I was interviewed for a company last summer and was asked something I did not expect.
“Where did you learn to write a cover letter?”
I thought that was basic knowledge. I had always written cover letters for job applications. But these employers were surprised that someone my age would do this. Why?
“Most people don’t write cover letters anymore,” they said.
When I looked surprised, they added: “We usually wouldn’t even look at an application unless it had a cover letter, but now we can’t be that picky because no one is writing them.”
While I did not get the job, I am convinced that the reason I was interviewed was because I wrote a solid cover letter.
Your cover letter is the first impression employers get of you. In a way, it is like your first interview. They already have your resume to see your experience, so your cover letter is your chance to show them who you are behind all the titles. Take your time with it, and employers will be impressed.
So how do you write one?
Below is a typical format for a cover letter:
Hiring Manager’s Name
Dear (Hiring Manager’s Name)
1st paragraph — Who you are, your expertise, why you are applying.
2nd paragraph — Your experience.
3rd paragraph — Express interest, add contact information, thank them for reviewing your application.
A cover letter should be short. Less than a full page, single spaced, would be ideal. You don’t want the employer’s eyes to glaze over just by looking at it.
There are three important things to consider when writing your cover letter.
- Grammar. It is vital that your cover letter be well-written, free of typos and grammatical errors. If you aren’t sure about your grammar, have someone check it for you. (We check cover letters at the Writing Center all the time!)
- Specificity. It is also important that your cover letter matches the job description. this is why you never want to just copy and paste a general cover letter with different contact information. Each job you apply for deserves a newly revised cover letter that uses language that matches the job description. If the job description mentions things like “organization skills” or “proficiency in APA,” mention how you have used those skill in the past in your second paragraph. Your second paragraph doesn’t need to have all of your experience in it–just the things that apply to the specific job.
- Tone. Your voice should be formal, and, ideally, it should reflect the attitude you want to portray. For instance, according to Mark Slack on Resume Genius, you can opt to sound enthusiastic, confident, versatile, or traditional (see link in notes for more details and examples). Either way, think about your tone as the outfit you wear to the interview. Are you wearing a Hawaiian shirt or a button-up? A T-shirt or a nice blouse? It’s okay to sound human and use only words that you would use in real life. It’s also okay to show that you really want the job–as long as you don’t sound like you’re on your knees begging for it. The idea is to show that you take this seriously have a professional attitude.
See the following for cover letter samples:
Slack, Mark. “How to Write a Great Cover Letter.” ResumeGenius, n.d.,