Cover Letter Tips

Writing a Cover Letter

What is a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is a document that introduces you to a prospective employer. You will need to write a cover letter for every position to which you apply. The simple rule is if you’re sending a resume for a job or internship, you should always attach a cover letter.

It is very important that you send a different cover letter with every application you submit. This kind of professional writing can also be useful when applying to other opportunities you encounter in your professional career as an artist, whether that be applying to graduate school, grants, etc.

Cover letters are generally quite short, using only a few paragraphs to present the most important points. The more concise the letter, the greater chance the employer will read it. Cover letters take a good deal of thought and time to achieve the right level of professionalism and confidence that will appeal to employers.

A Cover Letter Should

  • Communicate to an employer specific skills and experiences you have that would benefit the position/organization
    • Be specific!
  • Always write a new cover letter for every position to which you apply.
  • Demonstrate to an employer why you’re interested in their organization
    • What is it about this position that appeals to you? What about the culture of the organization is a fit for you?
  • Focus on what you can contribute to the position/organization, not just what you will gain from the experience
  • Sound professional; without sacrificing enthusiasm about the position/organization 

Know Your Employer/Organization

It is very important that you research an organization before you write your cover letter. Spend time navigating the organization’s website and study the job posting carefully. An important consideration when writing a cover letter for a mission-based or non-profit organization is to explain in your cover letter why you support the mission of the organization. If possible, give examples of ways you have supported or even researched the mission in the past.

A Cover Letter is not Your Resume

You can refer to some of the items on your resume when writing your cover letter, but the letter should not be a restatement of your entire resume. It is more effective to highlight a few things about your experience and background that speak to your interest in and qualification for this position.

One method for focusing your cover letter is to highlight 3-5 qualities the employer seems to be seeking and address these qualities and experiences in your cover letter by providing more detail and specifics than you do in your resume. For example, if the position description indicates that the employer is seeking an applicant who has strong teamwork skills, use your cover letter to provide examples of times you’ve worked successfully as part of a team.

Does It Read Well?

After you have written your letter, check to see that you have varied your sentence structure. (For example, do not start all your sentences with “I.”) As with any correspondence you send to a potential employer, make absolutely certain your cover letter contains no typos or errors. As you’re proofreading your letter, try reading it aloud to yourself to see how it sounds. 

Elements of a Cover Letter

  • Your Contact Information:
    • At the top of the page, list your address, city, state, and zip. You may include your email address and phone number if you choose.
  • After your address, leave one blank line, and then type the date.
  • Employer’s Contact Information:
    • Following the date, leave a blank line, and then type the name, title, organization name, and address of the employer.
  • Salutation:
    • Address your letter to a specific individual, if at all possible. If a specific contact person is not named in the job listing, try looking at the employer’s website or calling their main phone number to ask for the name of the proper contact person. Be sure to use the appropriate title of the person to whom you’re addressing the letter (e.g. “Ms.” “Mr.” “Dr.”). If you don’t know whether the address should be addressed Mr. or Ms., use both the first and last names of the individual (e.g. “Dear Chris Smith”). If it proves impossible to find the name of a specific individual, you may use the more generic salutation of “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear [Name of Organization].” Note that the salutation in a business letter should be followed by a colon rather than a comma.
  • First Paragraph:
    • This is your chance to grab the reader’s attention. Use the first paragraph to introduce yourself and explain why you are writing. Make it clear what position you’re applying for, and state how you learned of the opening. If there’s a specific connection you wish to highlight, add it here. Be sure to convey some enthusiasm about the organization and the position. If you are writing an inquiry letter when there is no immediate opening that you know of, identify the type of position or general professional area in which you are interested.
  • Middle Paragraph(s):
    • Use this section of your cover letter to make a case for why you’re the best person for the position. Make reference to qualities listed in the position description, and explain how you have demonstrated/developed these qualities yourself. Point out any specific achievements or accomplishments of yours that are particularly applicable to the position. You may also speak to how your academic training has prepared you for this position. If you are applying for a position with a nonprofit organization, you should be sure to explain how your background coincides with the organization’s mission. You can elaborate on points you’ve made in your resume, but take this opportunity to go into more depth on a few of the particularly relevant ones.
  • Closing Paragraph:
    • Reiterate your interest in the organization/position and reaffirm your qualifications. Thank the reader for considering your application. Notify the employer about the best way to contact you and if there is any time period in which you will be unavailable.
  • Signature:
    • Most business letters are closed with “Sincerely.” If you are printing and sending a hard copy of your resume, leave three or four blank lines and then type your name. In the blank space above your typed name, sign you name in black or blue ink. If you are sending an electronic copy of your resume, simply type your name without leaving extra blank spaces. 

The Finished Application Package

The paper, fonts and format used in your cover letter, resume, and envelope should all match. Use the same header that you used for your resume on your cover letter. This will ensure that your application materials look professional, and that all of your contact information is updated. The finished look of your application package conveys to an employer that you have given thought and consideration to your presentation before they even open the envelope. It goes without saying that you should apply by the stated deadline; however, if the job or internship of your dreams comes to your attention a few days after the deadline, it is worth a call to the organization to ask if they will accept your application a little late.

Sending Your Cover Letter

There is a different protocol for sending documents via email, as opposed to “snail mail”. When sending materials via email make sure to pay close attention to formatting instructions in order to upload materials properly. When specific information is not supplied, save your documents as a PDF file, rather than a Word document, because this ensures your text will not change in appearance when viewed from different computers.

Also save the file with your name and the type of document, resume or cover letter. For example, “Galen_Crawford_Resume” is better than “Res 3.” Use clear language in the subject line, mentioning the position to which you are applying. Also remember that what you type in the body of the email does not replace a cover letter. That should still be a separate attachment. The body of the email should also be considered in a professional lens. Make sure that you do not have typos, and avoid using slang.