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Writing a Cover Letter

A cover letter is an introduction that precedes your resume and it may be the most important document that you send to prospective employers. This is the first opportunity that you have to make a good impression. Make your document brief and easily readable, as well as demonstrate that you are professional, thoughtful, and organized.

The cover letter should not exceed one page and should address five key points — also referred to as the Five W’s. These are: Who, What, Where, When, and Why.

  • Who: The cover letter should include who you are and to whom the letter is addressed. Find out the name of the hiring manager and address the letter directly to them instead of “To whom it may concern”.
  • What: Make sure to include the position that you are applying for within the first sentence.
  • Where: If you are not in the same city as the open position, indicate where you are currently located. If you are planning to move to the city where the job is located, explain your intention briefly.
  • When: If you are enrolled in class, indicate when you expect to graduate. Also indicate when you are available for an interview, when you are available to begin working, and when you are most easily reached.
  • Why: The why is the most important part of your cover letter and should make up the bulk of your content. Be sure to include why you want this position as well as why you are the perfect candidate for the job.

Organize Your Cover Letter

All of the key points can be covered in three to four paragraphs, with the majority of information contained within the middle paragraph(s). Details on how to arrange your information within the paragraphs follow.

First Paragraph
This is your introduction. Use this paragraph to briefly explain the following information:

  • The position for which you are applying.
  • Why you are applying for the position.
  • If you heard about it from a mutual contact or a recruiter for their program, explain how you heard about the position. It is not necessary to mention that you found the position posted on, printed in a newspaper, or through any other public forum.
  • Provide a brief explanation of why this position interests you. Keep it brief and specific; you will expand on this in the next paragraph.
  • Avoid generic statements like, “I wish to apply for the position of …”

Middle Paragraph(s)
This is the bulk of your letter. You use this section to explain why you are qualified for the position. Take time to list two to four points that qualify you for the position; refer back to the job description to ensure that your qualifications fit the position. Use that list to develop a paragraph or two. Some additional things to consider are below:

  • Your opening statement should draw the reader into this paragraph. Make a strong statement of what you have to offer the organization. The remaining paragraph should support that statement. If this statement is placed in the middle of the paragraph, it may be overlooked.
  • Be sure you are explaining how you will benefit the company or organization, not how they benefit you.
  • If you are using information from your resume, do not use the information verbatim. If that item is important enough to be included on your cover letter, it is important enough to be developed further.
  • Use examples to illustrate your strengths.
  • Show enthusiasm! But use exclamation points sparingly.

Last Paragraph
This is your closing and summary. Limit it to two to four sentences. Additional items to consider are:

  • Be confident and direct.
  • Make your availability known to the employer.
  • If you intend to contact them for follow-up, include when you plan to contact them (ex: I will follow-up with you regarding this position in two weeks).
  • Provide your contact information. This information should match the contact information at the top of your resume.
  • Most importantly, end the letter with a thank you statement showing your appreciation for their time and consideration.

Proofreading is essential for a flawless cover letter.

  • Do not rely on spell check; it will not catch mistakes such as ‘no’ instead of ‘on’.
  • Remove contractions.
  • Check your punctuation carefully. It might help to print your cover letter to see exactly what is on the page.
  • If your middle paragraph is lengthy, you may need to split it into two smaller paragraphs.
  • Be sure to keep your letter to one page.
  • Ask others to read your letter. The fresh set of eyes may be able to catch mistakes you might miss.