A few guidelines for writing cover letters:
- Explain how/where you learned of the position;
- Specify what it is you want (to apply for the position, inquire about a summer internship, etc.);
- Highlight key areas of your education and professional experience (volunteer work counts!);
- Be as specific as possible, using examples when appropriate;
- Use language that is professional and polite;
- Demonstrate your enthusiasm and energy with an appropriate tone;
- Use simple and direct language whenever possible, using clear subject-verb-structured sentences;
- Appeal to the employer’s self-interest by showing that you have researched the company or organization;
- State how you (and perhaps only you) can fulfill their needs, telling them why you’re the best candidate;
- Give positive, truthful accounts of accomplishments and skills that relate directly to the field or company;
A cover letter can be fairly short (usually a single page, but this is not a rule), but it should be long enough to provide a detailed overview of who you are and what you bring to the company.
Accentuate the Positive:
Your cover letters will be more successful if you focus on positive wording rather than negative, simply because most people respond more favorably to positive ideas than to negative ones. Words that affect your reader positively are more likely to produce the response you want. A positive emphasis helps persuade readers and create goodwill.
In contrast, negative words may generate resistance and other unfavorable reactions. You should therefore be careful to avoid words with negative connotations. These words either deny—for example, no, do not, refuse, and stop—or convey unhappy or unpleasant associations—for example, unfortunately, unable to, cannot, mistake, problem, error, damage, loss, and failure. Be careful in your cover and/or inquiry letters of saying things like, “I know I do not have the experience or credentials you are looking for in this position…” These kinds of statements focus too much on what you don’t have rather than what you do. Also, don’t call attention to gaps in employment—let that come up in the interview.
Keep these points in mind when writing your cover letters:
- Stress what you have done rather than what you haven’t and what you do have rather than what you don’t (in other words, don’t apologize for your lack of experience, expertise, or education).
- Emphasize what you can and will do rather than what you cannot or will not.
- Highlight what you can do specifically for the company/organization rather than why you want the job.
*NOTE: Just because your resume will be attached, don’t make the mistake of thinking that your resume should or will do all the work; if something is important, be sure to discuss it in your cover letter because there’s no guarantee that your reader will even look at your resume. Part of your task in crafting your cover letter is to keep your reader interested and engaged.