Studies have shown that most cover letters are read in eight seconds or less. That's not much time for you to introduce and sell yourself to a prospective employer. Thinking of leaving out the cover letter since it seems to command so little attention? Think again. Most employers say they won't even give a résumé a second look if it is not accompanied by a cover letter.

The purpose of the cover letter is to:

  • Introduce you to a potential employer.
  • Highlight your interest in and qualifications for the position.
  • Demonstrate how your skills are a fit for the employers needs. Make sure you refer to specific items on your résumé.
  • Request an interview.

Even though this sounds like a lot of information to share, you need to be concise and brief with your cover letters. They should be no more than one page in length. The goal of the cover letter and résumé are to give enough information to encourage an employer to invite you for an interview. In the interview you will give more detailed examples.

Getting started

For a hard copy letter format

  • Begin by putting your contact information in a block in the upper left or right corner of the page. Include your street address, city, state, zip code, telephone number and email address.
  • Skip one line and list the current date.
  • Skip another line and list the name, title, and address of the person to whom you are writing.
  • Skip a line and write your salutation. The salutation should always use a formal greeting such as Dear Mr. Smith or Dear Ms. Greene, not first names. Note: For an email format, your contact information will be located under your signature line at the bottom of the letter.

Note: For an email format, your contact information will be located under your signature line at the bottom of the letter.

Dear (fill in the blank)
  • Cover letters should be written to an individual not “To Whom it May Concern.”
  • Research the organization and find the name of a person you can write the letter to – usually the director of human resources or the head of the particular department that interests you. If you are unable to find a name, address the letter to the position title (ie: Director of Human Resources,
  • Director of Research and Development, etc.).
  • Mention the name of the organization in your letter instead of referring to it as “your company / organization” since this is also impersonal.

You may be thinking that this sounds like it takes a lot of time. You are right! Personalizing each letter takes time, but your letter will stand out as one from an applicant who is truly interested!

First paragraph
  • State why you are writing and how you learned of the position (be specific – a website, the local newspaper, a family friend who works with that organization, etc.)
  • Give a brief introduction of yourself, including your major and graduation date.
  • Be concise and do not use gimmicks to try and attract attention.

Body of the letter

Demonstrate how you are a good match for the position listed. Do this in the body of the letter by identifying specific requirements of the job listed in the job description and describing the experience you have that supports those requirements. Your main goal is to show the employer that you  have the skills necessary to do the job. Be careful not to simply repeat everything in your résumé. You want to call the reader’s attention to specific aspects of your résumé and elaborate on them. You may be able to accomplish this in one paragraph or it may take a few.

Closing paragraph
  • State what you would like to happen as a result of sending the letter and résumé – AN INTERVIEW. Ask for an opportunity to meet and discuss your qualifications for the position.
  • Mention what you will do to follow-up.
  • Include information on the best way to contact you. Following the closing paragraph skip a line to write “Sincerely,” then skip four lines and type your name. When you print the hard copy, you will sign your name in the blank space. Conducting a job search is a time-consuming and often stressful process. By making the effort to do it properly, you are likely to see greater results.