Making It Happen

Anatomy of a Cover Letter

The cover letter is what entices a potential employer to read through your resume and consider inviting you to interview. A well written one will make you stand out among your competitors. It may even set you above someone who has more experience but does not express interest and connection to the position as well as you do.

A cover letter should do three main things:

Let the employer know your reason for contacting them.

Connect your skills, interests, and academic background with what the employer seeks in a new hire.

Articulate how you're a good fit for the position through specific examples.

200 Harbor Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

June 2, 2012

Mr. John Charter
Quest Expeditions
1100 Wayfinder Road
Friday Harbor, WA 98250

Dear Mr. Charter:

During the summer of 2009, I was privileged to participate in one of your five-day sea kayaking trips led by Evelyn Whaley, a current field guide. After this experience, I decided to major in marine biology and ecology. This past May, I graduated from Boston University with my bachelor's degree. I have kept in touch with Evelyn, who alerted me to the Field Guide position posted on your website. I would be excited to join you as a Field Guide, and have enclosed my résumé detailing my qualifications.

From my coursework, community service, and travelling, I have extensive experience in environmental and conservation work. In addition, I have taken numerous courses on marine ecosystems, namely the Pacific coastal regions of southwestern Canada and the tropical Ecuadorian coast. The flora, fauna, and geographical makeup I studied in these Pacific systems is strikingly similar to that of the San Juan region—knowledge I would bring to the position and share with future clients.

I am a natural leader and remain calm and collected in stressful situations. These are essential qualities for a field guide because, in addition to a leader's knowledge, a guide must be trustworthy, confident, and enthusiastic so clients feel completely at ease throughout their excursion.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to consider me for the Field Guide position with Quest. I can be reached at oliviamarin@bu.edu or 555-333-0000. I look forward to discussing my qualifications and background with you further.

Sincerely,

Olivia Marin

Format + Appearance

Cover letters follow the format of a standard professional letter. They should never be more than a page, preferably with balanced white space.

Write a customized cover letter for every job application, tailored to the organization's values and position requirements. Use the same font as your resume and make sure your contact information matches the other materials you're sending.

Focus on the positive. You can address areas where you lack experience or qualifications in an interview if they come up. Proofread your letter carefully, and have a friend read it too. Vary sentence openings—don't start them all with "I."

Header

Your address. You may also align this text to the right. Single space the text.

The date. Like your address, you can right-align. This should be the date you print and mail (or email) the letter. A date several days old makes it seem stale.

Recipient's address. This is always left-aligned, like the rest of the letter.

Salutations + Intro

Try to address your letter to the hiring manager. If no name is listed with the posting, research the name of the department director, hiring manager, or other contact associated with the position. If you can't find a name, address the letter Dear Hiring Manager or Dear Sir or Madam. It's best not to use To Whom It May Concern.

Demonstrate your knowledge of the organization's mission and goals and how your background, interests, and experience connect. This is your case for why they should hire you.

Body

Demonstrate how you are a good fit for the position. Point out relevant experience and education with specific examples that do more than reiterate what's in your resume. Emphasize only the most relevant qualifications. When possible, use keywords from the position posting.

State the value you would bring to the organization. Show how your personal characteristics, in context, make you a good match for the position.

Closing

In closing, express your appreciation for the hiring manager's time and consideration. If calls are allowed, indicate you will follow up.

We recommend Sincerely as a closing, but others may be appropriate, such as Best Regards if you have met before, or Warm Regards if you're addressing a friend or close connection.

When mailing the letter, leave 3–4 lines between the closing and your name for your signature. If you'r emailing the letter, you can insert an electronic signature, or simply type your name below the closing in the same font and size as the rest of the letter.