Most roles a cover letter as part of the application. But what exactly is the purpose of a cover letter? What should you include? This guide offers advice and simple suggestions to ensure your cover letter helps distinguish you and your application.
💌 Purpose of a Cover Letter
A cover letter provides an engaging personal introduction indicating relevant attributes to the desired qualifications for a specific position. It is not your resume written in narrative form. Rather, it explains why and how you can bring value to the position and the organization and elaborates on how previous experiences are highly relevant to the role. Ultimately, your cover letter should answer the question: Why should this company hire you?
It might be tempting to send a generic cover letter to every employer, but tailored, thoughtful cover letters are much more likely to set you apart and give the employer a positive first impression. Potential employers can’t tell why you are interested in a position with just your resume. In cases where a cover letter is optional, writing one may provide an advantage as it’s better to give more information versus less. A strong cover letter indicates enthusiasm, professionalism, and, most importantly, sincere interest in the position.
🖋️ Writing a Strong Cover Letter
Your cover letter is meant to convince a potential employer that you will be able to perform the duties of the role, and that you’re excited about the role. It can feel difficult to tie together your academic work, projects, clubs/organizations, volunteering, previous internships, and part-time jobs in a tidy one-page cover letter that thoughtfully showcases why you’re the right person for a particular role. So how do you do it? How can you convince someone you’re the right fit? You must clearly indicate what skills you have and how they transfer to the role.
First, you want to figure out which skills you want to emphasize in your cover letter. Do this by carefully reviewing the job description. Underline or highlight the most important technical and/or behavioral skills the position requires. Choose the skills that you feel are your strong suits. Brainstorm examples (i.e. projects, assignments, or experiences) that illustrate your expertise with these skills. You do not have to mention every single professional experience you have Select two or three of these examples to focus on. When writing and checking over the letter, ensure that you’re not focusing exclusively on why you’re excited about the role without demonstrating how you’d be a good fit.
👍 Here are some tips for an engaging letter:
Start with a strong opening line Select three skills that you can “immediately bring to the table” and show examples to convince your employer you have those skills Tell stories and show examples that illustrate your skills rather than just listing accomplishments Be concise (1 page, 3 to 4 paragraphs) Focus on what you can bring to the organization Connect your experiences directly to the role Address the letter to a specific person at the organization (if possible) Lastly, address why you feel excited about this particular experience or opportunity, especially if the reasons are compelling or original. Employers like to understand the reasons you feel excited about them.
🚫 Now for some don’ts: DO NOT
Focus exclusively on why you’re excited about the role without demonstrating how you’d be a good fit; Focus exclusively on yourself and accomplishments without making it clear how it can help the organization; Make grammatical errors or typos (use Grammarly or another spell check tool just in case); Send a generic letter that is not customized to a specific role.
💡 In-Depth Suggestions
🔍 Research the company before writing
Look into the mission and core values of the company; find out what it hopes to achieve and why. Try to learn what challenges it faces and think about how you might address those challenges if you are hired. Spend time looking at a company’s website, its executives’ Twitter feeds, and employee profiles on LinkedIn. Read articles written by employees at the company. This process will help you better understand the culture of the organization, inform the tone for your cover letter, and suggest how you can frame the value you will bring.
📍 Use the job description as a guide
Most descriptions provide an overview of the role, list preferred candidate qualifications, and give insights into the culture of the organization. Focus on how you can best tie your past or present experiences to the specifics of the role. Try to incorporate keywords or phrases from the job description directly into your cover letter.
🙆 Consider your unique value-add
Employers want to know how your skills or past roles connect to the position. If you don’t have the exact skills/experiences yet, be creative in how you frame your strengths. Consider how you can offer a fresh perspective, or how your creative and critical thinking skills will add value. Elaborate on one or more skills or experiences instead of listing everything. A compelling story is far more likely to capture the attention of your audience rather than a list of accomplishments.
👣 Step-By-Step Guide
You want your introduction to make a strong first impression that shows that you’re a good fit.
How does the company or the role match your values/goals? What did you learn about the role or the company that you’re excited about? (“I’ve been a fan of…” ) What 2-3 skills and experiences do you offer this potential employer that matches the job description? (“My skills in X, Y, coupled with my coursework in Z are highlyaligned with what you are looking for in this role”) [You will expand on these 2-3 points in the middle section of your cover letter.] Do you have a connection to the company who provided additional insight? (“I recently spoke with X who told me about the diversity and collaborative culture of Y…”)
Include stories about 2-3 key qualifications that align with the job description. Don’t just write that you have a skill. Share evidence of context, how you’ve used those skills, and results/impact, if any.
What is your 1st qualification (a skill/experience that is required)? What story illustrates that you have this skill or requirement? What is your 2nd qualification (another relevant skill/experience or relevant coursework/academic projects)? What story illustrates that you have this skill or requirement? What is your 3rd qualification (relevant behaviors/experiences, e.g., global dexterity, teamwork, leadership)? What story illustrates that you have this skill or requirement?
3️⃣ Closing Paragraph
Write up a summary of your qualifications, personalize with any additional insights/added value you bring, and reinforce strong interest in the job. (“I am excited by the prospect of bringing my experiences in XYZ to [the company]... ). Thank the reader their time and indicate your desire to explore the opportunity together. (“Thank you for your consideration; I look forward to exploring the opportunity together/I hope we have a chance to explore the value I would bring to the team...”)
📄 Template & Example
This step-by-step guide is also available as a you can fill out. Your cover letter does not strictly have to follow this format. Rather, guide aims to help you get started and introduce you to best-practices. Do bring your own personal voice to the letter and adjust the tone to suit the role/company, like in this short.