Career Development - Job Search Tools
Cover Letter Basics
Key points to remember:
The purpose of the cover letter is to:
- Make a good case for the match between you and the position to
which you are applying,
- Show how you are unique in your ability to add value to the organization,
- Provide an example of your writing abilities, and
- Convey interest in the position and an eagerness to be considered.
Cover letters should be tailored specifically for the position to
which you are applying.
How to begin: the first paragraph
- Identify the position by name and requisition
number (if given).
- Tell how you learned about the opening. Were you
referred to the position by someone? If so, mention their name. If
you found out through an advertisement or online posting, mention
where you saw the opening. Employers like to learn which
advertising methods are yielding the best results.
- Mention why the position interests you. Show evidence
that you have researched their organization and tell how what you
have learned reinforces your interest. Avoid saying things like, "I
am interested in working for you because your program is top-ranked
in your field." That may be flattering, but it provides no
information about how your background or interests connect with what
- Emphasize how your background matches their requirements
and what sets you apart from other candidates. State your case briefly;
you will be elaborating on these points in your middle paragraphs.
- Express enthusiasm and confidence about your ability
to add value to the organization, e.g. "I feel confident that
my previous experience working in a genetics laboratory and my enjoyment
of hands-on, precise work will enable me to quickly contribute to
your research program."
- Concisely convey all this information in six to eight lines!
Shine a spotlight on your qualifications: the middle paragraph(s)
- Emphasize what you have to offer beginning with
your most related attributes and experiences. Refer to the job description
and select two to four requirements for which you have particularly
relevant experience, education, or strengths and highlight this information.
- Use examples to demonstrate your match with the
position. Use the STAR method (Situation * Task
* Action * Result) to describe your examples. Keep your comments
brief and to the point.
- Mention any relevant upcoming experiences or educational
Compelling closings: the final paragraph
- Restate your interest and your confidence in
your ability to contribute, e.g. "I am eager to apply my background
and strengths to the research you are doing in XYZ Lab."
- Request an interview, e.g. "I would
appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss how
my qualifications match the _________ position."
- Indicate the best way to reach you. If there is
a best way to reach you, e.g., email or cell phone, mention it. If
you will be out of town or unavailable for a period during the search,
let the employer know and provide alternate ways to reach you.
- Thank the employer for reviewing your application.
- Use a business letter format.
- Keep it to one page and two to four paragraphs in length.
- If possible, address the letter to an individual by name, including
correct title, organization, and address.
Online resources to help you prepare:
20 Cover Letter Blunders to Avoid