Cover Letter Writing Guide

Use this quick guide to make sure you’ve covered the basics of developing your cover letter. A cover letter introduces your resume and serves as a writing sample, both of which can have a role in determining whether or not you will receive a job interview. Keep in mind that each and every cover letter your write should be individually tailored to the job and organization for which you are applying!

  • The Career Services staff will critique your cover letter with you. It is to your advantage to schedule an appointment before having your cover letter critiqued. Use this guide as a checklist.
  • A cover letter always accompanies each resume that you mail, fax, or email. When applying through an organization’s online application system, adhere to all application instructions. A cover letter may or may not be needed. When a cover letter is optional, it is usually better to include it.
  • You do NOT need a cover letter if you are directly handing your resume to an employer (i.e. at a career fair or job interview.
  • Always customize your cover letter to the position and organization, even if you are applying for more than one job within an organization. Identify the name and title of the person to whom the letter should be addressed. For online postings, include the name of the contact person and/or title that are listed. For ads with no contact information, you should still attempt to identify the organization, if possible. Only address the letter to “Dear Hiring Manager” if you are not able to find the necessary contact information.
  • If the employer asks you to include “salary requirements” in the letter, and you choose to provide this information, always state your requirements in a range and that you are open to negotiation. You should research salary figures for the position and geographic area. If an employer asks you to include “salary history,” he or she is looking for consistency. Gaps or salary cuts should be explained in general terms.
  • Avoid gimmicks, including referring to yourself in the third person (i.e. “Joe Jobseeker is a 2006 graduate of student at Cuyahoga Community College,” is a “don’t”.) Focus on your skills, experience, education and personal qualities as they pertain to the position create a professional impression. Clarity and brevity are always appreciated.
  • Your cover letter must be error-free and grammatically correct. Avoid over-using the word “I”. Look for ways to begin sentences.
  • Have someone proofread your letter and read it out loud to make sure that your ideas flow and to catch any awkward sentences or overuse of particular words.
  • Use a block (left-justified margins) business letter format. Center the letter vertically on the page.
  • The letter should be no more than one page in length and printed on the same paper you used for your resume.
  • For electronic submission of your cover letter, employers often prefer certain formats (Word, plain text, PDF). A Career Services staff member can help you save different versions of your cover letter.

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