Tips for Writing an Effective Cover Letter

Structure | Technical Guidelines | Tips

[NOTE: Refer to Tips For Writing an Effective Cover Letter before you begin.]


The challenge of writing an effective COVER LETTER is a question of perspective.

  • The goal of the RESUME is best summarized as "a glance at what you have done."

  • The goal of the COVER LETTER is not to repeat in narrative, rather than outline form, the information found in your resume. Instead, your goal is to inform the reader about:

  • What you have learned from what you have done.

  • What difference/results/impact your involvement has produced. In other words:

    • Did you make/save someone money or time?
    • Did you identify/solve a problem?
    • Did a decision you made result in a change - did you create something new?
    • Did you implement an idea created by someone else?
    • Did you quantify while detailing your involvement? ($, #, %, ^)
  • Highlights of the key strengths you would bring to this position.

  • How you intend to focus your unique cluster of aptitudes ad accomplishments as you approach the job market.

  • The personal profile you present to the employer should resemble, as closely as possible, the gap they are trying to fill.

The cover letter presents your only opportunity before the interview to convey a sense of your personality - an important dimension of your "fit" with an organization which cannot be gained from the resume alone. It is the first point at which an employer can sense whether or not the "chemistry" is right, in terms of bringing you into the organization's unique "culture".

The cover letter might also convey a sense of your philosophy of the profession, the kind of energy you bring to projects, your contribution to the team dynamic, your knowledge of the field beyond the entry position, and your view of the implications of current developments within the profession.

The cover letter presents the only opportunity you have before being hired to demonstrate a skill that almost all employers regard as crucial - your skill in written communication. The quality of your written communications - the fluency, eloquence, grammatical correctness, precision of language, and focus (and let's not forget honesty!) with which you express yourself - is a very significant factor in evaluating you as a potential hire.

Don't waste this important opportunity to impress employers by writing a boring "textbook" cover letter that sounds just like those that will be mailed out by hundreds of thousands of other grads ("I read of your opening…./ I will graduate from…./My major is…./ My courses have prepared me…./ Enclosed is my resume…./ I am enthusiastic about the possibility of…./ I can be reached at…./ Thank you for your time…./ Last summer I… ."). That boring letter - though correct and true - is a waste of a unique and limited opportunity to establish your desireability and to build your case. This is your chance to market yourself. No one else has your level of commitment to that goal.

The cover letter is most definitely not just the piece of paper that goes in the envelope with your resume. It does get read, and it is one of the two pieces of evidence that employers use to evaluate whether or not you are worth inviting for an interview, a decision that costs them time and money.

If you have created an impression that causes employers to respond: "I need to interview this candidate - I want to hear more" - then you have succeeded in writing an effective cover letter.