Employment Writing AdviceEmployment, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2018

Dissecting a Great Cover Letter

One type of writing that is often requested (and just as often misunderstood) is the cover letter. There are several different reasons why a cover letter can be requested. A common instance is a request for a cover letter in addition to one's resume when applying for a new job. Another type of cover letter request is for college applications and vocational certification programs, as well as for when applying for scholarships, grants, and other types of financial aid.

Regardless of its intent, a great cover letter is usually required if you want to enter a new program in college or a new job in the workforce, and care should be taken in how it is written. In order to help you with the cover letter writing process, we've divided the task up into three separate parts that should be addressed individually. In the following article, we will discuss details on writing each part — the introduction, body, and conclusion — as well as provide two sample cover letters.

Introduction

In the first paragraph, introduce yourself, the position you're interested in, and the fact that you're the perfect candidate for the position or the program (if applying to graduate program).

You really can't go wrong with this simple formula as the entire introduction of your cover letter. Oftentimes, the best introductions are those that are short, to the point, and nicely worded. While it's understandable that you want to give the reader a sense of who you are within a few paragraphs, keep in mind that friendly, concise communication is generally preferred when the reader is receiving multiple cover letters at once.

Here's an example of an effective introductory paragraph:

I was very excited to learn about the website content manager position you have available at New Marketing, and I would like to take the opportunity to introduce myself and the reason I believe I would be the perfect fit for your creative team.

In the second [and following] paragraph, discuss two to three highlights of your career and achievements that show why you are the perfect candidate for the job or program.

Think of this paragraph and the next (if you include it as part of the body) as a "best of," highlighting two or three achievements or career milestones that make you the perfect candidate for the position. If you've received any awards in your field, this is where you might mention them. If you have been entrusted with leadership roles, increased sales by a certain percentage, or any similar accomplishment that would make you stand out from other candidates, include those as well.

Much of what you should include within the second and third paragraphs will be dependent on the position you are seeking, or the program to which you are applying. You should tailor the body of your cover letter to the highlights of your career and experience that would be best suited for the position or program. If it's an academic program you're applying to and you're supplying a cover letter for that, the body of your letter should mention any papers you've written and published, or research that you've presented at conferences. Any experience conducting research is going to be useful in academic programs, so the person who will be reviewing your cover letter will want to know the extent of your involvement with conducting, analyzing, and writing about research.

If the purpose of your cover letter is to apply for a position at a new company, the body of your cover letter should mention work you've done in the past that has prepared you for the job you're writing about. Particularly if the job is in a creative field, supplying web links to your online portfolio pieces gives the reader a quick, easy way to get to know your work. If the cover letter is to be sent via e-mail, you can link your portfolio directly from the letter.

Here's an example of a paragraph that links to your portfolio:

Content is more than copy or text, and it includes the whole graphical interface a website user experiences when online. As portfolio pieces I've designed personally on Squarespace, including all graphic and copy elements, the following links will give you a brief glimpse of what I can do as a creative on your team: [link here] and [link here].

In the third paragraph, close with expressing your interest in speaking with the hiring or admissions committee, in person, to further explain why you're the perfect candidate for the job or graduate program.

In much the same way that the introduction was short and to the point, your conclusion should restate your interest in the position and your hope for a face-to-face meeting. Let them know how to contact you and close it with a friendly salutation. This paragraph can be considered a "call to action" (a term used in marketing circles) in the sense that you are requesting they take action and call you in for an interview to learn more about you and your candidacy for the program or position.

Something like this:

I have additional examples that showcase the scope of the work I do as a creative in the fields of web design and marketing, and I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you further about why I believe I am the perfect candidate for this position. You can contact me by e-mail at [insert e-mail address here] or by phone at [insert phone number here].

Or:

Although I have written and published multiple pieces in regional magazines, I am most proud of my research on helping low-level readers achieve freedom to read on their own, without assistance, and to develop a love for the act of reading. I hope to continue conducting this type of research in your esteemed program, and I look forward to speaking with you more about my potential as a graduate student.

Cover letter formatting

When writing a cover letter, it is important to keep in mind the same etiquette used in writing letters to an associate or business. Unless it is specifically requested that your cover letter be written as an e-mail, in e-mail format, think of it as a letter that you would send through the postal service, with the recipient's name and address — along with your name and address — included at the top 1/3 of the page. Use easy-to-read font that is between 10 point and 12 point in size, and avoid using colors other than standard blue, gray, or black, depending on the type of paper you will be printing it on.

If the letter will be printed, also be sure that the paper you put it on is clean, white, and doesn't have a lot of distracting marks on it (like some stationery might have).

Web design sample cover letter

Your Name
Street Address
City, State ZIP Code

Date
Recipient's Name
Title (if he or she has one)
Street Address
City, State ZIP Code

Dear Hiring Manager*:

I was very excited to learn about the website content manager position you have available at New Marketing, and I would like to take the opportunity to introduce myself and the reason I believe I would be the perfect fit for your creative team.

With extensive experience writing copy across multiple media — from online content to publishing in local and regional magazines — I believe that I will be able to continue to develop creative work that adds to your reputation in the industry. With a bachelor's degree in English and a minor in graphic design, I have demonstrated knowledge that I can span both sides of the creative aisle when helping clients with their online brand reputation and content.

Content is more than just copy or text, and it includes the whole graphical interface a website user experiences when online. As portfolio pieces I've designed personally on Squarespace, including all graphic and copy elements, the following links will give you a brief glimpse of what I can do as a creative on your team: here and here.

I have additional examples that showcase the scope of the work I do as a creative in the fields of web design and marketing, and I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you further about why I believe that I am the perfect candidate for this position. You can contact me by e-mail at [insert e-mail address here] or by phone at [insert phone number here].

Sincerely,
Your name

[*note that it is always preferable to use the name of your intended reader, if you have that information available. If you don't have the information available, sometimes a few phone calls are all it takes to know which exact name to write in the salutation. Dear Sir/Madam is sometimes used, but not preferred, according to most experts. If you can write the reader's exact name, your letter will have a better opportunity of having a powerful effect on the reader. It's simply human nature to prefer being addressed by your name.]

Admission sample cover letter

Your Name
Street Address
City, State ZIP Code

Date
Recipient's Name
Title (if they have one)
Street Address
City, State ZIP Code

Dear Admissions Committee:

Having recently earned my Bachelor of Arts in English from The University of Tennessee, I am interested in applying to your graduate program as a candidate for the Masters of Education, with certification to teach English for grades 7-12. I believe that I am the perfect candidate for your program, and I am excited to begin the application process.

As an honors award recipient throughout all four years of my undergraduate studies, I have had several opportunities to publish my research and work related to the field of language studies and the English curriculum. The piece that I am most proud of was co-written with Dr. Sarah Helding and entitled, "Teaching low-level readers to read through finding what motivates them." This particular study was published in the Journal of American Educators and received glowing reviews from the editors of the journal. The best impact of my research, however, was learning that several school systems in the area, particularly those in urban districts, will be adopting the methods we wrote about in their own classes for struggling readers. Knowing that my research will be put to practical, meaningful use is what encourages me to continue in this field.

Although I have written and published multiple pieces in regional magazines, I am most proud of my research into helping low-level readers achieve freedom to read on their own, without assistance, and to develop a love for the act of reading. I hope to continue conducting this type of research in your esteemed program, and I look forward to speaking with you more about my potential as a graduate student.

Sincerely,
Your name

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