Cover letters

Category: Scholarship Career Services Guide Job Search Skills

Cover letters
The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce yourself to an employer and to state your interest in an organization or a particular position. A cover letter is an opportunity for you to highlight aspects of your background that are especially relevant to the potential employer. A cover letter should always accompany your resume/CV.

Cover letters have a standard structure. This includes the opening paragraph, in which you explain why you are writing, what you would like to do, and the kind of job you want. Explain where you heard of the opening or why you selected this employer for an inquiry.

The second paragraph contains your description of how your work experience and training is related to the job you are applying for or desire. Remember to mention pertinent data or accomplishments to show that you have specific qualifications in this field or particular type of work.

In the third paragraph, explain why you are interested in working for this organization and in the particular position. Say that your resume is enclosed. State that you will call in a week or so to inquire about the possibility of an interview (if appropriate). End with "Sincerely," or another professional closing.

Some helpful hints
Research the organization. Read annual reports, company brochures, and check the organization's website. If possible, contact inside people.

Address your cover letter to the person responsible for hiring. You can call the human resource office or hiring contact and ask for the hiring person's name. Avoid addressing a letter "to whom it may concern."

Mention someone who referred you to the organization (if possible). Utilize your network of contacts.

Express your professional accomplishments and skills. However, you should not simply restate points from your resume.

Carefully proofread your cover letter for errors.

Be brief. Cover letters are preferably three or four paragraphs that fit easily on one page.

Communicate confidence and professionalism. The cover letter, like your resume/CV, is a marketing tool. It serves as an example of your writing skill and style.

Some common cover letters mistakes:

Thinking of it as a formality or something extra to attach to a resume/CV.
Trying to be unique--"I'm the top-notch candidate you're looking for."
Using gimmicks, literary prose, flashy paper, or colored type.
Writing lengthy letters (more than one page).
Not utilizing standard business form.
Other letters
There are also other kinds of letters that you may need to use in your job search. These include the career exploration letter, which you write to request an informational interview or to receive career advice. Through this letter, you are asking a busy person to spend time discussing his/her career experience with you. Therefore, your letter should include enough information about yourself and why you selected this person to make him/her interested in meeting with you.

The employment inquiry letter is an inquiry you might send to potential employers after you have identified the kinds of jobs and organizations for which you would like to work. This is also a cover letter, as it is advised to send your resume along with letters such as these.

An important letter you will write is the follow-up letter. You should write thank-you letters to people who have met with you or talked with you during your search. If you are interested in a position, this is an opportunity to reiterate your interest. You may also want to incorporate information about what you have learned and how the meeting was helpful.

Copyright 2004, President and Fellows of Harvard College


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