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Cover Letters

Cover Letter Guidelines

These guidelines apply to both hard copy correspondence and e-mail.

  • Don't send a resume without a cover letter.
  • Create targeted cover letters for each position and employer.
  • Call attention to elements of your background — education, leadership, experience — that are relevant to a position you are seeking. Be as specific as possible, using examples.
  • Reflect your attitude, personality, motivation, enthusiasm, and communication skills.
  • Cover letters should explain why you are sending a resume. Don't make the reader guess what you are asking for; be specific: Do you want a summer internship opportunity, or a permanent position at graduation; are you inquiring about future employment possibilities?

Indicate what you will do to follow-up

In a letter of application — applying for an advertised opening — applicants often say something like "I look forward to hearing from you." However, if you have further contact info (e.g. phone number) and if the employer hasn't said "no phone calls," it's better to take the initiative to follow-up, saying something like, "I will contact you in the next two weeks to see if you require any additional information regarding my qualifications."

In a letter of inquiry — asking about the possibility of an opening — don't assume the employer will contact you. You should say something like, "I will contact you in two weeks to learn more about upcoming employment opportunities with (name of organization)."  Then mark your calendar to make the call.

Cover Letter Writing Hints

  • Avoid overusing the word "I." More emphasis should be placed on the organization and how you can help them.
  • Highlight your most relevant qualifications. Use your cover letter to make yourself look great, but at the same time talk about the skills that will help with the employer's needs.
  • Explain why you want to work for them. Do you want to work for this employer because of its reputation, financial standing, products, personnel, or location? Tell them why you like them, flatter them a little!
  • Stop into the Career Discovery Center to get help and review samples and make an appointment to have your cover letter reviewed.

Page margins, font style and size

For hard copy, left and right page margins of one to 1.5 inches generally look good. You can adjust your margins to balance how your document looks on the page.

Use a font style that is simple, clear and commonplace, such as Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri. Font SIZES from 10-12 points are generally in the ballpark of looking appropriate. Keep in mind that different font styles in the same point size are not the same size. A 12-point Arial is larger than a 12-point Times New Roman.

If you are having trouble fitting a document on one page, sometimes a slight margin and/or font adjustment can be the solution.

Serif or sans serif? Sans (without) serif fonts are those like Arial and Calibri that don't have the small finishing strokes on the ends of each letter. There is a great deal of research and debate on the pros and cons of each. Short story: use what you like, within reason; note what employers use; generally sans serif fonts are used for on-monitor reading and serif fonts are used for lengthy print items (like books); serif fonts may be considered more formal.

Main differences between e-mail and hard copy correspondence:

  • Format: your signature block (address, etc.) goes below your name in e-mail, while it goes at the top of the page on hard copy
  • E-mail requires a subject line logical to the recipient. E-mail subject lines can make or break whether your e-mail is opened and read. Hard copy can have a subject line too, but it's on the letter (after recipient's address block and before "Dear...," and it's seen after the letter is opened.
  • Signature: Of course you won't have a handwritten signature on e-mail, but don't forget this on hard copy.