I always find it crazy how many of my peers a) don’t know what a cover letter is, b) don’t know what a cover letter should say, and/or c) don’t know how important accompanying your resume with a cover letter is! Especially in economic times like these where hundreds of applicants are applying to every position, employers are not going to consider applicants who merely submit a resume seriously. Why should an employer hire you? What experiences can you bring to an organization? Why are you the ideal candidate for a position? Tell them!

We’ll start with some basic tips of what to include in a cover letter. First, keep in mind that a cover letter is a piece of formal business correspondence, and should be treated accordingly. Start with your address, the date, the employer’s address, and a greeting. As far as the content of the cover letter goes, keep it to 3-4 paragraphs max and don’t go over one page!

Treat the opening paragraph like your introduction to the employer and include who you are, how you learned about the opportunity, why you’re interested, and why you are the best candidate. But remember, always relate your statements to the qualifications mentioned in the job description! The first paragraph should answer the question: “Why am I writing?

The second paragraph of your cover letter is where the real content should lie and where you should give more specific examples of your qualifications and how they relate to the position. In this paragraph, don’t just tell the employer that you’re the strongest candidate, but show them with evidence and examples. Relate the skills and experiences that would benefit you in the position and highlight one or two of your strongest and most relevant experiences, making sure to include how they would benefit the employer. Be specific—about your experiences and about why you’re interested in this specific employer and specific job. The second paragraph should answer the question: “Who am I, and why should you hire me?

The third paragraph is what ties your entire cover letter together, reiterating your interest and specifying what you will do to follow up about the position. Make sure to include your contact information in this paragraph and refer the reader to your enclosed resume (and any other enclosed documents). Make sure that your strong interest in the position is evident. The final paragraph should answer the question: “What is my next step?

After the content of your cover letter, be sure to include “Sincerely” as your closing, your handwritten signature, and your typed name. Also, be sure to include the word “Enclosure” if you’re sending a resume or other documents with your cover letter (which you should be.)

Beyond the basics, here are a few other tips I’ve learned during my time as a Career Development Intern and some that I recently read about in this article: “Deadly Cover Letter Errors

  • Avoid “To Whom it may Concern:” or “Dear Sir or Madam:” at all costs! You should always address your cover letter to a specific person within an organization. Even if you address your letter to the incorrect person, making the effort to do some research and find the name of the head recruiter or head of the department you’re interested in will go a long way.
  • A lot of people tend to use words like “I” and “my” way too much in their cover letters. While your cover letter is about you, it’s just as much about the organization to which you’re applying. A good rule of thumb is to look back over your cover letter and count the number of times you mention yourself and the number of times you mention the employer’s name. They should be about equal.
  • Almost as important as the content within your cover letter is if it’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye. A great tip is to use the header of your resume (with your name and contact information) as the header on your cover letter as well. This not only makes the letter look more formal, but it ties the two documents together in a very professional manner.
  • These days, you may be expected to e-mail your resume to an employer just as often (if not more so) than mailing your documents to a physical location. When sending your cover letter through e-mail, copy and paste the letter into the body of the e-mail rather than attaching it as a separate document. You should also probably shorten the letter somewhat when sending it in an e-mail
  • Proof read! Have someone else read over your cover letter to check for grammar, typos, etc. Also beware of cliché statements and wordy expressions—this is a formal letter, but you should still sound like yourself.

Good luck! Also remember that the Career Consultants are available to help you with cover letters, so make an appointment with your consultant by calling 706-542-3375 or stop by walk-in hours every weekday from 11-1:00!