College of Engineering Graduate Student Cover Letter Guide
A cover letter is a one page overview of your relevant skills, experiences, and education to support your candidacy for a
specific position. In some instances a cover letter will be a job application requirement, while in others, it will be
optional. This guide provides information on developing cover letter content and formatting. It also provides a checklist
and sample cover letter for your review.
Focus your Cover Letter on:
1. Connecting your past, present and future:
The body paragraphs of your cover letter should show how your past experiences (education, internships, research, etc.)
make you a unique candidate in the present, and how those qualifications will be an asset when you apply them to
projects at your target company in the future. In particular, you should explain the advantages of your experiences: the
unique approach of CMU’s programs and the qualifications and training the degree and/or your research has equipped
you with and the qualifications you have gained from additional experiences (internships, leadership, work experience,
2. Highlighting the qualifications that your experience gave you – not the experience itself:
Your cover letter should NOT simply restate your résumé but should elaborate on the qualifications that your abilities,
accomplishments, and experiences give you as they relate to the specific position and company to which you are
applying‐ i.e. you should be highlighting the skills and qualifications that you have that the company is asking for in the
BEFORE: I graduated with a Masters in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. This past year, I was a
research assistant with Dr. XXX and I worked alongside other chemical engineers to ensure we completed our project by
What’s wrong with this? It doesn’t state what the applicant gained from the experience
AFTER: My research in the Chemical Engineering department at Carnegie Mellon University has been focused on
migration of electrolytic components through separator membranes. As a research assistant with Dr. XXX, I worked
towards the device implementation of semiconducting conjugated polymers and acquired integrated technical judgment
and a background in modeling from first principles. Through my research assistantship I have been prepared to provide
materials expertise to Sandia National Laboratories’ customers and sponsors.
Why is this better? It states the qualifications gained from experiences AND links those qualifications to the
Tailor your information:
1. Be as specific as possible when introducing your abilities and qualifications; explain why:
Remember the axiom: show; don’t tell. You do not want the ideas in your cover letter to be general or vague. Try to
eliminate sentences that could be written by anybody with a Master’s degree in your field. Specifics make you look
interested, well‐informed, detail oriented and most importantly, qualified.
2. Unify each body paragraph of your cover letter around one qualification, including the experiences that have given
you this qualification:
In particular, the first or second sentence of the paragraph should emphasize one or two specific qualifications afforded
by the unique training of your degree and/or work and internship experience. The rest of the paragraph should provide
specific details that support this main idea. These details should distinguish you from other applicants who also have a
Master’s degree in your field.
Please note: The above information has been taken and adapted from Carnegie Mellon University’s Global Communication Center’s guide for Cover Letter Writing.
Additional information on Cover Letter Writing and the guide referenced above can be found on the GCC Website: