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Cover Letters

A cover letter is a critical part of your job application. It allows you to specify why you want the position, identify your strongest qualifications and demonstrate your potential value to the organization and fit within the role. The cover letter does not simply repeat what is on your resume but amplifies it and relates it to the specific position, using examples from your current and past work and knowledge you have of the field, organization and position. 

This is the first piece of professional writing that an employer will see and your chance to introduce yourself. Ultimately, cover letters should entice employers to want to learn more about you and invite you for an interview. Letters must be completely truthful and error free.

This section will cover:

Types of Cover Letters

Response to an Ad or Job Posting

This is the most traditional type of cover letter. It responds to a written advertisement or job posting that includes a description of the position and its responsibilities as well as the qualifications that the employer seeks in a successful candidate. The letter is generally one page, although experienced professionals may find it necessary to have a two-page letter (at the most).

Never use a “template” cover letter, where you “fill in the blank” with a company name. Individualize each document you write, thinking carefully about engaging the employer with your experience and knowledge as well as your desire for the particular position and the potential value your background and experience will bring to the organization. Use clear language and solid examples. Writing strong cover letters takes time but those that speak directly to the position stand out in an applicant pool.

Open Inquiry Letter or Letter of Interest

Even if an organization does not have any positions listed, you may still inquire about potential opportunities or introduce yourself to a staff member who may have valuable information for you about employment at the organization.

An “open inquiry” or “letter of interest” is similar to a traditional response letter but it differs in that you won’t have specific job responsibilities to address. Instead, focus on your fit within the organization, department and/or field. You can still talk about your skills and experiences but it will be in a more general way as they relate to the field and company. Also, be sure to include a clear objective and tell the recipient what you are hoping to achieve. For example:

  • “I am writing to express my interest in working in environmental protection at the state level.”
  • “I am pursuing a career as a secondary math teacher and believe my philosophy and methods are a strong match with the mission of the Boston Public Schools.

Be deliberate and focused when identifying the person to whom you send an unsolicited letter; do not send letters to the entire staff.

Content & Formatting

Your cover letter should be formatted as seen below, including the content indicated in each section.

Your Street Address
City, State, Zip Code

Date You Send the Letter

Employer First Name and Last Name
Title and/or Department
Organization Name
Organization Street Address
City, State, Zip Code

Dear Mr./Ms. Employer Last Name:

1st section, 1 paragraph: Explain why you are writing. Name the specific position, field or general area about which you are asking. Share how you heard of the opening or organization. If a particular person or employee referred you or recommended that you apply, you may mention it here. Share why you are particularly interested in THIS industry, employer, and type of work (organization and field research is critical). Indicate how the skills and experience you bring can contribute to the organization and fulfill the responsibilities of the position.

2nd section, 1-2 paragraphs: Explain how you are qualified for the job. Give specific examples from your experience to demonstrate that you possess the most important skills included in the job description,and how you acquired them. Illustrate your experience, don’t repeat your resume verbatim.

3rd section, 1 paragraph: Make your closing statement positive and specific so that the reader will take action. Reiterate your interest in the position and in having an opportunity to speak with the employer.  Include your contact information - phone number and email - in this section if it is not already listed at the top of your letter. Thank the employer for his/her consideration of your application materials.

Sincerely,

(Sign your name here)

Typed Name

Enclosure: Resume (plus any other pieces you are including)

Tips for Sending Cover Letters

Paper documents

Like resumes, cover letters submitted as paper documents should be on quality bond/resume paper in white or ivory. Use a laser printer, not an inkjet or poor photocopier. Do not use gimmicks such as pictures, bright paper or creative fonts; they are distracting and do not scan well. If you wish to direct the reader to a specific website page you must include the full web address in parentheses.

Email documents

When sending a job application (cover letter and resume) electronically, you may include the cover letter and the resume as a single .pdf document as an attachment. In the body of the email, name the position for which you are applying and that the attachment contains your cover letter and resume.

You may also use the email to house the body of your cover letter with your resume attached. If you do so, indicate in your email that the reader will find your resume as an attachment. 

Some web-based job applications require you to paste text into an online text box. If this is the case, you may just begin your letter with “Dear Mr./Ms. ____:” and remove the addresses and date.

Addressing Special Circumstances

As a professional with an employment history, you may encounter circumstances that have an effect on your search and how you write your cover letter. When including information about these circumstances in your cover letter, keep statements brief and positive. Here are a few tips for various scenarios:

New position in your current organization

  • You have an inside view of the company and intimate knowledge of its values, goals and vision.
  • Strike a balance between professionalism and collegiality; to avoid informality, err on the side of professionalism.
  • Know and address why you want the position, not just to “move up” but to use your skills and contribute in this new capacity.

Transition to a new field

  • Focus on transferable skills.
  • Make connections between your past experiences and the specific field and position.
  • Conduct research on the field and company to talk confidently about the match between your background and your new focus.

Lengthy gap in employment/re-entering the workforce

  • Focus on skills.
  • Discuss volunteer or unpaid service work, including offices you may have held, as evidence of leadership, management, organizational, and relationship-building skills in a workplace (these experiences should be on your resume as well).
  • If necessary, develop a brief truthful public explanation of the gap without providing irrelevant personal information (for example, care for an elder, be with family, take enrichment classes, etc.).

Worked abroad and returning home

  • Identify solid outcomes from your time working, living and/or studying abroad (developed cross-cultural perspective, speak a new language, learned how a field works in another country, etc.).
  • Focus on these results as an advantage and connect them with the position, company or field.

When jobs don’t work out

  • Whether through a lay-off, unexpected change in responsibilities, or performance issues, focus on the responsibilities, skills and accomplishments from the time you spent in the position (every job includes some learning and achievement).
  • Never speak ill of your past employer.

Relocation/long-distance job search

  • State/confirm in your letter that you intend to relocate, so that the employer is confident you are ready to make the geographical move (you do not need to provide personal information about why you are relocating).
  • Research and networking are key in a long-distance job search. Gather information for your cover letter that makes a strong match between the opportunity and your skills and professional interests.

Hiatt Can Help

Call 781-736-3618 or email us to schedule a free professional cover letter review in-person, over the phone or online with a Hiatt alumni career advisor.