A cover letter is your personal introduction to a prospective employer. While a résumé is a document itemizing your abilities and experiences, a cover letter is your chance to really emphasize why and how you would be an excellent fit within the organization, letting your personality come through in your choice of words. A cover letter is an opportunity to be direct in your desire to work for an organization while also succinctly explaining what you can offer the company.
There are two primary types of cover letters used in most job searches:
- Specific Job Cover Letter – A cover letter for a specific job is used any time you apply to a company where you already have a job description in hand. That job description can come from any number of sources — the organization's website, another job search website, or someone from your network. The content you include in a cover letter for a specific job opening should be closely tied to the skills and abilities that the employer has advertised for in their job description.
- General Inquiry Cover Letter – A general inquiry cover letter should be sent when submitting your résumé to an employer who does not have posted positions. Since you are not writing to a specific job, you need to identify how your skills and abilities will fit with the organization's mission, goals, and culture. Unlike a job-specific cover letter, you also need to provide details about what you are seeking and when so the recipient knows how to respond to your inquiry. Are you seeking a co-op, internship, or full-time position? When are you available to work?
Review Steinbright's cover letter guides above as you begin to draft your first cover letter. Remember that these are only meant to get you started. Cover letters, like any written document, get better with editing and review.
Schedule an appointment with a Steinbright staff member or attend a cover letter workshop to learn more about crafting effective cover letters or to have your cover letter reviewed.
Tips for a Great Cover Letter
- Use confident language — you are your biggest advocate in your job search. You need to demonstrate that you know you are qualified for the job for an employer to believe it.
- Limit your letter to one page. The ability to be direct but concise speaks to your communication and persuasion skills. Review the Steinbright cover letter guides for recommendations on what the four paragraphs of a cover letter should contain.
- Put in the time! Research the employer — and the job if you have one — so your cover letter can be specific. Writing cover letters is time consuming, but investing that time on the front end will have an impact on your job search.
- Whenever possible, address your cover letter to a person, not the company, "To Whom It May Concern," or a generic "Hiring Manager" or "Recruiter." Seek out the names of appropriate individuals on the company's website or LinkedIn. These could include, but are not limited to:
- The human resources representative for the company (or a specific division/department of the company)
- The supervisor or hiring manager for the specific position to which you are applying
- The head of the division or department where you are seeking employment
- Highlight experiences or details that are not found on your résumé. The employer is already receiving a copy of the résumé, try to include details they do not already know.
- Employers not only want to hear why you are interested in the job, but also how you can impact the organization for the better. When reviewing cover letters, employers are thinking "What can this candidate do for my company?" Start making those connections early through your cover letter by conveying how you plan to translate your skills into ideas to better the organization.
- If you received a referral to the position or company from a current or former employee, it is often advantageous to mention this individual in the opening of your letter. However, as with personal and professional references, you should have the individual's permission before including their name.
- Use appropriate language. While your cover letter should demonstrate your enthusiasm and personality, it should not do so by using short hand or slang.