A cover letter is a short letter introducing your qualifications and interest in a specific job. It should be targeted, succinct and personable. We recommend keeping it around three paragraphs.
The first paragraph should introduce you, why you want to work with the employer and why you're a good fit for the position. The point of paragraph one is to grab attention. If you have a personal contact to the employer, mention it here.
The second paragraph (which, depending on length, may be split into two paragraphs) is your sales pitch. It should present qualifications (education, experience, special skills) relevant to the position and field. If the employer has mentioned particular skills in his/her job description, address those specifically. Prove that you're the right person for the job.
The final paragraph is your request for action. It should ask for an interview, provide your contact information and offer more information (samples of your work, answers to any questions they may have). Use this space to demonstrate your enthusiasm and let the employer know that you will follow up with a phone call (and make sure you do!).
Cover letter writing to-do list
- If you have a personal referral for the job, let the employer know.
- Use quotes from your references in your cover letter to highlight your best qualities (for example: "As my internship supervisor states in her letter of reference, 'Sam is the most organized intern I've ever had'").
- Use brief personal examples to back up what you say about yourself. Tell your story.
- Talk about accomplishments that relate to the position you are applying for.
- Keep your cover letter short. If it's more than one page, remove anything that isn't directly related to the position.
- Ask several people to proofread your letter for grammar, spelling and clarity. Our career counselors can help with this – just give us a call!
- Use single spacing within paragraphs and double space between paragraphs.
- Always sign hard copies of your cover letter.
- Match the paper and heading of your cover letter with the paper and heading of your resume.
- Send an email version of your cover letter and resume to yourself first to make sure it opens perfectly.
- Always read and follow any employer instructions for submitting a cover letter and resume.
Cover letter mistakes to avoid
- Never misrepresent your background, skills or experience.
- Don't sound desperate or negative.
- Give a positive spin to your background and experience.
- Do not repeat your resume. Instead, summarize and enhance.
- Don't overuse "I" to start sentences. Vary your sentence structure.
Need more inspiration? Download some cover letter examples based on real DU students and alumni (PDF):