Write Effective Cover Letters

The main purpose of a cover letter is to interest the reader in reading your resume. The simple diagram below shows the desired sequence from cover letter to interview.

Read cover letterRead resumeCall for Interview

Composing your cover letter

Most cover letters involves three steps: explain why you're writing, elaborate by referring to your qualifications, and close with a suggested plan of action.

  1. Explain to the recipient why you're writing. Are you replying in response to an ad? Were you referred to the recipient? Did you read some news about the recipient or the company that suggested they might be hiring? What's the situation?
  2. Address your qualifications for the opportunity. Given what you know about the recipient's needs, what can you offer that's of interest? Make reference to your resume, but don't just repeat what's there. Elaborate and expand as needed.
  3. Explain how you intend to follow up. Today more than ever, it's the sender's responsibility (yours) to follow up after sending your resume. In the last paragraph of the letter, say how and when you intend to do this.

As a general rule, only one paragraph would be required for steps 1 and 3, while step 2 might involve two or more paragraphs. The letter itself should not exceed one page. This sample cover letter, written in response to a referral, uses four paragraphs.

Here's a slightly shorter version of the same letter in email format. An email cover letter must do the same job as the regular cover letter. However, since it's likely to be read online, it's important to be brief.

To get ideas for your cover letter, draw on the same strategies and research you did for your resume. The bottom line: Know what you offer that can benefit the reader.