A cover letter is designed to introduce you and your background to a potential employer. It should stimulate the reader to 1) read your resume and 2) grant you an interview.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Your cover letter is your first chance to make a good impression. It also serves as an example of your written communication skills. A poorly written letter may be rejected before the resume is even considered! Take your time and be sure to ask for assistance from the Piper Center. Once you have a rough draft ready, bring it in and have a staff member review it. This will greater your chance at securing an interview!
Cover Letter Resources
A cover letter is sent with a resume to potential employers and internship supervisors to express interest in a vacancy that has been announced, or to discover opportunities in organizations that have not yet been advertised. Below is an exercise to help you get started:
Start your Cover Letter
- Write several (4–5) opening sentences that will catch the reader’s eye and then select your favorite. Utilize the cover letter samples and books at the Piper Center for some great examples.
- List three skills required by the job/internship position for which you are applying. Then list examples of accomplishments that demonstrate your ability to utilize each skill. Turn this list of examples into a sentence format.
- Outline why this organization would want to hire you. What do you have to offer the organization that would make you a top candidate?
- Describe what you know about the organization; background, size, products & services, community involvement, growth and so on. Use bits and pieces of this information to personalize your cover letter. It shows interest in each organization to which you apply.
- Describe your greatest accomplishment — the one that relates most directly to the position for which you are applying. Make this into an impressive eye-catching statement, something that will make you stand out in the potential employer/supervisor’s mind.
- Follow our content guide and review your cover letter’s format and layout. Don’t forget to compare with our sample cover letters.
- Get feedback from Piper Center Peer Advisors, academic advisors, supervisors, faculty and other students. Revise your cover letter each time you get feedback. Get a final check from a Piper Center Coach. If you need more help, schedule an appointment with a Piper Center coach on Handshake.
- Finally, deliver your cover letter properly. Make sure you know the right delivery method for your situation whether it is by scanning, email, or by other means. Don’t forget to ask for the preference of the organization on the receiving end.
The format and content of your cover letter should conform to all the rules of a good business letter!
- Your cover letter should be only one page in length, contain three to four paragraphs, and be single spaced.
- Double space between paragraphs.
- Content should be blocked to the left margin.
- Print your cover letter on the same quality 20# bond paper as your resume.
- Don’t forget to hand sign your cover letter.
- Make a copy for your personal files.
Although parts of your cover letter may be useful for several different job/internship positions, always create a new cover letter for each opportunity.
- Your cover letter should begin with the date, name of contact person, that person’s title, organization, address, phone, and fax. End the cover letter with your name, address, phone, and email.
- The cover letter should present clear and accurate information that highlights the academic background and experience you have to offer the organization.
- Personalize each cover letter by including something specific about the organization and/or its products or services.
- indicate your reason for writing
- the position or type of work for which you are applying
- how you learned of the position
- BRIEFLY summarize the qualifications that you have for the opportunity you are seeking (this piece of information may be part of a catchy opening sentence)
- explain how your academic/work background has prepared you for the position
- state the skills/strengths you will bring to the job that parallel those needed to fill the position
- paint a picture of your skills and qualifications by giving examples. Examples should show how you’ve utilized key skills and how those skills transfer into the prospective position
- refer the reader to the enclosed resume
- indicate your desire for a personal interview
- close with a statement indicating you will follow-up (see Following Up)
- list phone numbers, day and times you can be reached
- thank the contact person for their time
** Should you get an interview, review what you wrote in your cover letter and resume so you can be well prepared to answer questions.
- Use an appropriate subject line for your email. First, review the position’s application instructions. Do they tell you what to put in the subject line? If not, use a simple and appropriate phrase like “Experienced Art History Grad for Exhibitions Manager”.
- Keep the body of your email short, unless the application instructions say otherwise. Ideally, type no more than 1 or 2 short paragraphs. Introduce yourself and state that your resume and cover letter are attached.
- Remember to include a greeting and a closing (followed by your name) within your email.
- Spell check! Proofread! (We really can’t emphasize enough HOW important this is. If you have one typo, some employers will immediately delete your email or throw away your resume.)
- Review the application instructions. Do they tell you how to submit your resume and cover letter? Do they want those documents as attachments, or pasted into the body of the email? Do the application instructions specify what type of documents you can attach? (The most commonly accepted attachment is a PDF.) If the instructions don’t specify, attach your resume and cover letter to the email. PDFs or Word documents are preferred.
- Send a test version of the email (including attachments) to yourself first. Be sure the email text looks normal and the attachments open ok. (Take this opportunity to proofread again too.)
- Contact the organization if you have specific questions.
Follow up with a phone call to the prospective employer/intern supervisor to inquire about the status of your candidacy. This will let that contact person know you are serious about the position they have to offer.
The rules of thumb when following up on a job/internship position are:
- If an application deadline is stated in the job/internship description, choose a follow-up date 5–7 working days following the deadline.
- If NO application deadline is mentioned in the job/internship description, choose a follow up date 7–10 working days after mailing your materials.
- Indicate a specific follow up date in the closing paragraph of your cover letter and be sure to follow through with the phone call!
Some ways of approaching the follow up phone call are:
- “My name is ________________ and I am calling in regards to the ____________ position. I’d like to know where the hiring committee is in the selection process.”
- My name is __________________ and I am applying for the position of ___________. I am calling to make sure my application file is complete and to find out when the interviewing process will begin.”
- Good morning/afternoon/evening, this is _____________ and I am calling to follow up on the position of ____________. I recently sent my letter of application, resume and references and am wondering when the search committee will begin reviewing the applications. How will the applicants be contacted for an interview?