something that sets you apart from other candidates. A written first impression, your cover letter should complement your resume, but not include identical information. A good cover letter describes the reasons for your interest in a certain company and identifies your related abilities and experiences. Here are some helpful tips on how to write a cover letter.

Resume Cover Letter Tips

Before writing a cover letter, research the company to gain a solid understanding of its mission, history, and business practices. This alone will help you compose a more impressive cover letter. In your cover letter, refer to specific facts about the organization while demonstrating that you are professionally interested in receiving this position.

Your cover letter format should be very clean and professional, so use a standard 12- point font (like Times New Roman or Arial), one-inch margins, and single spacing. Stick with the default black font and use standard-sized paper the same color as your resume (preferably white, bone, or ivory). Keeping a standard format is especially important if you are emailing or submitting your cover letter online as an attachment, as formats can often scramble in transmit, making your once organized document look jumbled. Make sure to save your cover letter attachment as a .doc file or other standard file type, such as .pdf or .txt.

Cover Letter Introduction

Even though this information should already appear at the top of your professional resume as well, begin your cover letter with a traditional letterhead, including your full name and current contact information (address, phone number, and email). If an employer wants to get in contact with you, don’t make it hard for them to find out how.

Customized Cover Letter

Even if you are applying for a number of similar positions, you should compose a customized cover letter for every job in which you are applying. To make your cover letter unique to each position, include the company name directly in the content. If you know the name of the hiring manager, address your cover letter to “Dear Hiring Manager.” Avoid using “To Whom It May Concern,” as it is no longer the standard and sounds too impersonal.

Beneath the letterhead but above the content, clearly display the title of the position for which you are applying. Companies will often advertise multiple open positions at one time, so don’t make it difficult for the employer to figure out what department and position you are applying for. Also, let the employer know how you found out about the position. For example, if your friend works at the company and told you about the position, be sure to include your friend’s name. Statistics show that companies are far more likely to hire known candidates.

Cover Letter Skills

List your most relevant skills and experiences that match the requirements of the position. Show the employer that you have thoroughly read the job description and are serious about pursuing this position. Refer to the qualifications for the job and provide examples of how your skills relate to the position.

If you can start work immediately and have open availability, make note of your readiness to commit in your cover letter. Let the employer know that you are eager to interview.

Cover Letter Conclusion

Before closing the cover letter, introduce the employer to your attached resume, which will further explain your qualifications, education, and experience. Try to include a statement or question that will prompt the employer to contact you.

Specify how you will follow-up, commonly via a phone call or email. Finally, thank the employer for their consideration, letting them know that you look forward to hearing from them. Reiterate your eagerness to learn more about the position.

Leave a space to include your signature beneath the main content of your cover letter. If you are mailing or submitting your cover letter in hard copy, sign your full name in blue or black ink. If you are emailing or attaching your cover letter, leave a space and then type your full name. Use a professional sign-off, such as “Sincerely” or “Best.”

More Cover Letter Tips

  • Avoid using clichés and wordy statements in your cover letter.
  • Spell check and proofread your cover letter to see how it will read to the employer.
  • Avoid the passive tense. Make yourself the active subject in every statement, but avoid “I” statements.
  • Keep the cover letter short and concise. The body content of your cover letter should not exceed 3 short paragraphs. Most cover letters are only one page in length.
  • Use bullet points to break up the information and highlight your achievements.
  • Don’t go into too much detail in your cover letter. However relevant, save lengthy anecdotes and stories for the interview.
  • If you are applying for an internship, make sure you include a mixture of both professional and academic experiences to give your internship advisor an idea of your background in both the workplace and the classroom.

How to Write a Good Cover Letter

If you take these tips and advice, you now know how to write a cover letter. A good cover letter is one of the first and most important steps to finding a good job. Good luck!

Written by:  George D. Baker

George D. Baker is a long-time contributor to College Mouse. Now retired, Mr. Baker volunteers at adult education programs in his local community.

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