Effective Cover Letter Writing Techniques

Top 10 Cover Letter Writing Tips

Advice for Writing a Top Notch Cover Letter for a Job

When you need to write a cover letter to apply for a job, it's sometimes the small things that can make a big difference. The closer to perfect your letter is, the better your chances of getting the interview.

Review these tips and techniques for writing top notch cover letters to send with your resume, including format and presentation, advice for choosing a type of cover letter, writing custom cover letters, how to send, and examples and templates.

  • 01

    Select the Right Type of Cover Letter

    There are several types of cover letters that can be sent to employers and contacts. Be sure to choose a type of cover letter that reflects how you are applying for the job or the type of job search assistance you are requesting.

    Your cover letter should be designed specifically for the purpose you are writing and customized for each position you seek. Review samples of each type of cover letter, then pick the one that works best for you.

  • 02

    Try to Find a Contact Person

    When it comes to cover letters, taking the time to get personal is really important. Find out as much as you can about the company and the hiring manager.

    Personalize your cover letter and, if you can, address it to the individual responsible for hiring. If need be, research online or make a phone call to find out who the hiring manager is.

  • 03

    Address Your Cover Letter Correctly

    How to address a cover letter can be tricky if you are responding to a blind ad and don't have a contact person's name to include or you don't know the hiring manager's gender. Here's how to address a cover letter.

  • 04

    Review Cover Letter Examples

    Take the time to review cover letter examples before you start writing your own, then make sure that your letter explains how your skills relate to the criteria listed in the job posting.

    Here's a selection of professionally written cover letters for a variety of jobs to give you inspiration for your own job search correspondence.

  • 05

    Format Your Cover Letter Properly

    How you format your cover letter, both from a content (the information you include) and a presentation (what your cover letter looks like) perspective is important.

    Even when applying online or via email, your cover letter needs to be properly formatted, readable, and without any mistakes. 

    Here's how to format a cover letter.

  • 06

    Include Keywords in Your Cover Letter

    It's important to include skill, results and recognition keywords which match the description of the job for which you are applying and attest to your credentials in your cover letter to increase your chances of getting selected for an interview. Here's how.

  • 07

    Write a Custom Cover Letter

    It can be ​time-consuming to write a custom cover letter for each job you apply for, but it's important to take the time and effort to show the company why you are a good match.

    Review these guidelines for matching your qualifications to a job description.

  • 08

    Start From a Cover Letter Template

    A cover letter template can be a good way to get started writing cover letters to send with resumes when you apply for jobs.

    Use a cover letter template as a starting point for creating your own personalized cover letter by adding your own information to the template.

  • Writing Cover Letters

    What is a cover letter?

    To be considered for almost any position, you will need to write a letter of application. Such a letter introduces you, explains your purpose for writing, highlights a few of your experiences or skills, and requests an opportunity to meet personally with the potential employer.

    Precisely because this letter is your introduction to an employer and because first impressions count, you should take great care to write an impressive and effective letter. Remember that the letter not only tells of your accomplishments but also reveals how effectively you can communicate.

    The appropriate content, format, and tone for application letters vary according to the position and the personality of the applicant. Thus you will want to ask several people (if possible) who have had experience in obtaining jobs or in hiring in your field to critique a draft of your letter and to offer suggestions for revision.

    Despite the differences in what constitutes a good application letter, the suggestions on these pages apply generally.


    What to include in a cover letter

    • Try to limit your letter to a single page. Be succinct.

    • Assess the employer's needs and your skills. Then try to match them in the letter in a way that will appeal to the employer's self-interest.

    • As much as possible, tailor your letter to each job opportunity. Demonstrate, if possible, some knowledge of the organization to which you are applying.

    • Write in a style that is mature but clear; avoid long and intricate sentences and paragraphs; avoid jargon. Use action verbs and the active voice; convey confidence, optimism, and enthusiasm coupled with respect and professionalism.

    • Show some personality, but avoid hard-sell, gimmicky, or unorthodox letters. Start fast; attract interest immediately. For more information see Business Letter Format.

    • Arrange the points in a logical sequence; organize each paragraph around a main point.


    How to organize a cover letter

    Below is one possible way to arrange the content of your cover letter.

    Opening Paragraph

    State why you are writing.

    Establish a point of contact (advertisement in a specific place for a specific position; a particular person's suggestion that you write): give some brief idea of who you are (a Senior engineering student at UW; a recent Ph.D. in History).

    Paragraph(s) 2(-3)

    Highlight a few of the most salient points from your enclosed resume.

    Arouse your reader's curiosity by mentioning points that are likely to be important for the position you are seeking.

    Show how your education and experience suit the requirements of the position, and, by elaborating on a few points from your resume, explain what you could contribute to the organization.

    (Your letter should complement, not restate, your resume.)

    Closing paragraph

    Stress action. Politely request an interview at the employer's convenience.

    Indicate what supplementary material is being sent under separate cover and offer to provide additional information (a portfolio, a writing sample, a sample publication, a dossier, an audition tape), and explain how it can be obtained.

    Thank the reader for his/her consideration and indicate that you are looking forward to hearing from him/her.


    Questions to guide your writing

    • Who is my audience?

    • What is my objective?

    • What are the objectives and needs of my audience?

    • How can I best express my objective in relationship to my audience's objectives and needs?

    • What specific benefits can I offer to my audience and how can I best express them?

    • What opening sentence and paragraph will grab the attention of my audience in a positive manner and invite them to read further?

    • How can I maintain and heighten the interest and desire of the reader throughout the letter?

    • What evidence can I present of my value to my audience?

    • If a resume is enclosed with the letter, how can I best make the letter advertise the resume?

    • What closing sentence or paragraph will best assure the reader of my capabilities and persuade him or her to contact me for further information?

    • Is the letter my best professional effort?

    • Have I spent sufficient time drafting, revising, and proofreading the letter?

    • *From Ronald L. Kraunich, William J. Bauis. High Impact Resumes & Letters. Virginia Beach, VA: Impact Publications, 1982.



    How to format a cover letter

    • Type each letter individually, or use a word processor.

    • Use good quality bond paper.

    • Whenever possible, address each employer by name and title.

    • Each letter should be grammatically correct, properly punctuated, and perfectly spelled. It also should be immaculately clean and free of errors. Proofread carefully!

    • Use conventional business correspondence form. If you are not certain of how to do this, ask for help at the Writing Center.


    For further information on cover letters contact the Career Advising and Planning Services and take a look at our workshp on Writing Resumes and Cover Letters (NB: this course not offered during the summer).

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