When applying for jobs, a well-written cover letter is just as important as a well-written resume. While the resume is designed to provide an overview of your relevant skills and qualifications, the cover letter is your opportunity to discuss relevant experiences, connect those experience to qualities and qualifications from the job ad, and to display your personality to your reader. In other words, the cover letter is your chance to humanize yourself to your reader and to give the reader a sense of who you are and why you’re uniquely qualified for a particular position.

DOs

DON’Ts

Tailor your letter to the job and company by making explicit connections between the language and values articulated in the job ad and/or on the company’s website and your experience and qualifications.

Send a generic letter that includes no specific information about the company or position.

Begin with an introductory paragraph that contextualizes your letter by describing the job you are applying for, indicating where you saw the ad, indicating your interest in being considered for the position, and previewing the credentials you will discuss.

Begin with your qualifications. It’s important to establish what you job you’re applying for and that you know something about the company before describing yourself.

Include one or two body paragraphs that highlight your most relevant skills and experiences. One paragraph may be enough, but use more if necessary, particularly if you want to highlight various skills and experiences. Discuss one topic per paragraph.

Create a narrative resume. Your attached resume will tell them what you’ve done. The cover letter is an opportunity to make connections between your experiences and qualifications for the position.

Show, don’t tell. Use both qualitative and quantitative examples of your experiences and qualifications. Provide concrete examples by referring to specific courses, research projects, internships, or prior work experience.

Just tell. Anyone can write, “I am an excellent leader.” However, describing an experience that allows you to show the reader that you are an excellent leader is much more effective.

Conclude by expressing interest in being contacted for an interview. Be sure to also include your contact information in your conclusion, and remember to thank the employer for his or her time and consideration.

Forget to show appreciation to the reader for his or her time and effort in considering your application materials.

Establish ethos through a professional tone. Although you are writing in first-person, avoid being too informal. Avoid contractions and jargon, and strive to create a mature, self-aware, and confident tone.

Adopt either an arrogant or self-deprecating tone. When presenting your qualifications, it is important to show confidence. However, it is also important not to sound cocky or aggressive. On the other hand, it is also important not to sound insecure.

Follow conventions of the formal business letter. Use a standard font and font-size, keep the letter to one page, and use appropriate formatting conventions for business letters.

Format your cover letter like an email or a personal letter. Don’t use a unique font or include color in your cover letter. Don’t write a cover letter that is longer than one page.

Proofread your letter so that it is grammatically perfect. Hiring managers receive many resumes. Often, regardless of the content of your resume, a typo or grammatical error can quickly eliminate you from the pool of applicants.

Think that a cover letter is not necessary. Even if a job ad does not specifically request a cover letter, most professional positions expect them.