The goal of the cover letter (also known as an application letter) is to secure an interview.  Paired with a powerful, professional résumé, the cover letter excites the employer's imagination and creates a desire to meet you.

The cover letter needs to:

  • excite interest in you as a candidate
  • expand upon your relevant skills and accomplishments
  • highlight ways in which you fit the specifics of the job description
  • support an image of you that is professional, organized, and attentive to detail

Job search correspondence may be the first impression you create for a potential employer. First impressions are lasting impressions.

Review our tips and samples for creating a cover letter:

Tips for Writing Cover Letters

Research the organization to which you are applying. 

Include in your letter examples of skills and accomplishments that will be relevant to the organization.

Generate your letters on a computer. Computers facilitate neatness in hard copy formats, as well as conveying that you know how to use technology at the basic office level. Computer-generated letters can be easily copied, modified, archived, reprinted or transmitted electronically.

Clearly state your purpose in the first paragraph. If your letter is a cover letter for an application, refer to the job posting or opening by name and number (if a number is assigned) and include the source of your information about the job opening.

In the second and third paragraphs, highlight your qualifications for the job, and provide examples of relevant experience and accomplishments. Refer to your enclosed résumé.

In the fourth and last paragraph, invite the contact to call you with questions and, if an application, to set up an interview. Provide phone numbers where you can be reached.

Lastly, thank the contact for their consideration.

Submit the correspondence by mail or email, or both, based on the stated preferences of the contact. If not indicated, inquire about preferences. If no chance to inquire, and you have both addresses, submit both, noting in each form of correspondence that you are submitting via the other as well, for the contact's convenience.

If submitting your application via an email, with your résumé or other supporting documents attached, keep in mind that employers may have preferences for the format of the attached documents.  Word and PDF are common formats for attached documents.  Submitting PDFs of your documents ensures the formatting you created will be maintained.  Some employers may want documents converted to text and submitted in the text of the email itself.  Some employers may not be able to receive attachments.  If possible, ask the employer what format they prefer.  If there is no chance for communication, you may attach both Word and PDF documents, explaining in the letter that both documents contain identical information but are provided in two formats for the employer's convenience.

Related Items to Manage

Practice professionalism in all your correspondence and contact.

Make sure your email address reflects a professional image.

The employer may call you on the telephone in response to your letter.  Make sure your outgoing voicemail or answering machine messages contain straightforward and professional content.

Ensure that anyone who can and will take phone messages for you will do so in a professional and reliable manner.

Review Samples

Review some sample formats and contents of cover letters created by Career Services staff. These samples download in portable document format, readable using Adobe® Acrobat Reader®.

Download a free copy of Adobe® Acrobat Reader®