Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cover Letters: Use It or Lose It

My fellow students frequently ask me what cover letters are or if they are actually necessary for applying to a job. To prevent myself from launching into an extensive narrative (yet) here is the answer:


Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let's talk about what a cover letter actually is. Cover letters are used as precursors to your resume when applying to a company. The overall purpose of a cover letter is to:
  1. Identify Yourself as an Interested Candidate
  2. State Your Intentions & Interests
  3. Briefly State Why YOU Should Be Hired
  4. Give Your Contact Information

Easy enough, right? Now make all that information fit into about 3-4 paragraphs. That is where things get tough and a lot of students get stuck.

First, let us examine the anatomy of a cover letter. The average cover letter should be comprised of the following material:

  • Contact Information of Person and/or Company You are Applying To
  • Date of Application
  • Appropriate Formal Greeting like "To Whom it May Concern", "Dear Mr.Smith", etc.
  • Introduction Paragraph: Introduce yourself, state what you're looking for (a full-time position in operations, etc.)
  • Skills/Experience Paragraph: Briefly state what skills or expeirences you have that will positively influence the company.
  • Interest Paragraph: State your interest in the company because of products they offer, processes they use, or something you have found about them that interests you. Be specific. If I really want to work for Company X because they have an impressive line of window cleaning products and that is my #1 interest, I need to say that.
  • Closing Paragraph: Thank the person for their time, tell them that if they would like to contact you with any questions then here is your contact information.
  • End the letter with a formal closing like "Sincerely" or "Regards" and if you are applying via a hard copy make sure to sign the letter.

Now that you know how a cover letter is setup, let's talk about why cover letters are so important. Many students do not realize that sending in a resume without a cover letter significantly decreases your chance of getting a position and if you send a general cover letter instead of a custom one, you may also be at a disadvantage. With the current market environment, let it be known that submitting customized cover letters for EVERY position you apply for is a MUST. It is not good enough anymore to avoid sending in a cover letter or to send in a general cover letter. That may have flown a few years ago, but today it will get you nowhere.

One of the biggest pieces of advice I have for students and professional who are in the process of writing cover letters is to do your research! The best cover letters reflect that you have looked at a company's mission, products, recent news, and/or financial portfolio. You will be able to show this research by demonstrating how your interests and passions match up with what the company may have to offer.

That's about it! If anyone has any questions or would like me to post examples of cover letters, please shoot me an e-mail at For more information, another great place to stop by is the Center for Spartan Engineering at 1340 Engineering Building on MSU's campus.

Like always,

Good Luck Job Seekers!

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