What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a professional communication that should accompany your resume when you apply for a job or internship. A cover letter is the first piece of information a potential employer sees about you. If effective, it should pique an employer's interest and encourage them to move on to your resume with stronger conviction.

Your Guide to Cover Letters

A good cover letter:

  • Answers the question: “How will you help the organization meet their goals?”
  • Links your accomplishments and skills to the job requirements. Why should they care about the items in your resume? Lay out how and why you would make a difference at this organization.
  • Is unique for the particular position. You should not re-use cover letters for multiple positions.
  • Should focus on how you will contribute to the organization, not just provide your life story.
  • Does not reiterate your resume, but provides context for some of the items on your resume.

Preparation and Organization

  • Carefully review the job description and identify key skills and experiences that the employer is looking for.
  • Include your address and the employer's address in blocks at the top of the page.
  • Whenever possible, address your letter to an individual within the organization rather than "To Whom it May Concern." Review the job description or organization's website, or call the organization to obtain the name and position title of the contact. If you cannot find the information, start your letter with "Dear Search Committee,".
  • Your cover letter should be no more than one page and will typically have 3-4 paragraphs. You do not need to indent paragraphs.

Paragraph 1: Introduction

Explain why you are applying to this particular position and this particular organization. What is interesting, exciting, or unique about the role or company? This could be their culture, size, location, mission, products, constituents, projects, etc. Why are these important to you? Provide the name of the position you are applying to within this paragraph. Optionally, you can mention who referred you to the job or internship.

Paragraph 2: Body

How will you help this organization meet their goals through work in this position? In addition to addressing your experiences and skills, detail why they would matter for this position. Analyze the job description and be specific about how your skills/experiences connect to the position responsibilities. You can use the format: “I have had experience doing ABC, which would enable me to accomplish [these goals] in this position.”

Paragraph 3: Closing

Reiterate your interest in the position and thank the reader for their time and consideration. Close by signing your name (typed is fine).

Putting it all Together

Review examples of cover letters to get an idea of how they can look (but be sure not to copy them -- yours should be unique!). Ask someone (a Career Center or Writing Center staff member) to proofread your letter for its effectiveness, tone, and grammar.

Sample Cover Letters