Drafting a Cover Letter - Capital University Law School

Drafting a Cover Letter

  • Many employers consider a cover letter to be equally important as a resume. The letter must highlight your experience and training as it relates to the particular position to which you are applying. It should also be an honest expression of your enthusiastic interest in working for the employer.

    A cover letter is the first writing sample you provide to a potential employer. Therefore, the letter should be concise, descriptive, and persuasive. Ultimately, a cover letter must positively distinguish you from other applicants. Your cover letter should be a complementary companion and not just a duplicate of the information on your resume. While a resume provides information about what you have done in the past, your cover letter provides the opportunity to demonstrate the skills and abilities you would bring to this position or company in the future.

    Types of Cover Letters
    There are two kinds of cover letters: those in response to a job posting or recruiting program, and letters of introduction that are unsolicited by the employer. In some respects, both types of letters are the same; however, the unsolicited letter requires additional content and action, as noted below. Regardless of the type, your cover letter should be no longer than one typed page.

    Structure of a Cover Letter
    Every cover letter should contain the following:

    • Your Contact Information
    • Date
    • Reader’s Address Block
    • Opening Salutation (e.g., Dear Ms. Doe)
    • Introduction Paragraph
    • Body
    • Call to Action Closing
    • Closing Salutation (e.g., Sincerely)
    • Your Signature and Name

    Use a simple and professional font to type the letter, such as Calibri or Times New Roman. The size of the font should be 11-12 point type. Use consistent margins at the top and sides of the document. If the employer will receive the letter in a hard copy, use a quality printer and professional resume-type paper in a plain color (white or ivory). Although it is not necessary, cover letters that match your resume in font and format make your application look more polished and professional.

    Your contact information may appear at the top of the letter in the form of a header. Consider using the header from your resume to give your cover letter the look of letterhead. You should include your mailing address, preferred telephone number, and an appropriate email address.

    Always include the date on which the letter was written or intended to be mailed. You should write the date in full (e.g., July 4, 2016).

    Whenever possible a cover letter should be addressed to the appropriate person. If you are uncertain to whom to address the cover letter, research the employer to identify the appropriate individual. In general, you should address the reader with Ms., Mr., or Mrs., followed by his or her last name. Always remember to confirm the correct spelling of the person's name! Unless you are submitting materials for a blind ad, you should never address your cover letter as, "To Whom It May Concern," as there is a chance that a letter addressed to no one will be read by no one.

    The opening paragraph should introduce you to the reader by acknowledging your status as a student or recent graduate. Explain briefly your reason for writing such as in response to a job posting or at the suggestion of an individual. Indicate your knowledge about the employer by including what interested you about the employer’s business or practice areas, commitment to the community, clients, or innovative programs.

    You can also acknowledge any previous contact with the reader, with one of his or her peers or colleagues, or why a mentor or colleague encouraged you to contact the reader. If you are applying for a position outside of your current residence, the opening paragraph is a great place to connect yourself to the employer geographically.

    Your cover letter’s middle paragraph(s) are the opportunity to really distinguish yourself from other applicants. You should demonstrate that you have the credentials the employer is seeking by integrating, but not cutting and pasting, language from the job posting. If your letter is unsolicited and therefore there is no enumerated set of ideal characteristics, take guidance from the employer’s website. Note any similarities between you and other employees and highlight accordingly. This is your opportunity to convince the reader to examine your resume.

    The middle paragraph(s) need to sell your strengths by emphasizing your educational credentials, experience, skills, and abilities using concrete examples. For example, instead of simply indicating that you meet a particular requirement, provide an example from work or school that demonstrates that requirement in action. Every sentence counts.

    Your cover letter's closing paragraph is your call to action. Thank the reader for his or her consideration of your application. Indicate that you look forward to hearing from him or her. It need not be a long paragraph. You can also list any other special considerations in this paragraph. For example, if the employer is located in a different geographic location, indicate when you expect to visit the area for a potential visit.

    You should always follow up after sending an unsolicited letter, so tell the reader in the final paragraph what your next action item will be. For example, “I will contact you in the next two weeks to discuss my interest in working for your organization and to schedule an interview.” If the employer is located outside where you currently live, let the reader know when you will be in the area and that you are available to meet during that time frame. It may seem overly forward or confident yet it is critically important to be proactive and professional.

    Sending a Cover Letter via E-mail
    When you email your application materials, make the subject line simple and direct (e.g., “Capital University Law Student Seeking Clerk Position”). Many job postings require a specific subject heading or job reference number, so follow directions in the application carefully to comply with the employer’s requirements. Write a short paragraph explaining why you are writing (a paragraph similar to the first paragraph in your cover letter) and attach all of the documents to the email. At some point all of your attachments will probably be opened and printed; therefore it is important that the documents are clean and be named something professional that easily associates the document with your application (e.g., Jane Doe Cover Letter). A PDF is a preferred and safe file type to send to almost any employer and ensures that your formatting and content remains unchanged once submitted.

    Helpful Tips
    A cover letter must be an excellent example of your writing and a persuasive document that highlights your abilities as a potential employee. It must be free of errors, as even simple or small errors will disqualify you. PROOF READ CAREFULLY! This means reading the letter with a critical eye and not relying on Spell Check! Always have someone review your cover letter before you send. The Office Professional Development is more than willing to help you by reviewing your cover letter.