Cover Letter Writing

[Downloadable outline of an effectively written cover letter] 


When writing a cover letter, keep the following in mind:

  1.  Write it for the READER, and
  2. Connect the Dots

The most common mistakes individuals make when writing cover letters is that they attempt to include every skill or quality -- hoping that something, anything captures the reader’s attention -- and that they write it for themselves rather than tailoring the message to the reader.  Additionally, individuals fail to connect their experiences and skill sets to what the employer has requested from applicants, as outlined in the job description.


While it may be tempting to create a generic letter that you send to every employer, don’t -- each employer is unique and your cover letter should convey your understanding of the their organization and the position for which you are applying.  Remember -- the employer can find more than one person with the skills they need for the job.  What they have trouble finding, though, is someone who is truly interested in the company and the open position.  An easy way to demonstrate that kind of information is to tailor your cover letter to the audience who will be reading your letter!


Step-by-Step Instructions:


Step 1:  Read and analyze the job description


Most job descriptions provide the reader and/or applicant at least three qualities or experiences sought in an attractive candidate. 

Read the generic description of job requirements listed below and identify 3-4 things the employer is seeking:


Sample job description:  Exceptional communication skills, ability to motivate self and others, history of strong academic achievement, participation in school or extracurricular activities and experience in leadership roles, organizational skills, problem-solving skills, team oriented, technical skills (related to the field.)


Step 2: Select two to four qualities to address in your letter


Identify the qualities or experiences you possess that you intend to focus on in your letter


Step 3:  Identify experiences and/or achievements where you’ve demonstrated the qualities outlined in the job description


Write down the qualities you’ve selected; next to each, write down where you’ve demonstrated that quality.  For example:


Communication skills   

  • Team member at work – XYZ project

Academic Achievement                           

  • Deans List 2 semesters

Organization and Leadership                    

  • Worked 20 hours, full course load, active in club


Anatomy of a Cover Letter

The length of a cover letter is typically four brief paragraphs.  The challenge in beginning the writing process is to communicate something compelling using as few words as possible.  The cover letter is meant to support your marketing document -- your resume -- it is also an opportunity to tailor your message to meet the employer’s needs and to capture their attention.  

Following is an outline of each of the four paragraphs you should be writing. The outline includes samples based on the generic job description provided above.


Paragraph 1

The opening paragraph of your cover letter should be a brief introduction of who you are and the opportunity to which you are applying (or, in the case of a "cold cover letter", the opportunity you’re seeking).  If a person who has some relevance to the reader referred you, mention that person here (no name-dropping for the sake of name-dropping, please).  In this paragraph, you can also demonstrate knowledge of the company or industry, presented in a compelling manner.  Stay away from communicating how your career would benefit from being employed by the company – the employer assumes you’ll benefit by their employment.  Instead, mention, in a general manner, how your skills will benefit the company.


As a recent graduate of Philadelphia University with a major in XYZ and two years of internship experience in the XYZ industry (or company name), I was excited to see your recent advertisement on CareerLink for XYZ (position title).  I possess the skills you’ve outlined in the description and have a strong interest in applying my skills to benefit the company.


Paragraph 2 & 3

In these body paragraphs, take the time to connect the dots between the job description and your experience.  Analyze the description and review the outline you've created of how you’ve demonstrated the sought-after skill.




During my recent internship with XYZ (company name) I worked closely with the Account Services team tasked with tracking customer satisfaction.  I developed strong communication skills through my direct interaction with customers, conducting face-to-face and phone surveys.  Additionally, I presented weekly updates to my manager and the team in both writing and during staff meetings. I received positive feedback from both customers and my manager and was recognized by my employer for my strong contributions to the team.


While working 20 hours per week I carried a full-time course load at Philadelphia University and maintained a strong academic record, earning Deans List for two semesters.  I developed strong organizational skills while in school allowing me to excel in my academics, my internship and participate in student organizations including A and B (organization names). 


Paragraph 4

Close the letter with a summary of what you've discussed and ask for an interview.  Provide contact information (in case your resume and letter are separated) and mention how you plan to follow up.


It is with great interest that I submit my resume for the position of XYZ and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my experiences in more detail during an interview.  I can be reached at 215-555-1234 (cell phone) or  I look forward to hearing from you in the coming weeks.


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