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Cover letters: types and samples
All cover letters should:
Explain why you are sending a resume. Don't send a resume without a cover letter. Don't make the reader guess what you are asking for; be specific: Do you want a summer internship opportunity, or a permanent position at graduation; are you inquiring about future employment possibilities?
Tell specifically how you learned about the position or the organization — a flyer posted in your department, a web site, a family friend who works at the organization. It is appropriate to mention the name of someone who suggested that you write.
Convince the reader to look at your resume. The cover letter will be seen first. Therefore, it must be very well written and targeted to that employer.
Call attention to elements of your background — education, leadership, experience — that are relevant to a position you are seeking. Be as specific as possible, using examples.
Reflect your attitude, personality, motivation, enthusiasm, and communication skills.
Provide or refer to any information specifically requested in a job advertisement that might not be covered in your resume, such as availability date, or reference to an attached writing sample.
Indicate what you will do to follow-up.
In a letter of application — applying for an advertised opening — applicants often say something like "I look forward to hearing from you." However, if you have further contact info (e.g. phone number) and if the employer hasn't said "no phone calls," it's better to take the initiative to follow-up, saying something like, "I will contact you in the next two weeks to see if you require any additional information regarding my qualifications."
In a letter of inquiry — asking about the possibility of an opening — don't assume the employer will contact you. You should say something like, "I will contact you in two weeks to learn more about upcoming employment opportunities with (name of organization)." Then mark your calendar to make the call.
Page margins, font style and size
For hard copy, left and right page margins of one to 1.5 inches generally look good. You can adjust your margins to balance how your document looks on the page.
Use a font style that is simple, clear and commonplace, such as Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri. Font SIZES from 10-12 points are generally in the ballpark of looking appropriate. Keep in mind that different font styles in the same point size are not the same size. A 12-point Arial is larger than a 12-point Times New Roman.
If you are having trouble fitting a document on one page, sometimes a slight margin and/or font adjustment can be the solution.
Serif or sans serif? Sans (without) serif fonts are those like Arial and Calibri that don't have the small finishing strokes on the ends of each letter. There is a great deal of research and debate on the pros and cons of each. Short story: use what you like, within reason; note what employers use; generally sans serif fonts are used for on-monitor reading and serif fonts are used for lengthly print items (like books); serif fonts may be considered more formal. Test: ask someone to look at a document for five seconds; take away the document; ask the person what font was on the document; see if s/he even noticed the style. A too-small or too-large font gets noticed, as does a wierd style.
Should your resume and cover letter font style and size match? It can be a nice touch to look polished. But it's also possible to have polished documents that are not in matching fonts. A significant difference in style and size might be noticed. Remember that you can have your documents reviewed through advising, and that might be a fine-tuning question you ask.
Sample cover letter format guidelines:
(Hard copy: sender address and contact info at top. Your address and the date can be left-justified, or centered.)
Your Street Address City,
State Zip Code
Month, Day, Year
Mr./Ms./Dr. FirstName LastName
Title Name of Organization Street or P. O. Box Address City, State Zip Code
Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. LastName:
Opening paragraph: State why you are writing; how you learned of the organization or position, and basic information about yourself.
2nd paragraph: Tell why you are interested in the employer or type of work the employer does (Simply stating that you are interested does not tell why, and can sound like a form letter). Demonstrate that you know enough about the employer or position to relate your background to the employer or position. Mention specific qualifications which make you a good fit for the employer’s needs. (Focus on what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you.) This is an opportunity to explain in more detail relevant items in your resume. Refer to the fact that your resume is enclosed. Mention other enclosures if such are required to apply for a position.
3rd paragraph: Indicate that you would like the opportunity to interview for a position or to talk with the employer to learn more about their opportunities or hiring plans. State what you will do to follow up, such as telephone the employer within two weeks. If you will be in the employer’s location and could offer to schedule a visit, indicate when. State that you would be glad to provide the employer with any additional information needed. Thank the employer for her/his consideration.
(Your handwritten signature [on hard copy])
Your name typed (In case of e-mail, your full contact info appears below your printed name [instead of at the top, as for hard copy], and of course there is no handwritten signature)
Enclosure(s) (refers to resume, etc.)
(Note: the contents of your letter might best be arranged into four paragraphs. Consider what you need to say and use good writing style. See the following examples for variations in organization and layout.)
Cover letters generally fall into one of two categories:
Information-seeking letters and follow-up
To draft an effective cover letter, you need to indicate that you know something about the employing organization. Sometimes, even with research efforts, you don’t have enough information to do this. In such a case it is appropriate to write requesting information.
After you receive the desired information you can then draft a follow-up letter that:
Thanks the sender for the information;
Markets why you would be a good job candidate for that organization based on the information; and
Explains why you are sending your resume.
Sample — Letter of application, hard copy version
E-2 Apartment Heights Dr. Blacksburg,
(540) 555-0101 firstname.lastname@example.org
February 22, 2011
TO: Dr. Michelle Rhodes Principal, Wolftrap Elementary School 1205 Beulah Road Vienna, VA 22182
Dear Dr. Rhodes:
I enjoyed our conversation on February 18th at the Family and Child Development seminar on teaching elementary children and appreciated your personal input about balancing the needs of children and the community during difficult economic times. This letter is to follow-up about the Fourth Grade Teacher position as discussed at the seminar. I will complete my M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction at Virginia Tech in May 2011, and will be available for employment as soon as needed for the 2011-12 school year.
My teacher preparation program at Virginia Tech has included a full academic year of student teaching. Last semester I taught second grade and this semester am teaching fourth grade. These valuable experiences have afforded me the opportunity to:
Develop lesson plans on a wide range of topics and varying levels of academic ability,
Work with emotionally and physically challenged students in a total inclusion program,
Observe and participate in effective classroom management approaches,
Assist with parent-teacher conferences, and
Complete in-service sessions on diversity, math and reading skills, and community relations.
My experience includes work in a private day care facility, Rainbow Riders Childcare Center, and in Virginia Tech’s Child Development Laboratory. Both these facilities are NAEYC-accredited and adhere to the highest standards. At both locations, I led small and large group activities, helped with lunches and snacks, and implemented appropriate activities. Both experiences also provided me with extensive exposure to the implementation of developmentally appropriate activities and materials.
I enthusiastically look forward to putting my knowledge and experience into practice in the public school system. Next week I will be in Vienna, and I plan to call you then to answer any questions that you may have. I can be reached before then at (540) 555-7670. Thank you very much for your consideration.
Sample 2 Letter of application, hard copy version
1000 Terrace View Apts. Blacksburg,
March 25, 2010
To: Ms. Janice Wilson Personnel Director Anderson Construction Company 3507 Rockville Pike Rockville, MD 20895
Dear Ms. Wilson:
I read in the March 24th Washington Post classified section of your need for a Civil Engineer or Building Construction graduate for one of your Washington, DC, area sites. I will be returning to the Washington area after graduation in May and believe that I have the necessary credentials for the project.
Every summer for the last five years I have worked at various levels in the construction industry. As indicated on my enclosed resume, I have worked as a general laborer, and moved up to skilled carpentry work, and last summer served as assistant construction manager on a two million dollar residential construction project.
In addition to this practical experience, I will complete requirements for my B.S. in Building Construction in May. As you may know, Virginia Tech is one of the few universities in the country that offers such a specialized degree for the construction industry. I am confident that my degree, along with my years of construction industry experience, make me an excellent candidate for your job.
The Anderson Construction Company projects are familiar to me, and my aspiration is to work for a company that has your excellent reputation. I would welcome the opportunity to interview with you. I will be in the Washington area during the week of April 12th and would be available to speak with you at that time. In the next week to ten days I will contact you to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you for your consideration.
Sample 3. Letter of inquiry about employment possibilities, e-mail version
Subject: (logical to recipient!) Inquiry about software engineering position after completion of M.S. in computer engineering
December 12, 2009
Mr. Robert Burns President,
Template Division MEGATEK Corporation
9845 Technical Way Arlington,
Dear Mr. Burns:
Via online research in Hokies4Hire through Career Services at Virginia Tech, I learned of MEGATEK. Next May I will complete my master of science in computer engineering. From my research on your web site, I believe there would be a good fit between my skills and interests and your needs. I am interested in a software engineering position upon completion of my degree.
As a graduate student, I am one of six members on a software development team in which we are writing a computer-aided aircraft design program for NASA. My responsibilities include designing, coding, and testing of a graphical portion of the program which requires the use of ZX-WWG for graphics input and output. I have a strong background in CAD, software development, and engineering, and believe that these skills would benefit the designing and manufacturing aspects of template software. Enclosed is my resume with further background information.
My qualifications equip me to make a contribution to the project areas in which your division of MEGATEK is expanding efforts. I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss a position with you, and will contact you in a week or ten days to answer any questions you may have and to see if you need any other information from me.
Thank you for your consideration.
123 Ascot Lane Blacksburg,
Resume attached as MS Word document
Sample 4 — Letter of inquiry about internship opportunities, hard copy version
2343 Blankinship Road Blacksburg,
January 12, 2010
Ms. Sylvia Range Special Programs Assistant Marion County Family Court Wilderness Challenge 303 Center Street Marion, VA 24560
Subj: Wilderness Challenge internship position
Dear Ms. Range:
This semester I am a junior at Virginia Tech, working toward my bachelor's degree in family and child development. I am seeking an internship for this summer 2010, and while researching opportunities in the field of criminal justice and law, I found that your program works with juvenile delinquents. I am writing to inquire about possible internship opportunities with the Marion County Family Court Wilderness Challenge.
My work background and coursework have supplied me with many skills and an understanding of dealing with the adolescent community; for example:
10 hours per week as a volunteer hotline assistant for a local intervention center. After a 50-hour training program, I
counseled teenagers about personal concerns and referred them, when necessary, to appropriate professional services for
Residence hall assistant in my residence hall, which requires me to establish rapport with fifty residents and advise them on personal matters, as well as university policies. In addition, I develop social and educational programs and activities
each semester for up to 200 participants.
My enclosed resume provides additional details about my background.
I will be in the Marion area during my spring break, March 6-10. I will call you next week to see if it would be possible to meet with you in early March to discuss your program.
Thank you for your consideration.
Stacy Lee Gimble
Sample 5 — Information seeking letter, hard copy version
23 Roanoke Street Blacksburg,
October 23, 2010,
Mr. James G. Webb Delon Hampton & Associates 800 K Street, N.W., Suite 720 Washington, DC 20001-8000
Dear Mr. Webb:
Next May I will complete my bachelor’s degree in Architecture at Virginia Tech, and am researching employment opportunities in the Washington area. I obtained your name from Professor (lastname) who teaches my professional seminar class this semester. S/he indicated that you had volunteered to provide highly motivated graduating students with career advice, and I hope that your schedule will permit you to allow me to ask for some of your time and advice. I am particularly interested in historic preservation and have done research on the DHA website to learn that your firm does work in this area. I am also interested in learning how the architects in your firm began their careers. My resume is enclosed simply to give you some information about my background and project work.
Within two weeks I will call you to arrange a time to speak to you by telephone or perhaps visit your office if that would be convenient. I will be in the Washington area during the week of November 22. I very much appreciate your time and consideration of my request, and I look forward to talking with you.
Sincerely, (handwritten signature) Kristen Walker