A cover letter is a one-page business letter that you submit when applying to a job, along with your resume. As a piece of persuasive writing, your cover letter will aim to convey to the employer why you’re a great candidate for the role.
Cover letters … the 3-minute version
What is the purpose of a cover letter?
With your cover letter, you’ll aim to:
- Highlight your qualifications: You’ll show how your skills and experience relate to the employer’s needs for a specific position.
- Showcase your motivation: You’ll demonstrate your enthusiasm for the specific position and the organization.
- Reflect your voice and written communication skills: You’ll give the employer a sense of your personality and writing style.
How do I write a cover letter?
Research the employer
Learn enough about the organization to articulate why you are a strong fit for that firm. Here are some things you can do:
- Review the firm’s website and LinkedIn page.
- Speak with current or previous employees.
- Read articles and social media for current news.
Analyze the job description
Look for skills, duties, and qualifications of the job so you can design your letter to match these as much as possible.
Reflect on your experience and motivation
Identify skills and personal qualities you have developed which will be useful in this role. Ask yourself:
- What attracts you about this role/company/industry?
- What have you have done in classes, projects, work experiences, internships, volunteer, activities, travel, etc., that is similar to the duties required of the job?
Writing Your Cover Letter: Format and Structure
- Keep cover letters short—three or four paragraphs and less than one page.
- Use the active voice, keeping your tone positive and professional. Avoid beginning too many sentences with “I”.
- Read your cover letter aloud to catch repetitious words and typos. Make sure that the grammar, sentence structure and spelling are correct.
- When applying online, upload your cover letter as a PDF file, unless another format is specified. When sending your resume and cover letter by email you may write a short note or paste your cover letter in the body of your email (without the address header) and also attach the PDF file.
- Address your letter to the specific individual who can hire you, if this is known. If the name is not included in the job description, address the letter to Dear Hiring Manager or to the title mentioned in the job description.
- List your contact information at the top of the page either in the same format as your resume or on the top left or right margin as shown in the samples.
- your contact information
- employer’s name, title and address
- a greeting (addressed to Ms., Mr., or Dr. with the employer’s last name)
- cover letter content
- your signature or typed name
Writing Your Cover Letter: Content
Your cover letter should answer who, what, when, where and why you are applying for the opportunity.
Introduction: State the position for which you are applying, where you found out about the job, who you are and why you are interested in/qualified for this job and company in particular. If you spoke with someone in the company or were referred by a connection ask if you can include that person’s name and mention your conversation.
Body: The body of the cover letter may be one or two paragraphs. Highlight your qualifications and emphasize your strengths which are most relevant to the industry, organization, and position. Be specific. Use 2-3 examples of your work or academic experience to communicate your motivation and how your skills and experience prepared you for the job. Structure your letter based on relevance not chronology. Explain how you will be valuable to the employer. Do not discuss or apologize if you feel you lack experience or accomplishments.
Conclusion: Thank the reader and reaffirm your interest in the position or organization. Keep your tone positive and enthusiastic. Your cover letter should be specific to the firm and explain why you would be a good fit to work there.
Check out our example of how to structure your cover letter content.
Checking Your Work
Use our Cover Letter Checklist to make sure your format and content is in line with best practices.
When should I write a cover letter?
Not all jobs require cover letters. So, how do you decide whether to submit one?
Pro-Tip: If you’re applying to several similar opportunities, creating a draft cover letter in advance, geared toward that type of opportunity, can be a helpful way to save time in your actual application process.
Submit a Cover Letter when…
- the posting explicitly requests that you do so
- you’re applying to an opportunity at a mission-driven organization
- you think that doing so could provide important information to the employer that they wouldn’t get from your resume
Consider Submitting a Cover Letter when…
- it’s marked “optional” in an application, and you have the bandwidth to do so
- you have content that you can easily recycle or repurpose into a tailored cover letter
No Need to Submit a Cover Letter when…
- a posting specifically tells you not to submit one
- there’s no way to submit one in an application portal, and doing so would require a serious workaround