National Career Service Cover Letter


Employers report that an impressive cover letter is often more important than your resume when making a decision whether to interview a candidate, so it can be a mistake to focus too much attention on the resume and ignore the potential value of a well-written letter. Like the resume, the cover letter is not intended to get you the job—it is intended to get you an interview where you can convince the employer face-to-face that you are the right one for the job. Whenever you cannot present your resume personally, a cover letter should accompany it. A cover letter should always accompany a resume that is sent by U.S. Postal Service or e-mail.  A cover letter is not necessary when you deliver your resume to a potential employer at a career fair.

A cover letter should work like advertising copy. It should:

  • catch the reader’s attention (opening paragraph)
  • communicate skills and experience (middle paragraph)
  • support your statements with specifics (middle paragraph)
  • compel the reader to act (final paragraph)

Basic tips:

  • Always customize your cover letter! Sending out a general cover letter and resume to hundreds of employers is rarely successful. It can create a perception on the employer’s part that you are not a serious and thoughtful person, that you are desperate for a job, or that you don’t really care enough about their organization to learn about them or their needs.
  • The most important aspect of a cover letter is employer focus. Present the employer with indications of your personality and style along with your skills and abilities. Highlight your qualifications for the specific position you seek, clearly stating your interests and qualifications relative to the employer’s needs.
  • Your resume/cover letter package will be enhanced if both documents are printed on the same high-quality bond paper and include the same header.
  • Your letter should be just a few paragraphs (3-4) and only one page in length. While there is no “perfect formula” regarding length and what to include, keep it relevant and relatively brief.

About Cover Letters

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What is a Cover Letter?

  • a.k.a. "letter of application" or letter of "inquiry"
  • Expands on your resume. It details -- in a 1/2 to 3/4 page written letter -- why you are qualified for a position by discussing your skills acquired from educational experiences, jobs/internships, activities, community service, etc.
  • Reveals how effectively you communicate in writing.
  • Goal: Along with your resume, to convince the employer to interview you.

Five Tips for Writing an Effective Cover Letter

Address the letter to a specific person. If you do not have a name, call the organization and
ask for the name and title of the person who should receive your letter. Also make sure to ask for
the correct spelling. (Nothing is more off-putting to read a letter in which your name is misspelled).
If all else fails, "Dear Sir/Madam" or "To Whom it May Concern" is appropriate. But
make no mistake about it - a letter addressed to an individual by name is taken more seriously.

Stick to one page or less. Make sure it is typed and use the same high-quality paper that you utilized for your resume. There should also be NO spelling or grammar errors in your cover letter. Proofread carefully! Have a staff member in Career Services review your cover letter with you.

Research the organization to ensure that your cover letter is individualized and targeted to that company's specific position. By taking time to learn more about their company, it demonstrates to the employer that you are serious about their organization and are not merely sending out a form letter.

Use action verbs(see Resume handout for examples) to convey confidence.

Do NOT repeat the contents of your resume verbatim. Instead demonstrate how you possess certain skill(s) on your resume by highlighting a specific experience or achievement.

For example:

OK: "I have a bachelor degree in finance and two years of experience as a summer
teller at the Maryland National Bank."

Better: "My finance degree has given me broad insight into the issues surrounding commercial
loans. As a teller at Maryland National Bank, I assisted a variety of customers in a
highly professional manner, thus demonstrating the importance that the bank places
on customer service."

Other Letters of Correspondence:

  • Thank-you Letter(Follow-up after an interview)

Letter to thank employer for a job interview. Reaffirms your interest in the position and the organization.

  • Thank-you Letter (Follow-up after assistance from a networking contact)

Letters sent to individuals who have referred you to employers or provided helpful job search information.

Why send a Thank-you Letter?

An often forgotten but important step, a thank-you letter is an essential follow-up to a phone
or face-to-face interview. Not only does it reaffirm your interest in a specific position and the
organization, it gives you the chance to address any concerns raised during the interview. If
you did not have the chance to discuss an area of expertise which demonstrates your
strength as a candidate, your thank-you letter gives you an appropriate place to do so. It is
okay to fax or e-mail you letter if you know that the hiring time line is drawing to a close.

*Take Note: Send your thank-you letter as soon as possible after the interview (within 24-48
hours is ideal).

Letter indicating that you are pleased to accept a job offer. The terms of employment (starting date, responsibilities, salary, etc.) are re-stated.

Letter indicating that you are pleased with a job offer, but that you have decided not to accept the position and a reason why (for example: you have accepted another position; the position does not meet your career goals at this time, etc.). In closing, thank the employer for the time and consideration given to you.

Letter Formats

Cover Letter

Your Street Address
City, State, Zip

Name of Person
Street Address
City, State, Zip

Dear Mr./Ms./Dr./Rev./Sr.________________:

INTRODUCTION: (Who you are and why you are writing)

· Mention the specific position for which you wish to be considered...or the type of position about which you would like to inquire.

· Tell the reader how you learned of the position/organization - through a mutual acquaintance, an advertisement, as a result of your research, etc.

· Include your degree, major and graduation date and/or years of relevant work experience, appropriate for the job.

· Introduce the reason(s) you are interested in the position/organization - you will explain them in the body of the letter.

BODY: (Why you are applying and why you are qualified)

· Promote your credentials to the employer. Show how your background matches the position by highlighting areas of your resume that are particularly relevant.

· Describe any special qualities or skills you have developed through jobs, course work and activities - demonstrate how they can be useful in the position/organization.

· State your reasons for wanting to work for this organization. Let the employer know how the position fits in with your career goals.

CLOSING: (Requesting an interview and offering to facilitate process)

· Request an interview in a straightforward and positive manner. If you will be in the employer's area at a certain time, suggest when an interview could be arranged.

· Offer to provide additional information to support your candidacy - reference letters, transcript, writing sample, portfolio, etc.

· Provide information that will assist the organization in contacting you...or indicate when you will contact them to check on your application.

· Show appreciation for the time the employer spent with your letter and that you look forward to further contact.

Signature(Do not forget to sign your name!)
Your Name

Thank You Letter

Your Address
City, State Zip
Today's Date

Name of Person
Job Title/Department
City, State Zip

Dear Mr./Ms. Employer:

Thank person for type of interaction that took place (e.g., interview, full day of interviews.) Extend your appreciation to others who may have been involved in the interview process. If necessary or helpful, include date and location of interview (e.g., campus interview, job fair.)

Express value of interview in confirming and/or increasing your interest in the position/organization. Point to specific factor(s) which support your feeling. Summarize why you fit the position. You may wish to mention anything of
significance you forgot to bring up in the interview.

Conclude by expressing your looking forward to hearing from the employer and your willingness to supply any additional information that would assist his/her deliberations. If the hiring process includes additional interviews, state your eagerness to participate in the process.

Your Signature (Do not forget to sign your name!)
Your Name

Acceptance Letter

Your Address
City, State Zip
Today's Date

Name of Person
Job Title/Department
City, State Zip

Dear Mr./Ms. Employer:

Indicate that you are pleased to accept offer of employment as indicated by employer's telephone call or letter. Restate salary, starting date or other important details.

Express that you are looking forward to working with the organization/beginning your training program/etc.

Your Signature (Do not forget to sign your name!)
Your Name

Useful Action Verbs for a Cover Letter

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