The cover letter - your chance to make the sale

The function of the cover letter is to land you an interview. So write yours in a way that makes the person reading it want to meet you!

Many people find writing a cover letter to be a strange and challenging exercise. At the same time, if you have done background research as laid out above, writing a cover letter will not necessarily be that difficult. You know quite a bit at this point about the company or organization, the industry in which it is situated, and the position being advertised—background knowledge that should provide direction and focus to your cover letter. The challenge for you is to demonstrate how your skills set and background will enable you to meet the needs of the position.

Looking ahead

One classic beginner’s mistake is to treat the cover letter as an extended selfintroduction. This is what your CV is for; you should use the cover letter to draw a sketch of how you would perform if offered the position. In other words, do not treat the cover letter as a reiteration of information contained in your CV; instead, expand on key elements of your CV and demonstrate that your experience makes you a good match for this position specifically. It goes without saying that you will not get very far if you send the same cover letter to employer after employer. One position might call for a cover letter where you highlight your experience and personal attributes, while in another cover letter you decide to emphasize your educational background and academic achievements.

Structure and content

One of the main challenges of the cover letter is making smart use of the limited space you have; you should strive to be concise, while at the same time not being overly general. We recommend mapping out your cover letter sentence-by-sentence, and avoiding introducing more than one subject or argument at a time.

Begin your cover letter by specifying which position you are applying for and referring to where you saw it advertised. You should then immediately proceed to one of the central questions your cover letter must address: why are you applying for this particular job with this company or organization? If you succeed in providing a satisfactory answer to this question, while at the same time drawing attention to the most relevant aspects of your background, you will pique the employer’s interest and compel him or her to continue reading. Be sure that your educational background makes an appearance early on in the cover letter as well.

In the paragraphs that follow, you should elaborate on how you would draw on your educational background and work experience to carry out the duties associated with the position. Draw explicit links between your experience and the demands of the position; you should not expect that the person reading your application will draw these links by him- or herself. At the same time, this is your chance to demonstrate to the employer that you have familiarized yourself with the organization you are applying to work for, and that you have a clear understanding of the position.

In your concluding paragraph, consider highlighting some of your personal qualities that you believe make you the right person for the job. One way of doing this is by providing examples of the kind of colleague you are, for example by citing former colleagues’ or supervisors’ descriptions of what it was like working with you. Citing specific examples rather than introducing a long list of adjectives that you think describe you will come across as more convincing to the person reading your application.

Dot your i’s and cross your t’s

It can be challenging to objectively assess the quality of your own cover letter, especially when you’ve just finished writing it. For this reason, we recommend asking someone else to read over your cover letter and give you feedback relating to content, wording and structure. You are welcome to take advantage of Career Services’ drop-in service, or you can ask someone you know. At a minimum, you should set aside the draft you have written before looking it over again a few days later. On the following page, you will find a checklist you can use as you review your cover letter one last time before sending it off.

Finally, if you are submitting your application using an online application portal, be sure to compose your cover letter in a text editing software before pasting it into the application portal. Many online portals lack a save function and you risk having your session time out and losing all your work if you compose your cover letter directly in the application portal.

Published Feb. 19, 2018 9:36 AM - Last modified May 11, 2018 2:07 PM