Writing Cover Letters

A cover letter is a short, highly-structured letter that is submitted in addition to a résumé or application materials when applying for a job, internship, or program. It is a required document, though you often only here about it when the employer doesn't want one submitted! If a prospective employer doesn't tell you to skip this step, then you should assume you have to write one.

The cover letter covers several areas of interest to the employer. First, it lets them know how you found out about the organization (this is helpful as resource managers decide which outlets to use for advertising jobs). Second, it demonstrates how well you fit their organization. Third, it lets them know whether you have the sense/training to write in this specialized business context. The assumption is if you've done your homework on how to write a cover letter, then you are probably willing to do what it takes to succeed in the hiring organization. 

Your Assignment

You will write a cover letter for a position that you could reasonable apply for now. This can be a volunteer, internship, research, or paid position/job. You can write the cover letter in response to an advertised job OR for a prospective position. Include the organization or job ad when you turn in your cover letter. Copy/paste or link the position information directly into Sakai's assignment box (please do not include as an attachment). 

Reading Job Ads

This is a good time for a brief segue into knowing how to read a job ad. You are looking for particular information when reading the job ad.

Let's start cover letters with a bit of fun -- What do you think of the following statements, gleaned from actual cover letters? Would you want to hire these people?

Now that we've had our fun, it's time to work! Here is your first writing task.

    1. Write three qualities/characteristics you have that are of value to any employer.
    2. Write three qualities/characteristics you have that are valued in your intended profession
    3. For each quality/characteristic above, jot down a few notes about an experience that you've had that demonstrates that quality.

Format of a Cover Letter

Make sure your cover letter is brief, but just long enough to get across exactly what you want to say. Ideally, it should be three to four paragraphs long.

The first paragraph should state the position you are applying for and where you saw the posting.

From: SLP Jobs.com

Always send a cover letter with your resume even if the company has not specified that you should include one. It gives you a chance to tell the company why you are a good fit for the job. It is also a chance to let them know that you have chosen them and that you are not just randomly submitting your resume. Although a cover letter is meant to help your chances of getting the job, it might hurt your chances if it is not written effectively. Here are some tips for writing an effective cover letter:

  1. Make sure there are no spelling errors or grammar mistakes. Typos and grammar mistakes are a sign of carelessness, and that might reflect to an employer the type of employee you are. Be as clear as you can without any distractions.

  2. Address your reader correctly. If you know the name of your intended reader, use it. If you do not know who is going to be receiving your resume, do not specifically address the reader. For example, do not state, "Dear Sir," since it just as well might be a woman. You might lose all chances immediately! A good way to address your cover letter is by stating, "Greetings." Keep it friendly, professional, and non-gender related.

  3. Show them you know who they are. Do some research about the company before submitting your resume. Let the company know you value their work and that you want to be a part of that. Tell them where you heard about the opened position. Always remember to customize your cover letter EVERY time you send it out. It is a sign of laziness to have a generic cover letter and it is usually pretty obvious when you have one.

  4. Tell them why you are the best choice. Be confident. Let your reader clearly see that you know what they are looking for. Point out your skills and experiences that are directly related to what their requirements are. Whatever skills you match, you might want to put them in BOLD font so they will jump out to your reader. Do not go into too much detail; that is what your resume is for.

  5. Be sure all your contact information is on BOTH your resume and cover letter. Be sure to include your email address, especially if you are sending it on line.

  6. Remember your cover letter is the company's first impression of you. Be sure there are no mistakes and ALWAYS customize the cover letter to exactly what the employer is seeking. However, keep in mind that there is a good chance your cover letter might not make it all the way to the hiring manager. As important as your cover letter is, do not solely rely on all the information in your cover letter to tell your reader why you are the right person for the position. You must also customize your resume to the job you are seeking as well.

Peer Review Cover Letters


    1. Is the cover letter written on one page?

    2. Is correct business style used (flush left, single space, extra line to distinguish paragraphs)?

    3. Can you easily identify all the parts -- addresses, greeting, body, closing?


    1. Is the address of the sender on the cover letter? Is the address of the business on the cover letter?

    2. Is the greeting used appropriate? Is the close appropriate?

    3. Does the first paragraph identify the position being sought and how the applicant found the


    4. Does the first paragraph end with an interesting statement about why the applicant is a good

        choice to consider?

    5. Does the body paragraph present experiences with details explaining what/why/how the candidate

       can contribute to the organization?

    6. Does the final paragraph include a confident business close?


    1. Does the overall tone convey what the candidate can offer the organization?

    2. Are there any places where lists with no details are used?

    3. Are there any unsubstantiated descriptive words used?


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