5 Steps to Creating a Great Cover Letter


A cover letter is a compelling one-page personal narrative that focuses on the skills and experiences that relate to the position. Instead of sending a generic letter to multiple employers, cater your writing to each organization to which you apply. Here are five ways to engage your reader and demonstrate that you’re the right person to hire.

Hook the Reader.

First impressions matter. Choose an anecdote or fact that intrigues the employer and demonstrates the strength of your candidacy. Instead of saying that you’re globally minded, grammatically inclined, or environmentally savvy, tell a short story that shows that attribute. Maybe you traveled abroad or volunteered doing research in the Galapagos; perhaps you grew up editing a local neighborhood newsletter or fished on the Columbia with your grandfather who taught you the importance of maintaining the health of the rivers and the salmon. Including a story will bring your personality into the letter.

Focus on the Organization.

Emphasize what you can bring to the table, not the other way around. Refrain from talking about what you will get from working for them. (Sentences such as “I will gain skills that I can take on to graduate school,” or, “I expect that you will give me a great experience and that is why I want to work for you,” are problematic.) Do your research and learn about the company’s mission, climate, and current projects or new products. As you write about why you are applying, communicate how you see yourself contributing to the organization’s work and fitting into their culture. If the job would require you to move, include language about how you imagine yourself living in the new location.

Read the Job Description Thoroughly.

A job description is a checklist. Reference as many of the desired skills and qualifications as you can in your letter but augment your resume rather than repeating it. There are a few ways to accomplish that end: you can elaborate on two or three experiences that you think would especially interest the employer, or you can include additional information that your resume doesn’t cover but reflects a careful reading of the job description.

Be Skills-Focused.

Your letter is an opportunity to highlight two to four relevant skills. Note that skills explain not what you did (cleaning up/organizing files) but how you did it (filtering information into an understandable, easily navigable format). What was it about your method that would be applicable to this new position? What’s important is to try not to include everything. Cover letters that read like a resume in prose form offer no new insight to an employer. Cover letters that connect the dots and explain how past experiences lead to this potential next one help employers envision you at their organization.

Be Yourself.

Hiring managers read a lot of cover letters. A few hopefully obvious but key reminders: Don’t include anything that gives them a reason not to hire you or talk about skills and qualifications you don’t have. Be careful of sharing too much information. Most importantly, be yourself! Even as you apply to more formal positions, writing in your own voice and explaining yourself more holistically helps employers see you as a person, not a list of qualifications. Crafting an engaging letter takes time but is worth the effort. The more letters you write the easier it will be. Finally, ask a few people to edit your drafts whenever possible before you submit the final one.

With these tips, checking in at the SEC for help, and a bit of focused practice, you will be on your way to landing those interviews!


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