Cover Letter Guide for Undergraduates

Introduction
Cover Letter Checklist
Cover Letter Samples
Cover Letter Critiques and Workshops
Cover Letter Format

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Creating a Catchy Cover Letter - Narrated Workshop.


Introduction

A cover letter (sometimes called a letter of inquiry or letter of application) is a business-style letter that typically accompanies every resume you send to prospective employers. It serves as an introduction, telling the employer who you are and why you are sending a resume. If written well, your letter will highlight the special features of your education and experience that qualify you for the particular position or organization.

Good cover letters are generally alike in that they share...

A personal approach.

It is important to personalize your cover letter. Try to address your letter to a specific individual within an organization rather than "To Whom it May Concern." It is often possible to find contact information online, usually on the organization's website or through LinkedIn.  You can also call organizations directly and ask a receptionist for the name of the appropriate contact. If it is impossible to obtain the person's name, you can address the letter with a salutation such as "Dear Recruiter:"   If you are unsure of the contact's gender, use the first and last name in the salutation so that it reads: "Dear Pat Smith:"

A clear, concise presentation of interest, skills and intent.

Your cover letter will have the most impact if it is targeted to match each particular organization or position being sought; employers do not look favorably on mass-produced letters or those that read like templates you are sending to every employer or job of interest.  The best cover letters focus on how you can meet the needs of the organization, usually as clearly defined in the job description.  As with your resume, be prepared to support any information you include in the letter with examples. 

A glimpse of the author.

Although this is a formal document, the style doesn't need to be stiff. Allow your personality to come through and strive to project interest and enthusiasm.  However, while you want to be upbeat and positive, avoid exaggerated statements such as "I've always wanted to work for your firm/organization" since they will likely not ring true to the reader. 

All employers want people with excellent communication skills. Your cover letter is a direct reflection of your written communication skills, so write thoughtfully. Pay particular attention to grammar, typing and spelling, and avoid trite language and the temptation to turn your cover letter into an extensive autobiography.

Readable font and consistent style.

Your cover letters should follow a traditional business letter format (see samples); also use an easy-to-read font (at least 10 point) and consider using the same font on your cover letter as you did with your resume for consistency. 

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Cover Letter Format

Header

Your Street Address (Academic year = school address. Summer = home/summer address.)
City, State  Zip Code (Or Country)

Today's Date

Person's Name
Title
Organization
Street Address
City, State, Zip Code (Or Country)

Dear Ms./Mr./Dr. Last Name: (or, Dear Recruiter: if you couldn't get a specific name)


Opening Paragraph

The opening paragraph introduces you, lets the employer know why you are writing and why you are qualified to work with their organization. To capture the employer's interest, this paragraph should be specific and connected to the position description.  Without a specific position description, do your best to research the skills and capabilities the organization may favor in any candidate (reviewing the "Careers" page of their website or even looking at higher-level positions than which you are qualified for can help with this - as can networking with alumni or connections that may work there).  This first paragraph must also be concise, as you should dedicate relatively more space to your middle paragraphs, which discuss how your qualifications are relevant to the employer and the particular position.  It is very important to keep the letter's focus on what you can bring to the employer, not what you'll gain from the experience.

Try to answer three key questions:

Who are you?

  • Indicate what academic level you hold, your field of study, and your University.

    Example:  "I am a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics."  OR, "I will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in May 2018 from the University of Pennsylvania with a Biological Basis of Behavior major."

Why are you writing?

    • Mention how you heard of the organization or of the position.
    • Refer to the position title.
    • State the proper name of the organization at least once. Example: Systems Global, Inc. (SG)
    • If you know the recruiting contact, or have any other connections with individuals (alumni, career fair representatives, etc.) that work at the organization, mention that and/or reference the person and your conversation. 
    • Avoid excessive adjectives and/or superlatives, as well as generic statements such as "I'd like to work in a challenging environment with opportunity for advancement," or "It would be my dream to work for your company."  Make it obvious that you've researched the organization and are familiar with its services. If certain aspects of the company impress you, i.e. you recently read a great press release about their newest widget, let them know!

      Example:  "After reviewing the Associate Product Manager Internship (Job ID 777777) on the Pennlink system, and speaking with Jane Smith about her excellent experience as a product manager at Systems Global, I am very interested in being considered for this opportunity."

    Variations: 

    • If you don't know of a specific job to which you'd like to apply, and/or the employer invites interested candidates to "create a profile," on their website, take responsibility for identifying the type of position you'd like.  This approach also applies if someone has referred you to submit a resume, or has asked you to forward along your resume so that they can send it to someone else. 

      Example:  "I am very interested in exploring the possibility of a Summer 2017 internship with Systems Global, and am particularly interested in roles requiring analytical and collaborative skills. 

    Why are you qualified?

    • This is arguably the most important question for you to address, and your answer will serve as the foundation for the rest of your letter.  Think of it like a thesis statement that you will then support with examples in the body of your writing.    
    • Explain how you are skilled and/or experienced in the areas that the position description mentions.  Carefully review the "Responsibilities" section and/or the "Qualifications" section of the posting, and consider ways in which you may have already done similar work (in prior employment, courses you've taken, projects you've completed, clubs of which you've been a member, etc.).

      Example:  "With my strong analytical and communication skills demonstrated through numerous academic projects, my team based successes in my prior work experience and other capabilities, I believe I would be an ideal candidate for this position."


    Middle Paragraph(s)

    Here is your chance to shine. This section should make up the bulk of your letter.  Summarize the aspects of your education, experience, and interests that are germane to the employer's expressed needs (from the job description) and convey your sincere interest in the position.

    Keep your focus on the skills and characteristics detailed as qualifications (that you've now stated in the first paragraph that you have), and provide illustrations or examples of how you've demonstrated those in past or present endeavors. 

    • Expand on the information contained in your resume and highlight your qualifications by discussing them in terms of the contributions you've made. Do not merely reiterate what is on your resume, but curate information particularly relevant or specific to the position from your past. 

      Example:  It was during my internship last summer where I was able to demonstrate my ability to learn quickly, apply my analytical strengths and lead through challenges by completing a final team project that was presented to senior executives.  As part of this effort, I worked with my team to create a timeline, identify the appropriate primary and secondary data to support our work, ....."


    Closing

    The closing paragraph should pave the way for the interview. You may express your interest in an interview (though do not state a specific time or day) or suggest that you will follow-up with a phone call.   End your letter by thanking the recruiter for his or her time and consideration of your application.


    Sincerely,

    [ Signature]

    Your Name (typed)

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    Cover Letter Samples

    Be sure not to follow samples too closely; your cover letter should be unique to you and to the position for which you are applying.

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    Cover Letter Checklist

    A checklist can be especially helpful as you finish up your cover letter to make sure it is ready to send out.  To access our checklist, click HERE.

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    Cover Letter Critiques and Workshops

    Career Services counselors can review and provide feedback on cover letters. For information on how you may get your cover letter critiqued, please click here.

    Career Services also offers workshops on resume and cover letter writing throughout the school year. To find a schedule, please see the undergraduate calendar or check the Penn calendar.

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