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JobStart Part 5: Writing the Cover Letter1

Elizabeth B. Bolton, Jeannette K. Remington, and George O. Hack2

JobStart is a series of publications that contain information about the skills and attitudes needed to find and maintain employment.

This is the fifth publication in the eight-part series outlining the steps required to achieve these goals. The series includes the following:

JobStart Part 1: Getting to Know Yourself (FY345)

JobStart Part 2: The Right Job, Just for You (FY346)

JobStart Part 3: Marketing Yourself (FY347)

JobStart Part 4: Preparing Your Résumé (FY348)

JobStart Part 5: Writing the Cover Letter (FY349)

JobStart Part 6: Planning the Interview (FY350)

JobStart Part 7: Job-Seeking Strategies (FY351)

JobStart Part 8: Staying on the Job Once You Are Hired (FY352)

Why a Cover Letter?

Imagine just for a minute that you heard about a great job opening from a friend who works for a local company. You have the perfect résumé already completed and are ready to send it to the person who your friend indicates will be doing the hiring for the opening. Are you going to send your résumé to this person without any communication whatsoever? What would the person doing the hiring think if he or she received a résumé with no other correspondence to accompany it? Remember that a résumé is a tool used to describe your education, experience, and special skills. It is not a method of communication between you and a representative of a company that is in a position to hire you.

To solve this problem, the cover letter is used. The cover letter is a one-page letter that accompanies a résumé when it is sent to an employer. It does not have to be a long or wordy letter, but one that serves to introduce who you are and why you have sent your résumé.

The cover letter also serves many other needs as well. A good cover letter will target the résumé to a particular person within the company and make it more personal. It will let you highlight specific skills that could be important to the reader. It also allows you to state to the reader why you chose this particular company and how you can benefit them.

A cover letter should make the employer interested in you. It is actually a method of selling your skills and experiences. Unless the cover letter generates interest, you will not get an interview. Further, the prospective employer will probably not bother to look at your résumé.

The best reason to send a cover letter with your résumé is that most employers expect to see one with a résumé. Résumés are impersonal. An employer could think that you just sent him or her a résumé at random and are sending résumés to many companies at one time. This is not the impression you want an employer to get when they receive your résumé. You want the employer to get a good feeling about you from the very first. You want him or her to know that you are interested in their company and that you know who they are. You want them to know that you are a qualified candidate who can benefit the company.

The last reason to write a cover letter is to let the employer know that you plan on making contact with them. Your letter will state that you will either contact them by phone or in person, and it will tell them when to expect this contact. It notifies the employer that you expect them to do more than file your résumé away in a cabinet to be forgotten. In this publication you will learn the basics of writing a cover letter that is effective and professional.

What's in a Cover Letter?

There are many ways to write a cover letter, but all good cover letters include the same basic information. What we will do here is present a simple format that you can use to plug in this basic information no matter what the situation.

Your Name, Address and Date

This information is usually placed at the top center or top right of the cover letter. Be sure to give your complete address even though you are writing to someone in the same city. The date goes underneath your address. Your name also goes at the bottom of the letter after the complimentary close. It is typed and placed about 4 single spaces under your closing.

Name, Title and Address of Person to Whom You Are Writing

This information is typed beginning at the left margin, with each line of the address beginning on a new line. It is best to always have the name of the person that will read your cover letter. You can phone the company to get the name and title of this person if you do not have it already. Sometimes you will be unable to get this name. In this case, you should address the cover letter to the company or the department you want to work for within the company.

Purpose of Your Letter

The first paragraph of the cover letter goes directly underneath the salutation. It is the section where you will state the reason why you have sent your résumé and cover letter. You will indicate the position for which you are interested, or if there is no opening you can express your interest in the company. The first paragraph is very important because it is here that you will either stimulate interest in your résumé or lose their interest completely.

Your Qualifications

In the second paragraph you will highlight your best qualifications for the position or company and discuss how they will positively affect the company. Here, unlike the résumé, you can state your abilities and personal qualities that make you an excellent choice for hire. This is the “selling" paragraph that highlights your unique skills and experiences that make you perfect for the job. State more than what you have included on your résumé. Elaborate on some of your experiences that would be of interest to the employer.

A Word of Thanks

A simple line showing your appreciation is a good idea.

When you have finished your cover letter, ask yourself if it answers the following questions:

  1. Does it persuade the reader to take a close look at your résumé? Your cover letter should heighten the reader's interest in your qualifications. It is a sales instrument that promotes your personal and professional qualities.

  2. Did you take time to personalize your cover letter by getting the name and address of the most appropriate person to whom to send your résumé? A cover letter addressed to an individual is more likely to generate interest that will result in an interview than one addressed to the personnel department.

  3. Are you willing to follow up with a phone call within one week after you sent the letter and résumé? Don't assume that the reader will call you. Break the ice by calling him or her within one week. People in work settings lead busy lives. Be prepared to have to make the initial contact after you send your résumé and cover letter.

  4. A cover letter format is included to show you all the parts of the letter and what each part contains. Follow the format on the following page for your letter.

Sample Letter 1

Figure 1. 

Cover Letter Tips

• Always try to address your letter to a specific person who is in charge of hiring for a particular position.

  • Never address your letter to the Human Resources Manager or the Human Resources Department.

  • Adapt your letter to the situation. Mention the company's accomplishments or make note of other information that you know about the company.

  • Avoid using jargon or slang. Use clear and precise language, making use of positive, action verbs.

• Plan your cover letter before writing it.

  • Request an interview in the third paragraph.

  • Use numbers or figures in the second paragraph, whenever possible, to describe your accomplishments.

  • Always check your cover letter for spelling and grammatical errors before mailing it.

  • Ask another person to read it and give you their opinion.

  • Make a copy of the letter so that you will have a record of what you said to the employer.

  • Keep your letter to one page.

  • Use a business-sized envelope to mail your cover letter.

  • Never discuss the reasons you left your previous job. This is something for the interview.

  • Never state your expected salary.

  • Do not badmouth former employers.

  • Never put conditions on your hire, like travel or hours. These are better discussed in the interview.

  • Never mention benefits.

Cover Letter Checklist

Use the following checklist to evaluate your cover letter.

___My complete address

___The date

___The employer's name

___The company's name and address

___A salutation addressed to a specific person

___The purpose of the letter

___An explanation supporting the purpose

___A request for action

___A closing

___A signature

___My complete name

___The résumé is included

___The letter is clear

___The letter is brief

___The letter is well-organized

___The letter is friendly

___The letter is polite

___The letter is factual

___The letter is personal

___The letter uses 8 1/2" x 11" paper

___The letter is typewritten

___The letter uses correct spelling

___The letter uses correct grammar

___The letter uses a business format

___The letter uses positive, action verbs

Sample Letter 2

Figure 2. 

Sample Letter 3

Figure 3. 

Sample Letter 4

Figure 4. 

References

Beatty, R.H. (1989). The Perfect Cover Letter. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Brennan, L.D., Strand, S., Gruber, E.C. (1994). Résumés for Better Jobs, Sixth Edition. New York: McMillan.

Corwen, L. (1995). Your Résumé: Key To A Better Job. New York: Macmillan.

O'Brien, J. (1996). The Complete Job Search Organizer: How to get a Great Job--Fast. Washington, DC: The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc.

Shaw, C. and Wolford, N. (1992). The FACT Workbook. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS5216, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date August 2002. Revised October 2005 and December 2011. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Elizabeth B. Bolton, professor, Jeannette K. Remington, assistant in, and George O. Hack, former assistant in, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Extension Cooperative Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-0310.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.