Checklist for a Successful Cover Letter

Is your cover letter…

  • No more than one page?
  • Formatted correctly?
  • Free from grammatical and spelling errors?
  • Addressed to a specific person (not “sir,” “madam,” or “To Whom it May Concern”)?  Call or research online to find the appropriate name and title.
  • Targeted toward a specific employer?  Use keywords from the job description or organization’s website or mission statement.
  • Specific, citing explicit examples to highlighting your skills?
  • Written in active voice?
  • Focused on your match with the company and what YOU can bring to THEM (rather than the other way around)?
  • Consistent with your resume (i.e. on the same high-quality paper and using the same font and contact information)?

Write a Cover Letter

Each cover letter needs to be tailored to demonstrate how you can meet the employer’s needs.  Writing a “template” can hurt your application, as these letters measure whether you are really interested in their position.  They may also be viewed as writing samples and used to make an easy connection with a qualified applicant.   

The key is to give examples, be concise, and convey authentic interest in this particular position with this specific company.

Content & Format

Your letter will have 3 main parts:  the Hook (introduction); the Pitch (body), and the Close (conclusion). 

  1. The Hook:  You should include 3 elements
    1. Why you are writing?  Because you are applying for X position
    2. Who are you?  You can state you major and/or that you are a Brandeis student, but it is even better if you include something descriptive that connects you to the job or the industry.  For example, an “avid environmentalist” might apply for a job with the EPA.  Or a “dedicated problem solver” would appeal to an employer looking to increase efficiency.  Do not begin with “My name is..”
    3. What is your connection to this employer?  While employers understand that the primary objective of many applicants is to get hired, it is important that you convey that you are applying to this job on purpose. Mention something specific so they understand that you are applying with sincere intention
  2. The Pitch:  Write one or two paragraphs to highlight skills and experience from your resume that meet the needs of this position or this employer. You’re not repeating your resume, you’re explaining it.  Identify 2-4 desired qualifications form the job description, and discuss them:
    1. Identify the desired qualification
    2. Give an example of how you have used or developed this qualification, including courses, achievements, and relevant experiences.
    3. Demonstrate that you understand why this qualification is relevant to the position.
  3. The Close:
    1. Confirm why you fit with this employer (culture, mission, common interest, etc.)
    2. Indicate that your resume is enclosed (or attached) for their reference.
    3. Let them know how they can meet with you:  Phone or in person - if not a local position and you know you will be in town during a specific period, share those dates.
    4. Mention when are you available to start. (optional)
    5. Thank them for their time or for their consideration of your application.

The attached example is typical format for a cover letter sent via hard copy.  If a letter is sent via email, consider attaching the letter (and your resume) as a .PDF rather than writing the letter in the body of the email.