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From Resumes to Getting the Job: Advice & Strategies

Resumes, cover letters, interviewing tips, and job hunting

Cover Letter Basics

Illustration of a top-down view of hands on a laptopA cover letter is typically submitted with your resume when you apply for a job. It is a formal letter to the potential employer that highlights why you are a good candidate for the position, relevant skills, and what you will bring to the job if you are hired. They are usually three or four paragraphs long, and follow the format of a formal (business) letter.

Quick Tips

Do:

  • Explain gaps in your employment. This is a great place to explain if your company down-sized, if you took time off to go to school, or if you were transitioning to a new career.
  • Be formal. This is a professional letter to a potential employer. Don't use informal language.
  • Keep it short. Three paragraphs is sufficient.
  • Specify what position you are applying for at the beginning and if someone referred you to the position.

Don't:

  • Restate your resume. This is your chance to elaborate on skills and attributes that make you a good candidate for the job.
  • Re-use the same cover letter for every job you apply to. Tailor every cover letter to the job you're applying for - don't send the same cover letter to every position.
  • Write more than one page. Cover letters should be brief enough for the hiring manager to skim and still get your points across.

Essential Sections

Your contact information and the employer's contact information should be in the top left corner of your cover letter. 

Screenshot from Word of the header elements arranged on pageYour Name
Address
City, State Zip Code
Phone number
Email address

Date

Hiring Manager's Name
Title
Company's Name
Address

Never put, "To Whom It May Concern." Find the hiring manager's name - you may have to call the company - and address the letter directly to them.

  • Example: "To Jane Smith..."

If you absolutely cannot find the name, put a general title.

  • Example: "To the Director of Student Services..."

Specify what position you are applying for at the beginning of your cover letter.

  • Example: "I am applying for the position of Lead Hamster Wrangler..."

If a mutual contact recommended you to the position, mention his/her name in this paragraph.

  • Example: "Robert Johnson, Director of the Hamster Innovation Department, referred me to the opening at Herding Hamsters, Inc."

Include a brief summary of why you are qualified.

  • Example: "In my extensive work at a hamster ranch in Kansas, I worked on a team of three other wranglers and successfully led a project to inoculate a herd of over 75 hamsters against common hamster diseases."

Mention specifically how these qualifications make you a good fit for the position.

  • Example: "My ability to herd multiple hamsters at once and my in-depth knowledge of mass inoculation makes me well-suited to training new, feral herds."

You are not restating your resume, you are interpreting it. Providing specific details and relating them to the job posting, especially the description of job qualifications or duties, demonstrates that you have done your research and are well-suited to the position.

Thank them and close on an expectant note.

  • Example: "Thank you for considering me for the position. I look forward to hearing from you."

Close with a professional ending, such as

  • Respectfully
  • Sincerely
  • With appreciation
  • Best regards

Tutorial

Cover Letter Online Resources