Preparing Effective Cover Letters

Generally cover letters consist of three or four paragraphs and are about one page in length. For an internship or entry-level position anything longer than one page is likely to not get read. The following material covers the information that is generally found in the six  main parts of a cover letter, but adjustments to the structure should be made to produce an easy to read letter that best fits your specific situation.

1. Addresses and Date
Use a business formal approach, like the following.

Your street address
City, State Zip Code
E-mail address
Phone Number

 Month Day, Year

Mr./Ms./Dr. First and Last Name of Person
Position or Title
Employer Organization’s Name
Employer Street Address (or P.O. Box)
City, State Zip Code

2. Salutation

  • Use a formal salutation whether you personally know the contact person or not.
  • When there is a specific contact, address it to that individual.
  • If you do not know the individual’s preferred pronouns then use their full name instead of Mr./Ms. (Example) “Dear Chris Smith”:
  • When there is not a contact person, use a formal generic salutation. (e.g., “To the Search Committee:”, or “Dear Hiring Manager:”

3. Introductory Paragraph

  • Introduce yourself and reestablish a prior connection to the addressee if possible (e.g., “you may remember me from our discussion at the career fair”).
  • Explain why you are writing.
    • When applying for a specific position – State that you are applying for The Specific Position Title. Many companies have multiple job openings, so it is important to specify which job you are seeking.
    • When prospecting – State that you are seeking employment and have a strong interest in their organization or industry.
    • When networking – State that you are seeking employment and were hoping they could help you connect with someone that is looking to hire someone with your qualifications.
  • Explain how you learned of the position because employers like to know.
  • Provide basic information about yourself and why you are interested in the position or working for the organization. Identify connections between your interests and the job, employer and/or industry.

4. Matching/Qualification Paragraph(s)

  • Depending on the number of skills/qualifications you wish to write about, this section might be comprised of either one or two paragraphs.
  • The goal in this section is to:
    • Highlight your skills and qualifications that you view as strengths that explicitly match the needs of the employer (based on the position description)
    • Indicate your passion and interest for the type of work, company, and/or industry
  • Describe experiences that have provided you with knowledge, skills, and interests that explicitly match the needs of the company.
  • Draw attention to select pieces of information on your resume that directly relate to the desired qualifications. Highlight specific experiences and provide additional details that demonstrate your level of experience to the employer.
  • For experiences that are closely related (example: You have experience with statistics software similar to the one they ask for) give a summary sentence that shows the impact of your experience and qualifies your learning as similar to what they ask for.
  • If you have little connection to the specific qualifications then you should show your passion and interest for the industry, company, and position. Also, add your highest quality examples of transferable professional skills that most employers will be seeking (e.g., teamwork, communication, quality orientation). Students and recent graduates will often draw upon quality examples from coursework, internships, part-time work, project-based activities, and leadership positions.
  • If you are from the area where the job is located or you have a specific reason to want to relocate there, it is often helpful to make this known. Employers know that you are more likely to be a long-term employee if you have a connection to the area.

5. Closing Paragraph

  • The first one to two sentences is often a summary statement that reinforces that you are a good match for the position and refers the reader to your attached resume.
  • Thank the reader for their time and for considering you for the position.
  • Indicate you would like an opportunity to interview for a position or to talk with the employer to learn more about career opportunities and indicate your preferred method of contact.

6. Closing Salutation

  • Use a formal closing such as “Sincerely,” “Best Regards,” or “Respectfully,”.
  • Leave space for your signature and then type your name.
  • Sign the letter.
    • You can either sign and scan your signature or pick a cursive font.

Saving/Printing the Cover Letter and Resume

Resumes and cover letters are most often submitted electronically through CyHire, the employer’s career site or email. Sending the documents using the postal service is less common but is sometimes necessary. When sending a hard copy, print the cover letter on the same quality paper as your resume. When sending electronically, we recommend saving your cover letter and resume in the same PDF document when your are not able to submit them separately. Be sure to include your name in the document file name so employers can easily identify your file.

Please visit the Engineering Career Prep Course in Canvas to access the cover letter writing tool and sample cover letter (ISU log in required).