Cover Letters

The cover letter is a letter of introduction that is attached to or accompanies the Resume.  The cover letter creates your first impression and shares your interest in the position, plus it may help get you an interview. 

As a communication tool, the cover letter is persuasive in nature. Your aim is to convince the reader that you have the skills, experience, and enthusiasm they are looking for. By drawing from prior experiences, highlighting relevant examples, and relating your experiences to the specific position for which you are applying, a cover letter persuades the reader to consider you for an interview. 

The trick to writing an effective cover letter is to understand what the reader is looking for before you begin writing. By carefully analyzing the position, you can determine the tasks desired and the skills required. By performing this analysis, you will be able to determine which skills and experiences to focus on in your cover letter (and subsequently in an interview). You will also be able to see any gaps that might exist which you may need to address in an interview. 

For both your cover letter and resume, you will need to do some planning before you begin. The cover letter will highlight skills, knowledge, and abilities that are most relevant to the position.  Below are three steps you may follow for developing your high-impact cover letter: 

1. Examine the Position

Take time to review the posting in order to gain an understanding of what the position entails. There are many elements that will be evident and others that you can infer from the description. In the event that the description does not provide the information you need to write an effective cover letter, conduct some internet research. Review the posting and jot down the skills, tasks, and knowledge requirements stated by considering: 

The position title: Many position titles may be fairly generic yet indicative of what the position involves. 

The position description: Look at the duties and skills listed and prepare related examples from your past that meet the needs of the position. What can you infer about the position from the description? Ask yourself: 

  • What is listed first? (For example, if the tasks are based on complex skills, break the clusters skills down into foundational ones)
  • What is the mix between technical skills (such as programming languages or lab skills) and soft skills (such as teamwork skills, creativity, and communication skills)?

The qualifications: Most postings will list specific skills, education, and requirements and these often presented in order of relevance to the position. 

Rule of Thumb: Even if your skills are not an exact match for the position, you may still choose to apply. Generally supervisors ask for what the ideal candidate would bring but know that there is rarely a perfect match and are prepared to interview the best fit. Plus, given that you are a student, supervisors know that you may not have experience related specifically to the position. Depending on the field, your interest in the position and willingness to learn, you can often make up for a lack of specific qualifications.

2. Review and Match Your Skills with the Position Description 

Familiarizing yourself with the requirements of a position is the first step before you can exemplify how your skills, tasks, values, experiences, and achievements relate to the requirements. 

List the qualities, skills, and experience that you have relevant to the position description and remember to break your skills down to the most foundational level. Provide specific examples that relate to the required skill set. 

3. Develop Cover Letter Content 

After analyzing the position description and matching your relevant experiences and skills, you are ready to draft your cover letter. As you construct your cover letter, keep in mind these questions to enhance your effective communication: 

  • Who is my audience?
  • What are their needs, what are they looking for?
  • How can my cover letter best respond to their needs?

As you prepare the content of your cover letter, ensure to share your genuine enthusiasm and interest in the position. Use some of the wording from the position description to describe your skills and mirror the position’s needs. This technique indicates that you are actively listening to their needs. 

COVER LETTER FORMAT 

Below, you will see a suggested template for writing your first cover letter. Do not feel that you have to stick exactly to the format the template is presented as a guideline. 

Your Name 
Current Street Address 
Current City, Province, Postal Code
Current Phone Number

Accurate Date 

Name of Contact person
Title of Contact person
Company Name
Company Division/ Section
Company Street Address
Company City, Province, Postal Code

Re:    Position Name/ Position Number/ Competition Number 

Dear Ms., Mr., or Dr., ________: (Never address "To Whom It May Concern," or "Dear Sir or Madam." If you absolutely cannot obtain a person's name, then use the salutation "Dear Personnel Director" or similar.) 

Introductory Paragraph 

Purpose: To grab the reader's attention and establish interest in the position.  

  • Provide an opening sentence which entices the reader to continue reading.  
  • State interest in company, position, or industry.          
  • Mention specific knowledge of the company/position to indicate your interest.  
  • Discuss any research you’ve conducted on the company, position, or industry. 
  • Do not re-state the obvious (for example: where you found the posting).  

Main Body 

Purpose: Demonstrate your abilities relating to the position and your potential value to the company by highlighting your key strengths and experience!  Examples, examples, examples! 

  • Acknowledge the skills, tasks, knowledge, and experience required by the position in which you are interested. 
  • State the specific skills, tasks, knowledge, and experience you have related to the position, describe what is unique/ special about you that you are prepared to bring to the company (these aforementioned skills will parallel those qualities needed to succeed in the position for which you are applying). 
  • Give examples of your skills and any related work, academic, volunteer experience or achievements. Explain how these skills will transfer to the position for which you are applying.
  • Use some of the wording from the position description to describe your skills and mirror the position's needs. 
  • Try not to repeat the same information in your resume, instead your resume is a more detailed account of your experience, and your reader should be referred to the enclosed resume or application. 

Final Paragraph 

Purpose: Ensure follow-up action and extend your appreciation for being considered! 

  • Re-state your keen interest in this position.
  • State your appreciation for being considered for the position.
  • Thank the reader sincerely for their time and consideration of your application.

Sincerely, (Yours, Your truly, Respectfully,) 

Sign your name in ink

Type your name 

Enclosures: Resume 

COVER LETTER FORMATTING AND WRITING TIPS 

Format 

  • The visual impact should be positive, making your cover letter easy and inviting to read.
  • Consistent use of font. Use only one plain font, for example; Times New Roman, Arial, or Helvetica no smaller than 11 point.
  • Be sure to leave appropriate margins (1 inch/ 2.5cm).
  • Use appropriate and consistent bullets, bolding, underlining, italicizing. Limit the use of italics, brackets, and underlining as they don't fax or scan well and make the cover letter more difficult to read.

Layout 

  • Ensure the information is well organized and presented logically.
  • Keep the cover letter to one page with shorter, easy-to-read paragraphs.

Overall Impression 

  • Have a consistent look and feel throughout the cover letter and subsequently with the resume.
  • Ensure that print and paper quality are appropriate (for example, keep in mind that your cover letter may be photocopied and/or faxed, therefore good quality white/off white paper is easy to scan).
  • Customize the cover letter to the employer and personalize the cover letter from the applicant.

Cover Letter Writing Style 

  • Be consistent with language throughout your cover letter.
  • Ensure there are no typing, spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation errors.
  • Be concise in your writing and avoid overusing the pronoun "I".
  • Use relevant and effective words that are appropriate for the position, for example, use full sentences.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of your skill set and eliminate the limitations. For example; replace "Although I have little experience doing... I am prepared to learn program X prior to my experience" with "Having learned Java in three months, I designed the __ program still used by __."
  • Be consistent in your writing style. For example, if you describe previous jobs in the past tense, do so with all of them.
  • Personally sign the bottom of the cover letter by hand.
  • Make a point of demonstrating what you will bring to the position, rather than what the position will do for you.