Career Development Center

Guidelines for Effective Cover Letters

Why use a cover letter?

  • To state what job you are applying for, and to show you are familiar with the company, its services, mission and goals
  • To highlight how your experience, skills and abilities can benefit the company, and why you are a great candidate for the job
  • To ask for the interview

Where to start . . .

Research the company

  • Learn as much as you can about a company from its website, product/service literature, media coverage
  • Conduct informational interviews with employees or with those who do business with the company
  • Acquire the name of a specific person to address your letter to

Know yourself

  • Know what your knowledge, skills, abilities and professional goals are, and how they match the position and the company’s needs
  • Create a list of prior experiences and achievements that make you an ideal candidate for the position
  • Make sure you have the qualifications to apply for the position

Remember, it’s about . . .

What employers want

  • Employers want people to apply for their job in their company
  • Employers can easily spot generic documents
  • Customized resumes and cover letters stand out, and show that you took time to learn about the company and the job

Cover letter format

  • Should be one page or less
  • Use your resume heading as a letterhead
  • Use standard fonts, and business letter format (contact name, title, company, address, flush left near top of page, and do not forget to date your letter)
  • Salutation: should be to a real person; or Hiring Manager or Committee
  • First paragraph: why you are writing; the specific position you are applying for and why
  • Second paragraph: briefly state two to three top skills (related to the summary on your resume); follow up with the benefits these skills will provide the company
  • Third paragraph: close by asking the employer to take action, to request an interview
  • Use “Respectfully” or “Sincerely” with signature

Cover letter strategy & style

  • Do not write a cover letter in one sitting
  • Express enthusiasm (without false pretense); express confidence (without arrogance)
  • Refer to resume info, but express value of experience
  • Avoid overuse of “I”
  • Keep it short and directed toward the position
  • Entice the employer to want to know more

Other tactics

  • Use bullet points within your letter to highlight two or three key accomplishments
  • Testimonials: can be inserted into the text of your letter, posted as sidebars to your letter, or included as a separate sheet with the letter
  • Postcard reply card (pre-stamped and addressed) to allow employer to acknowledge receipt and note their next step in the process

Closing thoughts

  • Always be honest
  • Always be professional, avoid humor and sarcasm
  • Avoid patronizing and philosophizing
  • Ask others to review and proof your letter
  • Ask for feedback from employers who do not select you for an interview

For additional information and assistance, we recommend that you contact the Career Development Center at 360-867-6193 to schedule an appointment with one of our Career Advisors.