Cover Letter Guidelines

A cover letter is defined as a business letter that introduces you as an applicant and highlights your qualifications; markets your creativity, writing style, and personality. The goal is to inform the employer that you understand the requirements of the job and demonstrates that you possess the skills necessary for the job.

Required Cover Letter Format

  • One (1) page document
  • Create in Microsoft Word (MS Word)
  • Page Size: 8.5” x 11”
  • Font Style: Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, or Tahoma
  • Length: 4 or 5 brief paragraphs
  • Font Size: No less than size 10 and no more than size 12
  • Consistency: Use one Font throughout, no bold or italics

Cover Letter Sections

  • Header: Your Name, Address, phone number and email
  • Greeting: "To Human Resources and Hiring Manager:" or "Dear Mr. Riley:" Whenever possible, write to a specific person
  • Paragraph 1—Introduction: What position you are applying for, how you heard about the position, why this position interests you, and a statement about what you can do for the company.
    • Example sentence: “Based on my graduate education and previous internship/full time experience, I will add value to this role in X way."
  • Paragraph 2—Specific Example(s) drawing on competencies/responsibilities listed in the job description that you can speak to. Make sure to articulate clear connections between your skills and experiences to the position you want, so the employer sees you understand the job and their needs and how you fit.
    • Example sentence: "In my current role/graduate program I manage/take classes (in) Z where I strengthened my BLANK skills.”
    • Note: If you are a career changer, you should provide a statement about how your previous career led you to transition back to school and seek a job opportunity in a new field or industry.
  • Paragraph 3—More specific Example(s) drawing on competencies/responsibilities listed in the job description that you can speak to.
    • For example: "In my current/previous role I create(d) Z where I develop(ed) BLANK skills.”
  • Paragraph 4—If necessary, share another example(s) drawing on competencies/responsibilities listed in the job description that you can speak to.
    • For example: "In my current/past role I manage(d) X, Y, Z where I have applied BLANK skills.”
    • Note: If you have limited work or internship experience, this paragraph is likely not necessary.
  • Paragraph 5 (or 4)—Summation: What experience you are bringing to the table, why you will succeed, and why you are enthusiastic about this potential opportunity.
  • Closing: Sincerely, Kind Regards, Best, Respectfully followed by exact name on your resume.

Additional Requirements

  • Always avoid clichés ("I am a hard worker"). Highlight your strengths ("I have advanced technical skills"), but always follow up statements about your competencies with a specific example. Show, don't tell.
  • Always avoid common unprofessional phrases such as “My name is" (should not be stated as you are signing this letter with your name) “I am” (same as "My name is"), “I am willing to work at your firm”, “I am willing to apply for your position," “Please let me know if I can get this job or a chance to talk to you.”
  • Proofread – not just spell/grammar check! Check for tenses! Make sure to set your computer language to U.S. English.
  • Use the job description and company/team description as a guide for what to focus on in your cover letter (everything should be relevant to the job and company).
  • Your cover letter should be tailored for each job you apply for.
  • It is important to mention your specific interest(s) in the company.
  • A cover letter is not a resume. It's an opportunity to focus on a few relevant things you think the employer must know about you (in the tens of seconds that you have their attention).
  • Remember that stories are Context—Action—Results (CAR) (and if the results weren't great, focus on your approach and process and what you gained from the experience).
  • The overall tone of your cover letter should be "this is what I can do for you /this is how I will add value to your company in this role."

Finally, a question to ask yourself:

What should I put in the cover letter rather than in the resume?

The cover letter is an opportunity to introduce yourself in full sentences and should explain how you learned about the position and why you are interested and qualified for the role in comparison to a resume which highlights the tasks and responsibilities of your work and educational experience in bullet points. Also note, there is a difference between a formal 3-4 paragraph cover letter and an email introduction to the prospective employer. The email form should be a brief 1 paragraph note that pulls from the first and last paragraph of your formal cover letter and should be edited and reviewed thoroughly for errors before hitting send!