12.4 Cover Letters

Background

In the era of social media, the idea of writing a cover letter to introduce your resume may seem outdated. However, the cover letter still serves a few critical functions. If the resume is characterized by breadth (giving a broad overview of your qualifications), the cover letter is characterized by depth (choosing a few most significant qualifications to cover in detail). Written in paragraphs rather than bullet points, the cover letter is the first writing sample your employer will see from you. In paragraphed prose, it is easier to market your unique qualifications and how you will fit in with the culture of the company. An effective cover letter will create a picture of you as a potential employee, and inspire a potential employer to learn more about you.

Keep the following tips in mind as you write your cover letter:

  • Your cover letter is essentially an argument for why you should be granted an interview. Make sure to support the claim that you are qualified for the position with evidence. Demonstrate your authority by speaking in detail about your qualifications, and SHOW the reader that you have the skills and abilities necessary to do the job at hand. The more detail you offer and the more precise your language is, the more the reader will be able to picture you doing the job. See the sample cover letter below for examples of “showing.”
  • Use your audience analysis research to help you connect with the company and to choose the appropriate tone, level of formality, and level of technicality.
  • Follow the format for professional letters found in the Professional Communications chapter.

Outline

A general outline for cover letters:

  1. Salutation: Make your best attempt to find a specific name (or at least the job title) of the person to whom you should address this letter.  If you cannot find the name, you may address the letter “Dear Hiring Manager.”
  2. Opening Paragraph: State why you are writing, specifically naming the position to which you are applying. Indicate how you learned about the position (networking if you can). In one sentence, use your audience analysis research to establish a connection with the company. Finally, in one sentence, summarize your strongest qualification/s for the job.
  3. Body Paragraph(s): Build each paragraph around a key qualification or professional strength that relates to the job for which you are applying. Open the paragraph with a claim about this qualification/strength, and then provide a developed illustration of a time in your work or academic history when you used/excelled at this skill, or used it to benefit others. For example, if the job requires excellent customer service skills, you might discuss a time in which you used your customer service skills to diffuse a conflict or increase your company’s profits. It can be effective to conclude your middle paragraphs with sentences that express how these past experiences prepare you for the potential job. 
  4. Closing Paragraph: Thank the reader for his or her time and consideration. Gesture towards an interview. You may explicitly request an interview, or you may wish to include a phrase like “I look forward to discussing my qualifications with you in person, soon.” If there is any information the reader should know about getting in touch with you, include it; if your phone number and email address do not appear elsewhere in the cover letter, include them here. You may refer the reader to your enclosed resume.

Sample Cover Letter

12248 SE Wilderness Dr.
Portland, OR 97214April 29, 2017Mr. Doug Jones
Director of Human Resources
EVZ
600 Minnow Lane
Seattle, WA 12345
Dear Mr. Jones:
At Portland State University’s computer science job fair on April 9, 2017, I met with your representative, Ms. Karen Lincoln, regarding your entry-level Database Administrator opening. Not only am I a DBA and SQA certified CIS specialist, but I also have over a decade of experience in the steel and manufacturing industry EVZ specializes in. My strong manufacturing and technological background prepares me to help EVZ continue your impressive track record of safety improvements. Introductory Paragraph

Your introduction should discuss the following:

– The title of the job for which you are applying

– Where you heard about the position

– A connection with the organization and its goals

– How your experience matches the position

– How you will help the organization achieve its goals

From my conversation with Ms. Lincoln and your online information, it’s clear you are looking for someone who not only has technical skills, but who understands the steel industry. Within six months at United Steel Mill, I was promoted from Clerk to Machine Operator, largely as a result of my attention to detail and ability to collaborate. In three years, I had worked my way up to Plant Safety Coordinator, Quality Control Database Administrator, and Floor Trainer. While in those roles, I implemented a plant-wide safety program, saving my company roughly $15 million in recovered product, and reducing accidents by over 25%. In addition to demonstrating my understanding of the steel industry, this experience demonstrates the kinds of skills EVZ seeks: accuracy, integrity, and strong problem-solving skills. Body Paragraph 1

This paragraph should discuss the following:

– More connection with company goals/mission

– Support for your claim that you can help them achieve goals/mission

– Specific example based on information in résumé

– How you will help the organization

I have a BA degree in Computer Information Systems and an AAS in Network Administration; through my experiences, I have become very familiar with all aspects of Database Administration. In my position as Database Intern for Work Inc., I enrolled users, maintained system security, and monitored user access to the database, with 30-40 concurrent users at any given time. At Portland State, I maintained a 4.0 GPA, was admitted to Phi Theta Kappa, and was placed on the President’s List every term – a standard I will bring to EVZ. Body Paragraph 2

This paragraph should discuss the following:

– More detail on position requirements

– More detail supporting your claim that your experience fulfills these requirements

– Specific example based on information in résumé

– How you will help the organization

EVZ has grown rapidly for twenty years, and I would like to speak with you to discuss how my experience can aid your commitment to improving safety, quality and processes as you continue to grow. Enclosed is my resume, and you can reach me at 503-555-6237 orjohnice@email.com with questions. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to meeting with you soon. Closing Paragraph

This paragraph should do the following:

– State your main objective: an interview

– Provide contact information

– Close the letter in a professional manner, thanking the reader

– Provide signature block

– Provide enclosure information

Sincerely,

John Ice

CHAPTER ATTRIBUTION INFORMATION

This chapter was written by Megan Savage, Portland Community College, and is licensed CC-BY 4.0.

License

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12.4 Cover Letters by Allison Gross, Annemarie Hamlin, Billy Merck, Chris Rubio, Jodi Naas, Megan Savage, and Michele DeSilva is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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