Writing cover letters
A cover letter is your opportunity to introduce yourself and get the employer’s attention by indicating how your skills, qualifications, motivation and readiness to work for the organization correspond with their job requirements. It tailors your application to their particular position, organization and industry and should always accompany your resume.
Your cover letter should not simply reiterate your resume; instead, it should highlight your most relevant activities and experience for the desired position and include detail where appropriate. It's also an opportunity for you to demonstrate your writing skills and ability to articulate ideas. A good cover letter will illustrate how an organization would benefit from hiring you and result in a request for an interview. Keep the employer’s perspective in mind and demonstrate the value you can bring to their organization.
Do background research
Before writing your cover letter and resume, take some time to research the industry, employer, and position for which you are applying. Your documents should demonstrate that you know something about the organization beyond superficial details. Use the job description as your starting point and review the company’s web and social media sites. For an insider’s view, consider conducting an informational interview with a current or former employee.
What to put on your cover letter
- Include your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail
- Keep the format of this section consistent with the header of your resume to make it look professional and cohesive
- State the month, day, and year (e.g., May 15, 2015) – left aligned, one space below the header
- Place two lines of space before the recipient’s contact information, which should include: the full name of the contact person, job title and/or department, company name, address, and postal code
- Try to obtain as many of these details as possible through research or by calling the company’s main number. Your attention to these details projects professionalism.
- Look at the job posting for the job title or competition number. For a networking letter, you may want to refer to the type of position you are seeking or “Potential employment opportunities.” Place one line of space before the reference line and start the line with “Re:” or “Subject” followed by the purpose or focus of the letter.
- Place one line of space before the salutation
- Begin with “Dear”
- Address the contact person by their last name starting with “Mr.” or “Ms.”
- Make sure you have the correct gender of the recipient; if you don’t know, clarify by calling the company
- If you don’t know the person’s name, address the person by their job title or address your letter to “Hiring Manager” or “Hiring Committee”
- Avoid “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam”
- The opening paragraph should explain why you are writing the letter or applying for the job. Open with a strong sentence or “hook” that grabs the employer’s attention and draws them into your story and motivations.
- Demonstrate knowledge of the position: say why you are interested, mention two or three strengths that qualify you
- Mention the position you are applying for and how you learned about it
- Name your referral if relevant, e.g., “Joe Davis, Manager of Customer Service, suggested I write you...”
A cover letter should answer the following questions:, “What do you have to offer?” and “Why our company?” To do this:
- Describe specific accomplishments from your past work, volunteer, and academic experiences that show your strengths
- Target your strengths to the needs and requirements identified in the posting or from your research
- Explain why you are interested in working for this employer
- Do research to show you know something about the organization’s values, culture, and areas of prospective growth
- Describe how these values are relevant to you and your previous accomplishments
While there are no absolute rules about how many paragraphs a cover letter needs to have, keep in mind that business writing should be succinct. Be prepared to make multiple revisions to your original cover letter, and reach out to the Hari B. Varshney Business Career Centre, friends and family to help you.
- Mention your interest in an interview or discussion about opportunities
- Provide information on your availability and how the employer may contact you
- When appropriate, take a more proactive approach by indicating you will call the employer
- Thank the employer for considering your application
Closing and signature
- Use “Sincerely,” “Truly,” or “Regards” to close your letter. Leave three lines of space and type your name. If your letter is in hardcopy, sign neatly within the blank space.
- If you will digitally submit your application it is appropriate to just leave one line of space and then type your name.
- Place one line of space below your typed name
- Indicate any enclosures by writing “Encl.” if you are including other documents such as your resume, transcript, application form, etc.