Guidelines for Writing an Effective Cover Letter
An effective cover letter introduces you to the employer, amplifying the information on your resume about your qualiﬁcations and relevant experience. It also provides insight into your motivation for seeking the position and gives the employer an opportunity to evaluate your writing and communication skills, as well as your professionalism.
To be effective, your letter should demonstrate an understanding of the position and of the needs of the employer. Research the organization — its structure, its services, its place within the industry or sector, and its competition.
Once your research is complete, you can begin to draft your letter.
- Always address the cover letter to a speciﬁc person within the organization. Verify the correct spelling of the contact’s name. Sometimes an announcement provides only a title, an organization and a mailbox. In this case, address the letter to “Dear Sir or Madam:”
- Write to the person for whom you want to work and/or to the person who has hiring authority. If you cannot reach the head of the department directly, a recruiter, who most likely is an employee from your target department, is the best person to whom to address your letter.
- A colon is appropriate for cover letter use; e.g., Dear Ms. Singh:
- Keep the letter brief — three or four short paragraphs that add up to three-quarters of a page.
- Express your sincere interest in the organization, citing relevant information from your schooling or work experience.
- Use your letter to demonstrate points of connection between your skills and experience and the position’s requirements.
- Expand upon the most relevant information in your resume to build a convincing case but avoid simply repeating information that’s already on your resume.
- Avoid bullet points in your cover letter; save those for your resume.
- Avoid starting every sentence with “I.” Varying your sentence structure is a good thing.
- Compose in parallel structure.
- Check your letter for errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation. Reading your letter aloud and backwards, last word to ﬁrst will help you to avoid skimming over your mistakes. Letters with elementary errors tend to be discarded immediately.
- Remember to sign the letter.
Adapted from “Career Advancement” from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.