Cover letters are your opportunity to connect with an employer and highlight your transferable skills. Cover letters allow the reader to get a sense of who you are and what you bring to the table. At its core, the cover letter is a marketing piece that convinces an employer to offer you an interview. Even when not specifically required, it is a good idea to submit a cover letter with your resume to enhance your application.
There are two types of cover letters: letters of application and letters of inquiry. A letter of application is used when you are applying to a specific or existing job posting, internship or research opportunity. A letter of inquiry is used to contact employers or faculty directly when a posting does not exist. This allows you to inquire as to whether they might be interested in hiring you for a specific type of position.
Preparing To Write A Cover Letter
First, research the organization or employer and the specific job posting. Make a list of things that attract you not only to the position, but to the employer or organization as well. Examine the qualifications or duties that are listed and highlight the ones that stand out as being critical towards your ultimate success in the position. Keep in mind that skills and qualifications come from your experiences in the classroom, extracurriculars, volunteer work, summer jobs, internships and research.
This is where you should introduce yourself and hook the reader. Refrain from using phrases like "My name is". You want to mention why the you are applying for the position, whether or not you have a connection to the company such as a mutual acquaintance or someone who referred you, and why you are interested in the company or organization (show off the research you did!).
Body of Letter
This is where you make your case and prove that you are the best candidate for the job. Touch on the job qualifications and/or duties that are listed and explain how you are qualified to do the work that is required. Your statements should point to concrete skills and experiences that you detailed on your resume while connecting them to the position's duties and requirements. Be sure to avoid discussing what the opportunity can do for you and instead focus on what you can do for them. If you are inquiring about a position, be specific about what you want to do and why you are qualified to do it. If you have a lot of experience, two paragraphs may be warranted.
Again - make a connection to the job or employer. Ideally, you want to take a proactive approach and write that you will follow up on your application. Sometimes, however, a follow-up is impossible or the employer specifies not to. In those cases, simply state "I look forward to hearing from you". You should also motivate the reader to take some type of action ("please let me know if you need any additional information about my qualifications"). You should then reiterate your interest, provide your contact information, and close by thanking them for taking the time to review your credentials.
Things To Keep in Mind
Cover letters are most effective when they are tailored specifically to the employer or faculty member and the position you are seeking. Avoid writing a generic template and simply filling in the blanks. When possible, address your letter to a specific person and be sure to proofread as typos or errors can ruin your chances of landing an interview. Cover letters can be sent as an attachment, uploaded via online submission form or sent in the body of an email. If you uploaded your cover letter to a website, make sure it matches the same formatting as your resume. Finally, some industries and employers are less formal than others, so pay attention to the language of the posting and mirror this tone in your letter.
See our example cover letter to get a better sense of how you might consider writing yours. Again, every cover letter should be unique to your particular attributes and relevant to the specific job you are applying for.