Cover Letter Workshop - Introduction
This cover letter workshop resource provides a detailed explanation of cover letter objectives and information on each section of the cover letter. The OWL maintains a number of resources on cover letters including more concise materials and PowerPoint presentations. Please refer to these if you cannot find information in this workshop.
Contributors:Jenna Holt, Clint Blume, and Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2010-04-25 08:59:07
The following resources should help you conduct research and compose your cover letter (also known as the job application letter).
What is the purpose of the cover letter?
A cover letter:
- introduces you and your resume to an employer
- explains why you are writing or applying for the job
- details why you are a good match for the organization and the position
- demonstrates your abilities and helps to establish your credibility
- draws your readers' attention to specific qualifications
- provides a sample of your written communications skills
- explains when you plan to contact your prospective employer.
Tailor your cover letter to:
- show specific needs of employers and how you meet them
- persuade that your goals align with the organization's goals (mission) and that your skills align with the position requirements (also see our Effective Workplace Writing resource).
An effective cover letter:
- highlights the qualifications related to the position as laid out in the job criteria
- proves that you align well with the organization and that you meet the job requirements
- provides contact information and a plan for future contact.
Learning about the job
Your ability to learn the needs of your readers will help you write a cover letter effectively. You should learn as much as you can about your audience (your potential employer) before writing your cover letter. Your goal is to learn about the organization, its goals and needs. Then, you should learn about what kind of employee the organization needs and what an employee will be expected to do.
After reading a job advertisement, ask as many questions as you can to learn what your prospective employer wants. Lastly, think about who will be reading your job application documents - human resources, prospective employers, etc. Think about how your document many move through the organization you want to join (also see our Audience Analysis resource).
Some questions to begin with are:
- "What values and skills would a good match have for the prospective organization/job?"
- "What kind of personality do I have?"
- "What level of education do I need?"
- "What kind of work experience do I need?"
Read the job advertisement carefully. Most advertisements are divided into two sections, a qualifications section, and an explanation of what duties the hired candidate will perform.
Contact the organization
Another way to learn about a good match for the organization and job is by contacting someone with "inside information" (insiders).
Insiders include, but are not limited to:
- a professor
- your potential employer
- an expert in your field
- a person who holds the position you want at a different company.
Insiders may be able to tell you what a job entails, and what kind of person an employer is likely to hire.
If you decide to call insiders, it is essential for you to be kind and truthful at all times. Being kind will help you to avoid offending someone with whom you might work in the future. It is best for you to see each contact with a company as an opportunity to make a good impression.
When calling insiders, try to plan the flow of your conversation ahead of time.
- Start by explaining who you are and why you are calling.
- Ask questions that will facilitate an informative, friendly conversation.
- Write questions before calling to avoid a lull in the conversation.
Questions such as the following will help you to start an effective conversation:
- "What are the organization's goals/missions?"
- "What kind of person is your company looking for?"
- "What qualifications are most important for this position?"
- "Is there anyone else I can contact to learn more about your company?"
- "Is there anything you think someone with my experience should do to improve my qualifications?"
Try to keep the conversation rolling, and maintain a pleasant tone at all times. Also remember to thank your contact for speaking with you, even if he or she was unable to provide you with helpful information.
Read the organization's website
Another good way to do your audience analysis is by reading an organization's website.
Corporate/organization websites provide a good idea of what a company/organization values. Look for words that describe the company and its employees. Words repeated throughout the website reveal particularly important values. Some organization websites may even have a "Mission Statement" you can read to learn about what they want to achieve. Use the language on the website and in the missions statement to help guide your language in your cover letter.
Use college career centers
If you are in college, see what information is available at your university's career center. See if the university has any connections to this company. Career centers should have any information concerning upcoming visits of companies to career fairs. At Purdue University, the Center for Career Opportunities (CCO) maintains a number of resources that are helpful for students looking for internships and jobs.
In addition, Purdue University offers a career Wiki here.
This résumé workshop provides detailed explanations, as well step-by-step processes, for creating an effective résumé. The Purdue OWL also maintains résumé quick tips resources and a résumé PowerPoint slide presentation. Please visit those resources for shorter discussions of the resume.
What is a résumé?
A résumé (also spelled resume) is a brief document that summarizes your education, employment history, and experiences that are relevant to your qualifications for a particular job for which you are applying. The purpose of a résumé (along with your cover letter) is to get an interview. Research has shown that it takes an average of ten (10) interviews to receive one (1) job offer, so your résumé needs to be persuasive and perfect. Given this, your résumé must be user-centered and persuasive.
The general purpose résumé usually contains four sections:
- Honors, activities, and outreach
Writing the contact section of your résumé
This section of your résumé is definitely the easiest to write, but you do have a few options for design and content.
What is a contact information section?
Unlike other sections of your résumé, this section does not have a special heading like "Contact Information." Instead it simply lists the information below at the top of the page:
- Your full name
- Your e-mail address
- Your permanent address
- Your local or campus address (if applicable)
- Your phone number(s)
- Your web address/URL
- Your fax number, etc.
Of course, as with the rest of your résumé, you'll want to double-check that all the information you include is current and accurate. Mistyping your phone number could easily cost you an interview! Also, if you list an e-mail address, be sure to check your e-mail regularly or you may miss an important message.
If you live on campus, you should provide your campus address. But you may also want to provide your home address.
Designing your contact information section
Employers will probably look first and last at your contact information section, so it's well worth your time to make this section easy-to-read and appealing to the eye. Whatever design choices you make, try to coordinate them with the rest of your résumé. Here are some specific design options:
- Use page design strategies to present information in a usable format. For example, to help readers find desired information, you might place your name in a larger font size, center it, boldface it, or anything to make it stand out. If you have a permanent and local address, you might want to play with columns.
- You may want to add a graphic element such as a horizontal line to help section off your contact information. Make sure the visual does not distract from your textual information.
- Coordinate with your cover letter. One way to make your application documents a professional package is to match your cover letter and your résumé. You might do this by creating stationery or a letterhead for both documents. For instance, if you use two columns for your addresses and a double line on your résumé header, you might adapt it for the top of your cover letter as well. Make sure to use the same fonts (size also) for both documents.
Questions to ask
- What are the different ways you may be contacted? How do you prefer to be reached?
About the company or organization
- What means of contacting you would be most convenient for the company or organization?
- Click the link at the top of the page for a sample résumé.
Job seekers at Purdue University may find value in the Purdue career Wiki here.
For more information about how to develop a résumé, visit these OWL resources: