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Cover Letter Guidelines

The cover letter is your chance to tell the employer how wonderful you are. Your letter is your first contact with a potential employer. If it looks attractive, is well written, and contains the right information, you will be sure to make a good impression.

The cover letter provides an opportunity for you to personalize your job application. Your résumé will be more generic and will state your qualifications for the job. The cover letter is your chance to explicitly tie these qualifications to the specific duties and responsibilities of the particular job for which you are applying. If you are vague or rambling, the employer won’t take the time to move on to your résumé.

Most cover letters will use a common format. The key is to make sure you personalize the information you stick into the format.

The following guidelines apply to all your letters.

  • Address the letter to someone in authority. Use the person’s name and title. Double check for the correct spelling of the name. When this information is unavailable, the salutation should be “Dear Sir:” or ̶o;Dear Madam:”.

  • Link yourself to the employer by naming your referral if possible (e.g., “John Doe, your personnel manager, suggested I write you”). If responding to an ad or a job posting, refer to that.

  • Type or computer-print the letter on good quality 8.5 x 11-inch paper. Keep the letter to one page in length and follow a standard business format.

  • Keep the letter interesting without being too aggressive or humble:

    1. demonstrate that you’ve done some homework on the company.
    2. convey your enthusiasm and commitment.
    3. balance professionalism with personal warmth and friendliness.
  • Keep the letter organized:

    1. outline specifically what you are asking and offering (don’t mention salary unless asked to do so).
    2. ensure the potential employer knows what action to take — i.e., does he/she call you, or will you call him/her and when?
  • Proofread your letter before sending it. Spellcheck alone cannot do the job! If you know you are a poor speller, have a capable friend review it.

  • Type the address on an 9.5 x 4-inch envelope. Include a copy of your résumé. Be sure to put your return address on the top left corner of the envelope, and that you have sufficient postage if you are mailing the application.

  • Mail or deliver the hand-signed original. Keep a copy for your files.

  • Ensure you provide sufficient time for your application to arrive prior to the competition deadline. Don’t depend on someone else to mail or deliver the letter for you.

Here are some more sources of information, many from the My Future site:


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Michigan Reach Out! Home Last updated 14 July 03