Cover Letter Writing Guide

 What is a cover letter?  

A cover letter is one way of introducing yourself to your potential employers. It is usually one page in length and is sent along with your resume. In your cover letter you will express your interest in the job and in working for that company, You can highlight what you feel are your skills and qualifications as they relate to that particular job. 

The purpose of the cover letter is to compliment the resume. You can certainly mention some of the things on your resume, but not all of them. You want to get the employer interested enough in your qualifications to thoroughly read your resume so they review your full skillset and accomplishments.

The cover letter is the proper way to ask for an employer to review your qualifications or ask to set up an interview. It can be used by anyone when sending a resume in order to apply for a job. You should always send a cover letter unless the company’s job posting specifically asks you not to.

Getting Started

There are several things you should consider before you write your cover letter, and others to keep in mind as you are writing:

Research it:
If you found a job that you are interested in, conduct research on the company. What do you like about them? What do you not like? Do their goals, ideas or mission statement match your own? Look at the job description. Make sure you meet the criteria they have set before you even apply. Whenever possible, use some of the terms and skills the employer highlights in describing yourself. If they’re asking for a reliable, organized person who’s good with math, mention your math and organizational skills in your cover letter. And if you don’t meet the criteria, don’t lie and say you do!

Personalize it:
Your cover letter should change with every job you apply for. You can tailor your cover letter for each specific job and company. Not every job is going to ask for the same qualifications, so you shouldn't present the same qualifications every time. Keep the writing style professional; don’t use slang, clicheés, or casual language. Keep the tone of your letter positive, focusing on professional and personal skills and accomplishments. Your cover letter should be addressed to a specific person, including their job title, whenever possible.

Review it:
Be sure to carefully check that your cover letter is grammatically correct with no typographical errors. Proof read and edit any mistakes before submitting your letter and resume. Generally, cover letters are one page single spaced, with double spacing to separate the paragraphs. Keep the font and size of the type the same as it is on your resume, and print both documents on the same type of paper and in the same color ink.

Writing your Cover Letter

A cover letter is divided into four parts: the heading, the salutation, the body and the closing.

The heading:
The heading consists of your contact information, the company’s contact information, and the date you are writing. In the upper left hand corner of the paper, single spaced, you should have your mailing address, telephone number and email.  It should look like this:

Street Address
City, State, Zip
Telephone number

Email address

After this section is done, you can move one space down and add the date. Your new section should look like this:

Street Address
City, State, Zip
Telephone number

Email address

September 29, 2010

Complete your heading by inserting the company’s contact information. This will look similar to yours, but will also contain the name of the person that you are writing to, their title, and the name of the organization. Once the heading is complete it should look like this:

Street Address
City, State, Zip
Telephone number

Email address

September 29, 2010

Dr/Mr./Ms First name and last name
Their job title
Name of the Company
Street Address
City, State, Zip


The Salutation: 
The salutation, or greeting, is the line that identifies the person who will receive the letter. If you know the name of the contact person, you should address the letter to them, and follow it with a colon or a comma. Follow the format of:

Dear Mr. /Ms. Last Name, Job Title,

If you don’t know who you’re writing to, that’s ok. Stay away from phrases like “to whom it may concern”.  A better way to address the letter when the specific contact person is not identified is:

Dear Sir or Madam,

Or if you know their position within the organization, but not their name, you can use:

Dear Job Title,

The Body:
The body of your cover letter is usually 3 or 4 paragraphs long.  It lets the employer know what job you’re applying for and how you heard about it, why you’d be good for the job and your interest in setting up an interview.

Paragraph 1: The first paragraph is usually short, just a few sentences. It states your name and the position you are applying for. You should also include where you heard about the job opening, whether it was from a newspaper, online, or through a contact. You can also use this section to describe your interest and enthusiasm for this job or the field of work it is in, or in working for that particular company.

My name is Sam Student and I am interested in obtaining an entry level position in the field of counseling or human services…………... I would like to submit my qualifications for your review and consideration.

Middle Paragraph(s):  The second paragraph is the longest part of your cover letter; you can separate it into two paragraphs if you want. This section is where you highlight your specific accomplishments and qualifications that make you a good fit for the job.  A good standard to follow is to choose two or three specific examples of experiences or achievements that show your strengths as well as meet the job’s qualifications. They can include past jobs, internship experiences or something that sets you apart such as a community service trip, special award, conference attended, etc. Include specific examples of how these experiences helped you develop the skills that the company is looking for.  This section, like the rest of your cover letter, will change with each job you apply for. You can change the experiences you choose to talk about to best fit the description of each job.

I am currently a senior in The University of Scranton’s Counseling and Human Services program graduating in May 2011. I have been admitted to the Accelerated Master’s Program which has allowed me to begin taking courses at the graduate level in the Fall 2010 semester, and consequently will graduate with my Master’s in Community Counseling sooner than the projected time period. Aside from my coursework I have been an active member of the Counseling and Human Services Association throughout my college career and am currently serving in the position of Vice President for the 2010-2011 year.

My experiences outside of academics have prepared me to be able to work with diverse populations. I completed two internships, totaling 350 hours, over the course of my junior and senior years, as well as, a week long community service project. During my initial internship placement at the Family Center branch of Scranton’s Employment Opportunity and Training Center (EOTC) I gained experience in working with young children experiencing developmental delays and emotional or behavioral issues. Here, I strengthened my sense of empathy, patience, and understanding for clients; gaining experience as an advocate in assisting my supervisors in making appropriate arrangements meeting the children’s needs. Then, while interning at the University of Scranton’s Office of Career Services I developed a thorough knowledge of career counseling and planning by actively participating in student advising sessions. This allowed me to further develop my individual counseling skills. I also completed a special project, displaying initiative and the ability to work independently, in creating a new cover letter writing guide to be displayed on the office’s website. 

Finally, in the spring of 2010 I was chosen as one of five students to participate in a service trip to Chicago, IL, where we worked with various agencies that served the homeless population in urban areas. Being selected through a formal application process, I did not know any of the other students on the trip, which is testimony to my ability to adapt to new and unfamiliar situations. The diversity of these three experiences exemplifies my developing familiarity of diverse populations, my willingness to take risks and go out of my comfort zone, and my ability to work successfully in new and challenging environments.

The body of the letter provides examples to support what you’ve stated in your resume. Your resume can be used as a guide to help you decide what to put in your cover letter, but avoid repeating what your resume says. The cover letter is a tool for expanding upon what you have in your resume and making it more personal and in depth. Having strong examples of your skills are important. Always end this section by tying your experiences back to the company and how you can effectively meet their needs.

Closing Paragraph: The last paragraph is also short, usually two to four sentences. In this section you will let your reader know you’ve included your resume, and can request an interview. Include your contact information, usually an email address or a phone number. It is very important to end your paragraph thanking your reader for their time and consideration. 

            Enclosed is my resume which further outlines my training and experiences to date. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss any possibilities and a chance to personally explain my qualifications to you.  Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

This ends the body of your cover letter and leads into the closing. When signing your cover it should still follow the standard business format. You can end your cover letter with words like sincerely or respectfully. While you will be typing your name on the letter, it is also important to leave a space large enough where you can go back and hand sign your name, usually above your typed name. It should look like this:


Your hand written signature
Your name typed


Remember the “Dos and Don’ts” For Writing Your Cover Letter   

  1. Do use simple, clear and brief sentences.
  2. Do keep your cover letter to one page.
  3. Don’t use long wordy sentences that are difficult to read.
  4. Don’t be redundant in your message (don’t say the same thing over and over using different words)
  5. Do edit your letter before you send it.
  6. Don’t let spelling or grammatical errors go unchecked.
  7. Do address you letter to a specific person or job title.
  8. Don’t address it “To Whom it May Concern”
  9. Do expand on your relevant achievements and experiences.
  10. Don’t focus on job descriptions and responsibilities, that’s what your resume is for.
  11. Do follow a standard format for a business letter.
  12. Don’t use a font that’s too large, too small, or too difficult to read.
  13. Do thank the reader for their time and consideration.
  14. Don’t be rude, or start every sentence with “I”.
  15. Don’t forget to sign your letter by hand, in addition to typing your name


    Cover Letter Checklist
    Before you send out your resume and cover letter, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Did I follow the standard format of: one page, single spaced, 11-12 size type, a font that is easy to read?
  2. Did I address the letter to a specific person or in the correct way if I don’t know who I’m writing to?
  3. Is my cover letter well written, easy to read, and free of grammatical mistakes?
  4. Have I given specific examples of my qualifications and achievements that most relevant to the job?
  5. Did I express my knowledge of the company and my interest in working there?
  6. Did I personalize my letter so it’s specific to this job/company?
  7. Did I include my contact information and ask for an interview?
  8. Did I thank the reader?
  9. Did I sign my letter by hand?
  10. Is the overall tone of the letter very strong and persuasive? 

  11. Sample Cover Letters - from outside sources

    Cover Letter Tips - for you review


    REVISED: 10/29/2010
    Samantha Meluso, Senior Counseling Intern