COVER LETTER BASICS
The resume is ALMOST NEVER sent to a prospective employer without an accompanying
cover letter. The cover letter should complement, not duplicate, resume information and focus
the prospective employer's attention to pertinent areas of experience. In the cover letter, you get a
chance to draw connections between your experience and the requirements described in the
listing, linking concrete items from your resume with broader ideas and skill areas. It is a key
measure of your writing skills, ability to articulate your qualifications for the intended position,
and familiarity of the agency’s needs.
Cover letters should not exceed one page. A concise letter demonstrates your focus on the
position at hand as well as your ability to communicate succinctly.
PREPARING AN EFFECTIVE COVER LETTER
Step 1: Highlight Key Accomplishments from Your Resume
DO NOT simply restate the information on your resume. Instead, highlight particular
accomplishments, skills, and characteristics that are of special interest to the employer.
Illustrate that you have the skills, knowledge, and experience that the employer seeks.
If you are transitioning to a new field, this is also an opportunity to highlight your
transferable skills. Consider your accomplishments across various settings—academic,
personal, professional, and extracurricular.
Step 2: Market Research
Employers are seeking employees who fit their organization and culture well, and who
can express an understanding of how their agency is part of a larger organizational
structure or community. Your letter should demonstrate a thorough understanding of the
position and needs of the employer, including the organization’s mission.
Step 3: Analyzing the Job Description
Employers usually enumerate qualifications in order of importance. Use the information
listed under “responsibilities & qualifications” in the job description to guide the
theme(s) of your cover letter.
Identify key verbs, skills, etc. and replicate the language in your cover letter.
COVER LETTER STRUCTURE
Use basic business-letter format in composing your letter (See sample letter.)
References material from both Letters & Science Career Services “Cover Letter Basics” handout and Harris School
“Cover Letters” handout.