Cover Letter How-To Guide
What is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter is your chance to make a case for why an employer should hire you. It is a formal business letter stating your interest and explaining your qualifications for a professional opportunity. A cover letter builds off your resume, highlighting a few examples that you explain in narrative detail which directly relate to the job description. A cover letter is also an opportunity for you to showcase your writing abilities and thought process. Ideally, a cover letter will inspire a hiring committee to want to get to know you better through an interview.
When Will I Write a Cover Letter?
You will write a cover letter for nearly every internship and job you apply for. A cover letter, sometimes referred to as a letter of interest, will be requested along with your resume as the main components of an application. Cover letters must be custom-written for each opportunity you apply for as they are specific to each position and organization.
Note that a cover letter requires multiple drafts before it is ready to send out. There can be no typos or poor grammar, and each sentence must be clearly written with purpose. We highly encourage you to have your cover letters proofread by other people you trust, like an advisor or Peer Career Advisor (PCA) from the Loeb Center, or a friend or family member. Leave ample time for this editing process.
Cover Letter Basics
- No more than one page
- Margins between 1” to .5”
- Single-spaced, size 10-12 font, in a neutral typeface such as Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana or Calibri
- Utilize a business letter format.
- Always write your cover to a specific person, or to the Hiring Committee within the department you’re applying to
The structure of a cover letter is similar to the five paragraph essay you learned to write in middle school: it is a persuasive piece of writing where the thesis statement is about why you are the best candidate for the position and the body paragraphs support your thesis. Each cover letter consists of an introduction, 2-3 body paragraphs outlining your experiences, and a concluding paragraph, all of which are specific to the job you are applying for.
Example Cover Letter Format (Google Document with tips for what to include in the body of the letter)
How To Begin Writing
Step 1: Gather your materials
- Make a new folder where you can keep your materials for this application.
- Bring up your resume, the job description, a place to take notes, and make a new document for the cover letter.
- Note the posting date and the due date for the application, planning accordingly.
- Try to only concentrate on one application at a time to stay organized.
Step 2: Carefully review the position description
- Read the job description fully, making sure you fit the desired criteria.
- Highlight key words and phrases that you find to be important and/or interesting to you.
- Tip: copy and paste the job description into a word document for your reference and notetaking.
Step 3: Research the organization
- The knowledge you gain from researching the employer will allow you to write a more informed and customized letter, targeted to the position and organization.
- Find out more about the mission, organization’s culture, and what they value in employees.
- Identify what you admire and what is interesting to you about this organization
- Seek information through news and social media, reviews on sites like Glassdoor, Indeed or Vault, find Amherst alumni who work at the organization through LinkedIn or the Alumni Directory and ask them about their experience after reviewing our Networking How-to Guide, or find a former intern through the Handshake student profiles section.
Step 4: Selecting Your Examples
- Return to the job description and review the required qualifications and tasks. Choose the 2-3 most important aspects of the position that you believe match your qualifications.
- For each of these 2-3 aspects, make a list of tasks, projects, assignments, or responsibilities that illustrate your experience/knowledge in that area.
- Choose the most important or relevant experience that you can describe confidently from each list.
- Use the STAR Method to write a paragraph about each of these selected experiences succinctly and effectively
- These 2-3 main examples will populate the body of your letter
Step 5: Align With Your Resume
- Go back to your resume and make sure that the way you describe your experiences in your cover letter aligns with how you are framing them in your resume, updating or rearranging information when necessary.
- As noted in the Resume How-to Guide, make sure to target your resume to this opportunity in the same way that you have customized your cover letter through research and careful attention to the job description.
Tips & Resources
- A Google document version of this Cover Letter How-To Guide is available to print/download
- Request an appointment with a Loeb Center advisor through Handshake to get your draft cover letter reviewed
- STAR Method How-To Guide
- Resume How-To Guide