A cover letter is an important tool to use when applying for a job because it:
- Introduces you to the prospective employer
- Highlights your enthusiasm for the position
- Describes your specific skills and qualifications for the job or internship, and clearly explains why you are a good fit
- Confirms your availability to start a new position
You should always include a cover letter when applying for a job unless you are specifically told not to by the employer. We recommend that you write a cover letter (aka letter of intent) after you have drafted and tailored your resume or curriculum vitae (CV) for a particular job description. For academic faculty and teaching positions, see cover letter instructions in Masters, Ph.D.'s and Postdocs section. When applying online and limited to uploading one document, you can create a single PDF document that includes both your resume and cover letter.
What to Include in a Cover Letter
Use the cover letter template and planner to get started. When drafting your cover letter, keep the following DO’s and DON’Ts in mind:
- Limit the cover letter to one page if possible, unless applying to academic faculty, teaching or research positions.
- Use the same font and formatting in the cover letter as you use in your resume.
- You might also want to use the same header in both a cover letter and resume. See header formatting examples.
- If providing a printed copy, use the same type of paper for both your cover letter and resume. Resume paper can be purchased at the UC Davis Bookstore or at an office supply store.
- Many tech companies prefer the cover letter not be attached, but uploaded as text in an email with the resume attached.
- Use formal, professional language in a cover letter. This is true when sending your cover letter as text in an email (above point).
- Personalize each cover letter to the specific position you are applying to.
- Address your cover letter to a specific person or the hiring manager whenever possible. If you don’t know their name, use one of the following examples:
- "Dear Hiring Manager,"
- "Dear [insert department here] Hiring Team,"
- "Dear Recruiter, "
- “Dear Search Committee Chair and Committee Members:” (used for academic teaching positions)
- "To Whom It May Concern: " Note, this last one uses a “:” not a “,”
- Check for typos, proper grammar and accuracy.
- Use spellcheck, but do not rely on it to catch all errors.
- Have multiple people review your application materials.
- Make an appointment with an ICC adviser to review your application materials before you apply.
- Unless told explicitly not to, you should always include a cover letter in your application.
- Don’t use text abbreviations or emoticons if you are using email.
- Don’t be too wordy or write just to fill the entire page.
- Don’t submit a generic “one size fits all” cover letter; tailor your cover letter to fit each position. Thus, none of your cover letters will be exactly the same, though a lot of content will be similar in each.
- Don’t repeat or summarize your resume in your cover letter. Instead, focus the cover letter on your enthusiasm for the job, excitement about working with that organization, to highlight unique skills that make you qualified for the position and a good fit for the employer.
- Don’t overuse adjectives or superlatives, especially subjective ones (e.g. “You are the best company in the world” or “I am the most hardworking student intern you will ever meet.”).
- Quantify when possible. "I've helped organize three club events, including two successful initiatives attended by 25 people" is a better descriptor then "I've helped organize several club events, including a couple successful initiatives attended by many people."
- Don’t exaggerate your skills or experience.
- Don’t use UC Davis letterhead, logo, or UC seal in your cover letter. [NOTE: For graduate students and postdocs, some departments allow use of department letterhead for tenure-track faculty applications. Check with your department before using.]
While most collegiettes seem to have mastered the art of the résumé, this isn’t the case for its more complicated cousin, the cover letter. Instead of a list of facts and tangible information, cover letters require more thought and creativity, but are restricted by the limits of a professional business letter. Sound complicated? It is, but that doesn’t mean it is an impossible feat. And luckily, Louis Gaglini, the associate director for employer relations at Boston College, as well as Gihan Fernando, the executive director of the Career Center at American University were nice enough to break down exactly what internship coordinators are looking for in the notorious cover letter.
1. Professional format
Before potential employers even read an applicant’s cover letter, they notice the overall formatting and appearance of the letter. With that said, the format should be clean, precise, and professional.
What are some of Gaglini’s tips? To begin, he urges collegiettes to “keep the cover letter to a standard page with white space and room for a signature.” He also suggests using a font size of 11 or 12, minimal bolding, minimal italics, and a standard font like Times New Roman.
Keep in mind that there are two ways to send your cover letter: as the body of an email or as an email attachment. If you are sending it as the body of an email, Gaglini emphasizes that it should still have a full, professional greeting and an appropriate closing. Gaglini says, “Employers don’t enjoy being greeted with a “Hey Lou!” when they are looking for potential future employees.” If you are sending your cover letter as an attachment, it should be attached as a PDF file. Gaglini suggests that the body of the email is an instructional statement along the lines of, “Please see the attached cover letter and résumé…” Lastly, make sure to label any attachments with either your initials or your last name and the title of the attachment. For example, a cover letter attachment should be labeled “XY Cover Letter” or “Smith Cover Letter.” Just make sure to not label attachments with overly descriptive or wordy names — brief and concise labels are the way to go!
2. Business tone
Collegiettes often forget that the cover letter is, in fact, a business letter. With that said, Gaglini implores collegiettes to take “a business tone, regardless of the industry that they are applying to.” Even if you are applying to the most creative position in the fashion or advertising industry, the letter is still a business letter. While it is OK to have some fun with the writing if you are applying to a writing-focused position (think advertising or magazine writing), Gaglini suggests primarily demonstrating your creative abilities in an attached portfolio or writing sample, rather than in the letter. As Fernando emphasizes, “you want to maintain a professional tone while showcasing your personality.” It all comes down to finding the balance between professionalism and personality.
3. “Dear Mr. X”
This might seem like a small detail, but it truly can affect how potential employers read your application. Addressing a cover letter as “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir” is impersonal and generally not favored. Try to write to a specific individual who is associated with the job position you are applying for. If this information isn’t listed in the job description or on the company’s website, Gaglini suggests exercising those networking skills. He encourages students to “network to find a specific person to write to. One of the best places to start is at your school’s career center. They will be able to help you find the correct person to write to.” If your career center isn’t of much help, try scouring the company’s website or searching LinkedIn. Gihan Fernando, the executive director at the American University Career Center, even recommends calling the company’s main number and asking for the appropriate person’s name and title. The bottom line is that you should do whatever you have to in order to avoid the infamous “To whom it may concern.”
4. Explanation of why you are writing
The first paragraph of the cover letter should be a short, to-the-point explanation of why you are writing. Think of it as a personal introduction to a person (and company) that doesn’t know anything about you. Gaglini suggests that you include your name, the school you attend, what you are studying, the position you are applying for and how you found out about the position. Doesn’t sound too scary, right? Just remember that the words you choose say a lot about you, so don’t rush through writing this short paragraph. While it may seem formulaic, it is still an opportunity to let your personality show through.
An ideal first paragraph would read something like this:
“I am writing to express my interest in the 2013 Summer Internship Program for Nike as detailed on the Nike Human Resources Website. Currently, I am a junior at Boston College majoring in communication with a minor in English. My prior experience with fitness and corporate communications as well as my various student leadership roles make me a strong candidate for the summer internship program.”
To read more advice on how to impress internship coordinators with your cover letter, check out the full article here.
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American University, Boston College, Her Campus, internships, CAREER PATH