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Nuts and Bolts of a Cover Letter

Not only is a cover letter expected by an employer, it is an excellent way to bridge the gap between your skills and the job you are pursuing.  A cover letter can tell an employer about your motivation, ability to communicate clearly in writing and demonstrate enthusiasm.

CONTENT

As with any business or professional letter, the cover letter must have a beginning, middle and end.   A cover letter should be one page in length, and have 3-5 paragraphs.

  • Beginning paragraph:  State the purpose of letter- include the position you are applying and how you learned of it.  Do not introduce yourself- sign name at the bottom
  • Middle paragraph:  Express interest in the company; provide relevant information that parallels job description, skills and qualifications
  • Discuss past work or internship experience and personal traits
  • Ending paragraph: Ask for an opportunity to meet for an interview, give them you contact information, or state you will contact them (then do it!)
  • When beginning each sentence, avoid using "I"; phrases such as "Throughout my education" or "My current position has provided me with the opportunity to..." are examples of appropriate introductions to inform the employer of your invaluable skills
  • Avoid writing a form letter to send to multiple employers; each letter should target the employer for whom it is intended, identifying specific skills that you bring to that position/organization
  • Communicate relevant skills, and avoid the tendency to list every skill that you have acquired throughout the years; prioritize and provide examples of how you have developed a specific competency.  This will add credibility to your marketing efforts by providing evidence
  • Indicate your unique interests and/or provide a statement of commitment -
    Examples: "My commitment to providing quality service to customers as they pursue challenging goals…" or "As a professional, I strive to develop innovative ideas aimed at increasing the efficiency of the current operating system."
  • Tell the employer how you are different from other candidates and why they need to bring you in for an interview
  • Indicate what you would contribute versus what you wish to gain from the position
  • Observe proper spelling and grammar- seek a critique of your cover letter and resume from an objective source
  • A cover letter should accompany all resumes even if the employer does not request it.

FORMAT

  • Whenever possible, direct your letter to a specific person; it is generally acceptable and encouraged to contact the company to secure this information if it is not provided
  • Avoid using abbreviations when referring to various items such as dates and names of organizations. While professionals in your field may be very familiar with the organization listed, it is possible that the initial interviewer (often from human resources) is not familiar with the organization's function. Ambiguous information will not increase your chances of securing an initial interview, which is the purpose of a cover letter and resume.
  • Choose a conservative font style (example: Times New Roman or Tahoma); the typical font size for a cover letter would be between 10 and 12 points
  • Left justify each component of your letter - This makes it very clear for the reader.
  • You may use the same heading on your cover letter as you do on your resume and reference sheet
  • Do not center text on your page; 1” margins are generally suitable
Resumes & Letters - Additional Resources

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North Dakota State University
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Page manager: Career Center

Last Updated: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 8:29:27 AM