Writing Job Search Cover Letters
In an application process for an employment or internship position, a cover letter serves as an introduction to your resume and offers another opportunity to market yourself.
Typically, a cover letter will be used whenever mailing a hard copy of your resume. In addition, when an online application site indicates you may include a copy of your cover letter, do so. The nature of job search is that you utilize all available tools to market yourself.
The cover letter should be written in standard business format and printed on paper that matches your resume. While there are a few acceptable layouts for business letters, the easiest is the full block layout. In that style, everything on the page is aligned to the left margin. There are also guidelines about spacing between the different sections of the letter, as seen on the examples of full block cover letters featured below. Finally, the full block format usually works well when an applicant cuts and pastes a cover letter into an online application. Whenever possible, address the letter to a specific individual; if you aren't able to ascertain the name of an individual, consider using "Dear Recruiter:", "Dear Human Resources Representative:", or "Dear Hiring Manager:".
Cover Letter Content
The content of the application cover letter is fairly prescribed but needs to be tailored to specific opportunities. It is a one-page document, typically consisting of three or four paragraphs.
- The first paragraph clarifies why you are writing, establishes a point
of contact, and expresses enthusiasm about the opportunity.
- The middle paragraph (sometimes two paragraphs) highlights the aspects of your experience and education that are most useful to the employer, match the qualifications outlined in the job posting, and establish you as a near-perfect fit for this particular position at this particular organization.
- In the final paragraph, you refer to enclosures, suggest a formal interview, provide contact information, and express gratitude for consideration for the position.
Potential employers are likely to view your cover letter as a sample of your best writing. Write well. Be sure to address the qualifications desired by the employer. Think about what you want to communicate. Use variety in sentence construction to avoid overuse of "I." Proofread the letter carefully.
Overview of Cover Letter
Your street address (If using personal letterhead, start with date.)
Your city, state and zip
Name of person you are writing to, title
Name of organization, school district, or business
Organization street address/P.O. Box
Organization city, state and zip
Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. Last Name of Person You Are Writing To:
In the first paragraph, you will let the reader know why you are writing and establish a point of contact. You may add a sentence or two about your interest in this specific position and about how your qualifications match the requirements for this position. Express enthusiasm about the position, organization, and/or community. Some writers try to have an attention-getting opening in this paragraph.
In the second paragraph, you will likely highlight a few of the most salient points from your enclosed resume. You will likely refer to the requirements outlined in the job posting and explain how your education and experiences address those requirements. While you don't repeat your resume in this paragraph, you may add depth to certain experiences outlined on the resume. This paragraph offers you the opportunity to explain why you are a nearly perfect fit for this position in this organization. Some writers use two paragraphs to address this information.
This is the can-we-talk paragraph. For most positions, politely request an interview at the employers convenience. Indicate what supplementary material is enclosed or being sent under separate cover. Remind the readers about how to contact you, and thank them for their consideration.
Your name (it’s handwritten above— legibly and in black ink)
Sample Cover Letter
555 Main Street
La Crosse, Wisconsin 54601
February 21, 2007
Dr. John Anderson, District Superintendent
Great School District
555 Main Street
Great City, Wisconsin 55555
Dear Dr. Anderson:
Your recent advertisement in the La Crosse Tribune interests me because my background and interests match your requirements for a fifth grade teacher and volleyball coach. In addition, I am familiar with the Great City area and would be very interested in living and working living in your community.
As the enclosed resume indicates, I will be graduating in May 2012 with a baccalaureate degree in elementary education from Viterbo University. My educational experience at Viterbo has involved rigorous classroom instruction, coupled with extensive time spent in area classrooms. After completing nearly 200 practicum hours observing and assisting in classrooms, I have learned a great deal about classroom management and teaching strategies from experienced teachers in the La Crosse area. Fifth grade is one of my favorite age groups; I particularly enjoyed my student teaching experience in a fifth grade classroom in the Holmen School District. During that experience, I was able to work with the reading program utilized in your district. My cooperating teacher indicated he was particularly impressed by my ability to engage students in lessons and address the needs of students struggling to master concepts. Previous employment experiences have also contributed to my preparation for work with children and youth. My position as a camp counselor at an outdoor adventure camp for middle school youth provided me additional insight into youth and with significant experience in supervising and interacting with the campers. Serving as assistant volleyball coach at the local Boys and Girls Club has been another valuable experience.
My resume and list of references are included for your review. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my qualifications with you in a personal interview. You may contact me by telephone at (555) 555-5555 or by email at emailaddress. Thank you for your consideration.
Cover Letter Checklist
o Is the cover letter written in a standard business letter format?
o Are there one-inch margins on the left and right sides? Is it centered on the page vertically?
o Do your name and full contact information appear on the cover letter?
o Is the cover letter addressed to an individual? (If no name appears in the position posting, make every effort to find a name. It shows extra effort has been expended. Call the employer when possible. If you are unable to obtain a name, address the letter to the department.)
o Does the first paragraph clearly communicate why you are writing?
o Is the letter tailored to an individual organization and position? Did you address the qualifications specified by the individual employer in your letter?
o Does the letter add to your self-marketing campaign? Does it emphasize the positive attributes and qualifications you bring to the employment world?
o Does the tone of your letter communicate a positive attitude and enthusiasm for the position and organization?
o Is the letter written in grammatically correct language? Have you utilized a couple of proofreading strategies to ensure that it doesn't contain typos, misspelled words, or other mistakes?
o Did you avoid starting too many sentences with "I"?
o Is the letter printed in the same font as your resume? If applying with hard copies, is the letter printed on paper that matches your resume? Use good quality bond paper for job correspondence.
o Did you sign the letter?
o Use the computer tools to check spelling and grammar
o Read the document carefully.
o Read the written material aloud.
o Read individual lines from right to left.
o Set the document aside for a day or two and re-read it. This is especially helpful in evaluating tone.
o Ask someone you trust to read and comment on the written material.
o Use multiple strategies for proofreading.