One of the most common forms of professional correspondence is the cover letter, which employers typically request with your resume when you apply for a position. This page provides guidance on writing a cover letter.
The Cover Letter: Format & Content
The cover letter is your personal introduction to a prospective employer that outlines your interest in the position and the organization and expresses why you are qualified. While your resume lists all of your relevant experiences and associated skills and accomplishments, your cover letter makes an explicit connection between the 2-3 most relevant skills you have that match the skills an employer is looking for as listed in the position description.
Each cover letter should be tailored to a specific job description and organization. Demonstrate what you know about the organization/industry and why you are a good fit. Show how you meet the required qualifications for that particular job by emphasizing your 2-3 strongest skills; where possible, make a direct connection between those skills and how you could use them to accomplish what is required for the position. Use confident language, write in an active voice, and, except in rare circumstances, limit your letter to one page.
Before you begin, ask yourself these four questions
Remember, an employer is trying to match the skills they need with the skills you have, so where possible, use key words from the job/internship description and weave them into your cover letter.
Cover Letter Format
- Same font as your resume, sized within 1pt (larger, not smaller)
- One page in length, left justified, margins ideally 1”
- For consistency, consider using the same header on your cover letter that you use on your resume
- Top of letter: date, employer name, contact information (if you are short on space, remove the employer name/contact info and only include the date)
- Formal salutation (person's name, if possible)
- End of the letter: your name and contact information (your contact information is not necessary if you include it in the header)
Cover Letter Framework
- Opening Paragraph: Introduce yourself. Who are you (e.g. rising senior at Syracuse studying Information Management)? For what internship/job are you applying? Why do you want to work for that employer (e.g. draw a connection between who you are and why you are a good fit with this employer)? End your introduction with a short ‘thesis statement’ that highlights the 2-3 related skills that will enable you to contribute to this position (e.g. My experience conducting statistical analysis combined with my ability to take an initiative make me a strong fit for this position).
- Middle Paragraph(s): Start each supporting paragraph with a topic sentence that highlights one of the 2-3 skills you have that relates to the position for which you are applying; use the rest of the paragraph to showcase examples of that skill. Where possible, show how that skill will help you accomplish what is required for the position. Do not simply restate your resume; use the cover letter to expand on your resume and help your prospective employer make sense of your skills.
- Concluding Paragraph: Summarize your qualifications and reiterate your interest in the employer. Invite them to speak with you further regarding how your qualifications align with their mission and purpose.
Overall Elements of a Strong Cover Letter
- Tailored to the employer and position – makes a connection
- Focuses on 2-3 skills that match the skillset the employer is looking for
- Uses specific examples rather than a string of generalities
- Varies sentence structure, is well-written, keeps the reader’s attention and flows well
- Has genuine tone, demonstrating style and personality
- Is confident, not cocky
- Complements, instead of repeats, the resume