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Cover Letters

Cover Letter Contents

One of the most important and often overlooked parts of the job search process is the cover letter. “Cover Letter” literally means any letter that accompanies or "covers" another sheet of paper, such as a resume or an application. A cover letter can also be referred to as a letter of interest or letter of intent. Basically, it is the first letter you send to an organization as a means of introduction. The cover letter is used to personalize your resume, show connection to an organization, and illustrate your ability to communicate through writing. It should always be accompanied by a resume unless you are simply asking for information or an application. Here are three cover letter basics:

First - Be Specific.
The cover letter should always be written specifically for a particular organization. Never send a duplicate or form letter! Your letter needs to demonstrate your knowledge about, and specific interest in, that particular organization.

Second - Generate Interest.
After reading your letter, the employer should want to review your resume for more information.

Third - Create a Positive Impression.
As it is the first impression that a potential employer has of you, the letter needs to be visually pleasing. It should be grammatically correct, have the appropriate name, title, and address of the employer, and be laser-printed on good quality bond paper.

There are two types of cover letters:

LETTER OF APPLICATION - This is written when you are applying for a specific position that you definitely know is open within that organization.

LETTER OF INQUIRY - This is written when you are contacting an organization to inquire about possible openings when you are unsure of availabilities.

Letters of application and inquiry can both be written as a letter of referral when appropriate. This means that someone has suggested that you write the letter and agrees to you using their name in the letter. CAUTION! Make sure that your referral person’s name will mean something positive to the person receiving the letter!

The difference between the two types of letters usually amounts to the wording of a sentence or two in the opening and closing parts of your letter.

Contents of a Cover Letter

Regardless of whether they are letters of application or inquiry, cover letters generally have three parts.

  1. The Opening or First Paragraph:
  • Focuses on them, and their needs, not you.
  • States why you are writing.
  • Captures the reader's attention.
  • Shows your knowledge of the organization or field.
  • Tells how you heard about the organization or job.
  • States why you are interested in that organization.
  • Utilized your referral person (if applicable).

Examples for the opening paragraph:

  • "I am applying for the position of editor at your magazine that was advertised in the Niagara Gazette."
  • "This letter is an expression of my interest in an Elementary Education position in your district. I am excited about the opportunity for employment in an urban district which stresses the whole language approach to learning."
  • "David Anderson at Bank America told me about your plans to begin treasury operations in New York City. I will soon be relocating to Manhattan and would enjoy the opportunity to speak with you about this initiative."
  • "I read with great interest the article in last week's The Buffalo News which discussed your recent expansion. Micromacs venture into convo-imaging is not surprising as I learned about this cutting-edge technology during a recent internship."

  1. The Body (One or two Paragraphs):
  • Focuses on you.
  • Matches your qualifications with their needs, as shown in the position description.
  • Demonstrates what skills qualify you for the position.
  • Highlights a few major points of your background.
  • Enhances, but does not simply repeat, information to be found on your resume.

Examples for the body:

  • "My placement at Baker Hall, a facility similar to yours, was rewarding as I counseled adolescent boys with emotional and physical disabilities."
  • "My writing and organizational skills were enhanced when I led a letter-writing campaign to promote campus safety. As a result, the undergraduate student government recognized me as student activist of the year."
  • "During my student teaching in a rural district, I was able to integrate a variety of learning experiences, such as..."
  • "Throughout my internship I completed tasks such as budget preparation, payroll distribution, and employee evaluations."

  1. The Closing or Final Paragraph
  • Summarizes why you would "fit" the organization.
  • Requests action to be taken e.g. asking for an interview or application.
  • States that you will be calling to follow up on the status of your application or to schedule a meeting. Exceptions to this would be when the employer requests "no phone calls" and/or you do not know the name of the organization or contact to which you are applying e.g., PO Box.

Examples for the closing paragraph:

  • "I would like to meet with you to discuss the possibility of teaching in your district, and will call you the week of June 3rd to arrange a meeting."
  • "My knowledge of consumer issues, combined with my enthusiasm for public service, make me an excellent candidate for this position. If I have not heard from you by the 23rd, I will contact you regarding the status of my application."
  • "I will be in your area after July 1st and would welcome the opportunity to discuss my candidacy. I will call then regarding a possible meeting."

Style Tips

  • Address your letter to a specific person using his/her title. This can usually be obtained with a simple phone call or by utilizing one of the many print or online employer directories available through the CAPE.
  • Do not start with a question, e.g. "Are you looking for a bright, talented person to fill your needs?"
  • Tell what you can offer them, not what you anticipate they can do for you.
  • Avoid being cute, humorous, or overly pushy.
  • Keep the tone positive. Don't apologize for poor grades or lack of experience.
  • Highlight key points of your experience. Be specific!
  • Keep it short and to the point. Edit ruthlessly.
  • Think in terms of quality of letters not quantity of letters.
  • Keep a copy of every letter for future reference.
  • Keep length to one page.
  • If you are asked to provide salary requirements in your cover letter it is advisable to give a general range of your expectations (after you researched salaries in your field). Then qualify this by stating that you would be happy to further discuss compensation during an interview.

Career & Professional Education

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Buffalo, New York 14222  •  Phone: (716) 878-5811  •  Fax: (716) 878-3152