A cover letter allows you to personalize your application – providing the employer with specific information about your interest in their organization and the position and addressing how you are specifically qualified.
Anatomy of a Good Cover Letter
If nothing else, make sure your cover letter is specific for each job application! Don't have a general form that you use for each job. Instead, tailor it to the position. There is a specific structure for a cover letter. Each section is listed below in order from top to bottom.
- Include your return address and the current date in the top left corner of the letter. Do not include your name or telephone number in this section.
- Place the employer’s address at the left margin before the salutation. The inside address includes the name, title, department, and complete address of the organization to whom you are writing.
- Use "Dear" preceding the individual's first and last name, followed by either a colon (:) or comma (,).
- Don't use Mr., Ms., Miss or Mrs. unless you have seen that title used by the individual.
- Don't use “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam” as it will appear you are writing a form letter. If you don't have the name of an individual, use “Dear Human Resources” or the name of the hiring department for the organization. For example, if the hiring department is called People Services, use that; it shows you have done your research.
- Can be three to five paragraphs in length depending upon the content.
- Format paragraphs in full block style. The text within each paragraph is single-spaced with double-spacing between each paragraph.
- Aligned with your return address and current date that opened the letter.
- Use a formal closing, like "Sincerely."
- Insert one or two lines and type your full name.
Cover Letter Writing Tips
- One Page: Make sure the letter is only a page in length. Be economical with your words, but still get your point across.
- Nice Paper: If you are printing a hard copy, use a high quality, 8 ½” by 11” bond paper – preferably, the same type as what your resume is printed on.
- Proofread: Proofread each letter for typographical, spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. We recommend you ask others to read your letters for clarity and to check for errors.
- Email Etiquette: In most cases, you may be sending your documents to employers by email. Remember that a professional appearance is important. Be certain that you keep this correspondence professional in manner and follow the same guidelines provided regarding letter content and structure.
Video: The Cover Letter
Cover letters can be frustrating and even overwhelming to come up with on your own. Learn how to write a solid cover letter so you stand out and impress employers. Watch the Cover Letter Video.
Pre-Interview & Pre-Screening Letter
An opportunity might arise where it is necessary to write a letter to an on-campus recruiter or job fair employer in order to secure an interview. Similar to a letter of application, the purpose of the letter is to highlight your qualifications and career interests to the employer.
- Explain your purpose: to request an interview with the organization.
- Consider the organization's employment needs and demonstrate how your career goals and qualifications match their needs.
- Enclose a resume for the purpose of screening. This is appropriate considering that you are referring to a specific position.
- Close the letter firmly by requesting the future interview or meeting.
To see what a pre-screen or pre-interview letter should look like, download the Pre-Interview Letter (pdf).
Interview Confirmation Letter
Once your application has been screened by an employer, you may be granted an opportunity to interview with the organization. This interview could be a site visit, over the telephone, virtual or on-campus. If time permits, you may wish to confirm the arrangements made for the interview, which can demonstrate responsibility and organization.
- Review the arrangements made for the interview. Be sure to include the time, date and location of the interview.
- Refer to important information that you were asked to bring to the interview or complete in advance such as a pre-employment exam, employment application or official transcripts.
- Restate your appreciation for the employer's consideration of your qualifications and the opportunity to interview.
To see what an interview confirmation letter should look like, download our sample Interview Confirmation Letter (pdf).
Post Interview Thank You Letter
We strongly recommend sending a thank you letter after each interview. Because so few candidates send these, thank you letters can leave a favorable impression on your employer. Email is best with thank you letters, as employers could be making decisions within a short time frame. Also keep in mind that the longer you wait to send a thank you letter, the less impact your letter will have on the employer.
A thank you letter should:
- Restate your interest and enthusiasm in working for the employer and the job opportunity.
- Demonstrate your professionalism, courtesy and your ability to follow through on details.
- Be concise and to the point.
- Be tailored to the position and organization. You can even highlight specifics of the interview or the overall visit. If your employer mentions they’re camping over the weekend, tell them to have fun – you could even tell them your favorite camping tradition!
Thank you letters should also be sent after informational meetings, network meetings or any time that an individual has significantly impacted your job search, like when you ask an individual to write you a letter of recommendation.
To see what a thank you letter should look like, download our sample Thank You Letter (pdf).
Job Offer Clarification or Acknowledgment Letter
Employers will differ in how they extend an offer of employment to a candidate, In either case, it may be necessary to clarify aspects of the offer prior to your final decision.
- Even if you are hesitant about accepting a job offer, it is best to show your enthusiasm and appreciation for receiving an offer. The last thing that you want to do is to appear unprofessional if you do not accept a position at the present time with the organization.
- Be specific about the conditions of the offer. State the salary, start date, benefits or other relevant information you have been provided.
- If you are unable to make a decision with your current information, request additional information.
To see what a job offer clarification and acknowledgement letter should look like, download our Job Offer Clarification and Acknowledgement Letter (pdf).
Job Offer Acceptance Letter
Accepting a job offer is fun, especially after all the hard work you did during the application process! Most organizations will ask that you call and give a verbal commitment. This enables the organization to act quickly to close the search and to prepare any necessary paperwork for you to complete. If writing an acceptance letter, keep the following in mind:
- Even though a verbal acceptance has been given, it's an excellent idea to confirm this acceptance in writing. Restate the terms of the appointment, job title, starting date or other relevant information.
- Mention your enthusiasm for beginning the position with the organization.
To see what a job offer acceptance letter should look like, download our sample Job Offer Acceptance Letter (pdf).
Job Offer Declination Letter
Even if you decline a job offer during a telephone conversation, it is a professional courtesy to decline the offer in writing. Remember that it's unprofessional to send a letter of declination prior to contacting the organization by telephone. By being tactful and appreciative in your letter, it'll help you avoid hurting your chances of being considered for future job opportunities with that organization.
- Always be appreciative of the experience and opportunity to have interviewed for the position.
- As with other letters, be concise and to the point.
- If you have accepted another offer, you can inform the organization of this opportunity.
- A declination letter can also be sent to refuse a site visit or second interview. Once again, this is a professional courtesy.
To see what a job offer declination letter should look like, download our sample Job Offer Declination Letter (pdf).
Networking or Informational Meeting Letter
Many times, you may want to speak with a professional in the workforce to obtain information about a career field, an organization or advice on preparing for a specific career. It's hard to know what you want to do in your career, and informational meetings can be a great way of finding this out! When contacting alumni or professionals regarding an informational meeting, it is best to do so in writing so they will know what is expected of him or her.
- Introduce yourself and how you found their name and contact information.
- Specify exactly what type of information you want to obtain. Say whether you would like an in-person or virtual meeting, telephone conversation or email correspondence. Note that you would appreciate this information at their convenience since you are asking for their assistance.
To see what a networking or informational meeting letter should look like, download our sample Networking or Informational Meeting Letter (pdf).
The purpose of any job search correspondence is to highlight your qualifications and distinguish yourself from your competition. Quality, well-written correspondence can be extremely powerful and highlight your written communication skills. If you send several letters to the same organization, keep them organized in case you need to make reference to any of the letters during your job search. If you’re unsure about sending a letter, it is best to err on the side of caution and send written correspondence.