Cover LetterLanguage | Format | Content
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A cover letter should accompany each résumé you send to a prospective employer. Your cover letter is your introduction; it describes who you are, why you are interested in the position, and the value you can add to the organization. Do not duplicate your résumé in your cover letter. Instead, use your cover letter to add a personal touch and highlight the most relevant experience on your résumé, which tends to be more data-driven. The following are some cover letter recommendations:
|Check over the spelling and grammar several times, gaining feedback from Career Center counselors, friends and family members. Misspellings and typos on a cover letter can eliminate the possibility of interviewing with a company.|
| The cover letter should be brief, no longer than one page in length if sent via hard copy mail. |
Emailed applications should contain a cover letter in the body of the email with a résumé attached.
Typically, three or four short, easy-to-read paragraphs are adequate.
Keep your cover letter looking professionally; use a standard font (i.e. Times New Roman, Ariel, etc.), and avoid using bolded or underlined text. In special cases, such as when applying for design positions, students are encouraged to consider a more unique résumé aesthetic as a way to show their work.
| If you have recruiter contact information, address your cover letter to him or her. If you do not have recruiter contact information, apply to a blind advertisement with, "Dear Recruiter:" |
Find out as much about the position and company as possible and tailor each cover letter toward the opportunity for which you are applying. This might involve some research. Illustrate that you have the knowledge and skills necessary to fulfill the position requirements. It will show them that you have done your homework and assure them that you are a good match for the position. It will also avoid the appearance that you have sent them a generic cover letter, which could have been sent to any company for almost any position. If you are responding to an advertisement, make sure that you address all of the position qualifications.
If you have developed a good networking relationship with an individual in the organization, upon their approval, use their name in your cover letter.
Communicate that you can add value to the organization. Associate the company product with your capabilities. Avoid making the common egocentric mistake of describing why the position would be good for you. Organizations are interested in how your skills, abilities, and ideas will benefit their enterprise.
Let the cover letter reflect your individuality, but avoid appearing too familiar, humorous or ironic. Describe what is particularly appealing to you about this company and/or position. If you admire some of their recent work, a current project or their philosophy of operation, let them know.
Close the cover letter by taking the initiative and requesting an interview. List your contact information for follow-up purposes.
Simon T. Brainsample
75 Via Limone
New York, NY 11220
Gully T. Gumby
Fawlty Systems, Inc.
Torquay, NY 00000
Dear Mr. Gumby,
Your advertisement in Job Choices '05 prompted me to contact you about entry-level positions in electrical engineering at Fawlty Systems, LTD. The product engineering program at your company is very appealing. I am particularly interested in your project on digital systems. In May of this year I will receive a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from The Cooper Union and I hope that we will have an opportunity to discuss employment possibilities before that time.
In addition to the knowledge I've obtained from my education, my experience as an assistant to a plant engineer has provided me with an excellent background in the practical aspects of electrical engineering.
During my years at The Cooper Union, I have taken on many additional responsibilities. As a freshman, I managed the Student Council and played varsity tennis. In my junior year I was employed by the Student Services Office where I received first-hand experience in organization, teamwork and responsibility. I hope that you will seriously consider my enclosed résumé, which provides full details of my qualification.
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to speaking with you. I may be reached between the hours of 9am and 5pm at 212 355.4343.
Simon T. Brainsample
Simon T. Ellis
1 Astor Place
New York, NY 10003
Mr. Brian Davidson
Senior Vice President
Anchor Systems, Ltd.
345 First Avenue
New York, NY 10004
Dear Mr. Davidson:
I learned about the Electrical Engineering position with Anchor Systems, Ltd on the Cooper Career Connection Web site, and I am interested in further discussing this exciting opportunity. As a graduating electrical engineer undergraduate student at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, my academic background, coupled with my relevant work experience, has given me the tools and ability necessary to add value to the position, and ultimately your organization.
My interest in electrical engineering is long standing and my well-rounded background makes me an excellent candidate for the Electrical Engineering position. I secured an IT Analyst Internship with Credit Suisse First Boston in the summer of my freshman year, and gained exposure to the financial industry, while enhancing their software by developing search subroutine and upload script modules. As a sophomore, I served as Treasurer on the Student Council and played varsity tennis. In my junior year, I attained a position in the Student Services Office where I received first-hand experience in organization, teamwork, and responsibility. I have earned several awards while a student at Cooper Union, including the Bausch and Lomb Award for Excellence in Science, in June 2005 and Dean's List in the Fall of 2004.
Please find my attached résumé, which provides full details of my qualification. Feel free to contact me at (212) 353-4567 or email@example.com for any following up purposes. I appreciate your consideration and look forward to further discussing the Electrical Engineering opportunity with you.Sincerely,
Simon T. Ellis
Sooner or later, your career may turn on a single piece of paper: the infamous cover letter. How can yours avoid being filed under Recycling without a second glance? Approached purely as a piece of persuasive writing, drafting the perfect cover letter can drive good people mad with stress and self-doubt.
We prefer to treat the cover letter as an engineering problem, with three functional goals and two design constraints. Let’s deconstruct the notoriously stressful cover letter into a clean, reusable schematic.
The objective of your cover letter is not to land the job, but to make it through the first filter in the hiring process. In larger firms, this could be an HR staff person or intern, keyword-scanning documents against a list of skills and qualifications. Companies with flatter hierarchies may have an executive assistant, or senior staff, review incoming applications to fill a very specific vacancy.
In either case, your cover letter has two immediate objectives: avoid being filtered as garbage and make it appear worth that person’s time to review your resume.
To that end, there are three goals to achieve within the text of your cover letter:
- Express interest in a specific position
- Show you understand and are qualified for the job
- Encourage further communication
We will divide these three functional goals into yet simpler components in our schematic, but let’s keep a simple foundation for now.
Design Constraints: Time and Attention
The most critical limiting factors to consider while writing your cover letter are time and attention.
Consider an HR staff person at a large engineering firm. Having advertised a vacancy, they receive several dozen applications of varying quality. The reviewing personnel has a limited time in which to filter this initial set of responses and determine which applicants warrant further attention.
Their limited time per cover letter determines our ideal word count. Setting the reading speed of our model HR staff person at 500 words per minute (near the middle of the ‘skimming speed’ range), and assuming they will devote no more than 30 seconds per cover letter, you are left with 250 words to achieve your three goals.
Attention is the second limiting factor. Faced with several dozen applicants to review, our HR staff person will perforce adopt a keyword search strategy. This is easily turned to your favor with a little preparatory research. Carefully review the job posting itself, as well as any public statements the company makes regarding your desired position or the goals of the department to which you’re applying. Observe how the company describes their ideal candidate’s qualities, backgrounds, and objectives, and be sure to describe yourself the same way.
Before settling in to write your cover letter, research the company itself. Deep background and history aren’t necessary, but you need to know enough about their operations and business model to describe yourself as a good fit.
Simply put: what does the company do, what else may it want to do, and what kind of people do they pay to do it? These seem like obvious questions, but you’d be surprised how many applicants don’t bother to answer them before applying. “Electronics Engineer Wanted” may mean different things to a company which designs and manufactures interactive CPR/First Aid training dummies than to one specializing in home security systems or consumer electronics.
Unless you’ve a contact within the company, the Internet is a convenient research tool. A half an hour scanning trade publications, web postings, and LinkedIn groups will tell you what aspects of your background and qualifications to highlight in your cover letter.
The Cover Letter Schematic
Having done your homework on the target company and position, and with your three functional goals in mind, you’re ready to approach writing the letter itself. Start by copying the following schematic into a blank document:
Your Mailing Address
City, State Zip Code
Mr./Ms./Dr. Full Name
City, State Zip Code
Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. Full Name:
- Express interest in a specific position (maximum one sentence each):
- What is the exact title of the position to which you are applying.
- Where or from whom did you hear of this position.
- If a contact within the company recommended you apply, say so here.
- Show you understand and are qualified for the job (maximum two sentences each):
- Summarize your relevant professional background.
- List the specific skills and experiences you have which apply to the posted position. (Bullet points are ideal.)
- Demonstrate knowledge of the company and industry by highlighting a specific aspect of your background from your resume.
- Mention your enclosed resume
- Encourage further communication (maximum one sentence each):
- State that you are interested in an interview to learn more about the position or company.
- If you plan to be in the area in the near future, offer that as a convenient time to schedule an interview or site visit.
- Notify the company of when and how you plan to follow up.
- Thank them for their consideration.
If applying over email, you can omit the mailing addresses and date from the schematic. Add your contact information below Your Name, at the bottom, and don’t forget to attach your resume. (Trust me. It happens.)
With your schematic in place, replace the text of each bullet point with the text of your cover letter. When you’re satisfied, rearrange the text into paragraphs, and check the word count of the resulting document. If the body of the text comes in at or around 250 words, you’ve done it. Send it along, and start the next one.
That’s it. No sweat; no stress. By approaching the cover letter as an engineering problem, stripping it down to a question of objectives and constraints, you’ve reduced hours of agonized revision to an eleven-point schematic.
Have more suggestions?
If you’ve worked out your own process hacks for job applications and cover letters, why not share them with fellow engineers? You can tweet us @EngineerJobs, or leave a comment with your suggestions.Image credit: Steve Petrucelli