Stand Out Through Your Cover Letter
A cover letter is your opportunity to demonstrate to an employer your fit and enthusiasm for the role. Simply by taking the time to write a tailored cover letter, you are showing the employer that you are an eager applicant. A well-written cover letter will show the employer how your experience and skills connect with the job description.
- Tailor your letter to the position. Each cover letter should be tailored to the position and organization to which you are sending it. Keep in mind that the cover letter is often a prospective employer’s first impression of you.
- Be clear. Your cover letters should clearly and succinctly connect 2-3 of your key qualifications to the job description.
- Show, not just tell. Use specific examples to show the employer how you gained each qualification.
- Keep it short. Your cover letter should be no longer than one page and should include your contact information at the top, the date, and the organization’s address.
- Proofread. Proofread your letter multiple times to make sure there are no typos and that details such as the organization name and position title are correct. Have your cover letter reviewed by 1-2 others for both content feedback and another layer of proofreading.
How to Write a Strong Cover Letter
Though each cover letter should be tailored to the position and organization to which you are sending it, every letter will contain the same components. The goal is to motivate the reader to invite you for an interview and the best way to do that is to write a unique letter that focuses on that specific position and organization. That said, you will likely be able to reuse examples across letters.
Follow the steps below to write a strong cover letter. Use this worksheet to help you plan and develop your resume content.
Reviewing and gaining a strong understanding of the job description will help you write a tailored cover letter. Highlight the key skills or qualifications they are seeking that align with your strengths. Ask yourself:
- What skills and qualifications are required for the position?
- Are there key phrases in the job description, organizational mission, or other materials from the company that seem to show up over and over?
Choose 2-3 of those skills or qualifications to highlight in your cover letter.
As this is a professional letter, the header should include your contact information, the date you are sending or submitting your letter, and the recipient’s address block. You may cut and paste the header from your resume to make it look like a personalized letterhead.
Ideally, you would address the letter to the name of the hiring manager, but if you are unable to get a specific name, you may address the letter to “Dear Hiring Manager”. As this is a formal business letter, you will typically address it to the recipient’s title and last name (e.g. “Dear Dr. Brown”)
- If you do have a name but aren't sure of the person's gender or pronouns, we recommend that you include both the first name and the last name in your greeting without a title that reveals gender. (e.g. “Dear Pat Brown”)
- Even if you know the name and gender of the person to whom you are writing, think carefully about what title you use. If the person has an M.D. or a Ph.D., you should address your letter to “Dr. Lastname.”
- When you address a cover letter to a female employer, use the title “Ms.”, a general title that does not denote marital status.
The introductory paragraph sets the tone for the letter and should cover the following:
- Explain why you are writing and how you heard about the opening (if applicable). Mention the job title by name. If you have a personal connection to the organization, mention that person’s name.
- In 1-2 sentences, demonstrate your knowledge of the organization and why you want to work there. Based on your research, what is something unique about this organization that appeals to you?
- Convey your excitement and genuine interest in the organization and the opportunity to work for them.
- Briefly explain why you are a good match—the skills/experiences you bring that you will elaborate on in the next couple paragraphs.
Your body paragraphs will cover the 2-3 skills or qualifications you identified in step 1. This is where you will spend the most time creating content.
Using examples from your resume (without repeating your resume verbatim), tell a brief story about the experiences that best qualify you for the role. Through this content and by using keywords from the job description, the reader will be able to imagine what your working style, skill set, and characteristics might look like in their workplace.
The key here is to directly connect your skills and experience to the role. The more you make these connections for the reader, the less work they will have to do to see that you are a good fit for the role.
The closing paragraph is the simplest to write and consists of "call to action" language. To begin the paragraph, restate in one sentence your enthusiasm for the role and how you can add value to their organization. Then write out your calls to action:
- Share how they can contact you (email, phone, etc.)
- Politely request an interview
- Thank the employer for their time
- Let them know to refer to your attached resume
Following the last paragraph is the closing salutation, often using phrases such as “Sincerely” or “Regards”. Sign the letter with your full name.
Once you have a draft of your cover letter, stop by our office during weekly drop-in hours for a 15-minute cover letter review. No appointment needed!
Formatting Your Cover Letter
Your Street Address
City, State, Zip Code
Name of Person, Title
City, State, Zip Code
Introduction: Explain why you are writing and how you heard about the opening (if applicable). Mention the job title by name. If you have a personal connection to the organization, mention that person’s name. In 1-2 sentences, demonstrate your knowledge of the organization and why you want to work there. Based on your research, what is something unique about this organization that appeals to you? Convey your excitement and genuine interest in the organization and the opportunity to work for them. Briefly explain why you are a good match—the skills/experiences you bring that you will elaborate on in the next couple paragraphs.
2-3 Body Paragraphs: Cover the 2-3 skills or qualifications you identified from the job description. This is where you will spend the most time creating content. Using examples from your resume (without repeating your resume verbatim), tell a brief story about the experiences that best qualify you for the role.
Closing: Restate in one sentence your enthusiasm for the role and how you can add value to their organization. Then write out your calls to action (share how they can contact you, politely request an interview, thank the employer for their time, and refer them to your attached resume.)
Enclosure / Attachment
Career Field-Specific Cover Letter Tips
If you are applying with a creative resume, your cover letter should also have a creative look consistent with your resume. Consider using the same heading as your resume and the same fonts and colors.
When applying to positions in the federal, state, or local government, make sure that you research the government agencies for which you’re applying so that you can highlight your enthusiasm and commitment to the agency’s mission in your cover letter.
Similarly, if you’re applying to work with a representative (congressperson, state senator, etc.), it is important to communicate your interest in and commitment to supporting the representative’s policy initiatives.
School leaders want to know why you are a good match with their school. It may be that the mission statement of the district resonates with your teaching philosophy or style; or you could focus on grade-level learning software or systems that you have experience with.
While your resume tells an employer what you have taught and what principles guide your practice, the cover letter offers a better opportunity for you to convey how you teach and how you interact with students in the classroom.
A narrative about a positive classroom experience can make for compelling reading! Be sure to focus on the positive outcomes for your students.