Career Center

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logo Do Cover Letters Matter?

ABSOLUTELY! The purpose of a COVER LETTER is to introduce yourself and any accompanying documents (such as a resume or writing sample) to the reader. Whether you are sending a letter of application (in response to an actual job listing or opening) or a letter of inquiry (sent to request information about the company and/or current openings), the cover letter must be brief, catchy, and well-written. It should not exceed one page in length.

SECTION 1: The Opening - this section is typically one paragraph and should begin with a hard- hitting first line designed to get the reader's attention fast and to make yourself stand out. If you heard about the position from somebody, this is a good place to mention it. Tell the reader what position or type of work you are interested in, how you heard about the position, and why you are contacting them. Avoid starting with "I am a senior at Muhlenberg...". Since most people will begin a letter with that format, you will not captivate the reader.

SECTION 2: The Middle - writing this 1-3 paragraph section is similar to preparing for an interview; you should determine your most relevant skills with regard to the position for which you are applying and describe them here. State why you want to do this type of work (in terms of what you have to offer, not what you hope to gain) and why you want to work for this company (be specific). Incorporate your positive characteristics which would be valued by the employer and include experiences and skills that demonstrate your qualifications. You can refer to your resume, but do not rewrite the resume in the cover letter.

THE ROLE OF RESEARCH

It is impossible to write the Opening and Middle sections of a cover letter without first researching the position, organization and industry. Prior to writing the letter, you should ask yourself (and be able to give a compelling response) to the following:

• Why am I interested in this position (organization, industry)?

• What are my qualifications?

• How have I demonstrated the skills for which they are looking?

Your responses to these questions should be incorporated into the cover letter. If you cannot answer the questions, more research is needed. If, after thoroughly researching the position, organization and industry, you still cannot answer the questions, the position may not be a good match for you.

Organizational Research:

Whether it is in your cover letter or for your interview, being well-informed about the company to which you are applying is key. The most up-to-date information can be found on the Internet.

Going directly to the website of the company can be best, although on websites like Vault.com or Wetfeet.com you may be able to find information that the company doesn't publicize.

SECTION 3: The Closing – re-emphasize your career objective and your interest in this position in one brief paragraph. Indicate your desire for an interview, but, if possible, be flexible with the time and date. The tone (active or passive) can be determined by the sender's preference, but you must follow up regardless.

WHAT WILL GIVE ME "THE EDGE"?

To demonstrate your unique interest or qualifications, be able to respond to the following questions:

• What attracted me to this organization?

• What interests me in this industry?

• How did I select this type of work?

• When did I realize this work is for me?

• In past courses, internships or jobs did I do something similar to what I will do in this position?

Can't I just send the same cover letter with every resume?

No. Most generic cover letters and resumes will not even generate a response. Each cover letter should be carefully written to address the specific position and the unique qualifications that make you a strong candidate for that position. The time you spend researching will pay off when it helps you stand out!

The ad just said "send resume," so I don't really need a cover letter, right?

Wrong. A cover letter should always accompany your resume. Again, it is your chance to tell the employer what makes you a strong candidate for this job.

IMPORTANT NOTES

• Use the name of the person to whom you are writing as well as his/her title. If you do not know it, try to find out by calling the company, looking in directories, or checking their website.

• Be gender conscious when addressing a cover letter. Never assume the gender of the recipient by his/her name or title. When in doubt, call the company and ask for the proper title, gender, and spelling of his/her name.

• Your cover letter demonstrates your writing skills to the employer. Be sure all grammar, punctuation, spelling, address and phone numbers are correct. Don't just rely on spellcheck.

• Use the cover letter to convey enthusiasm and to introduce new information that is important but not included on your resume.

• Follow-up your cover letter with a telephone call if you have not received a response after approximately one to two weeks. See the article on follow-up.

The Career Center, Muhlenberg College
2400 W. Chew Street, Allentown, PA 18104-5586
Ph: (484) 664-3170    Fax: (484) 664-3533


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Last Revised March 25, 2008
Questions and comments? Send e-mail to careers@muhlenberg.edu
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