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Cover Letters & Other Correspondence

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Cover Letters

Watch this brief video to learn the basics of writing a strong cover letter.

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https://vimeo.com/232890656

One of the most common forms of professional correspondence is the cover letter, which employers typically request with your resume when you apply for a position. This page provides guidance on writing a cover letter and introduces other important forms of correspondence.

TOC:

Types of Letters/Correspondence

  • Cover Letter:  Accompanies your resume when you apply for a position.
  • Acceptance Letter: Written to accept a job offer and confirm the terms of employment.
  • Withdrawal Letter: Graciously informs an employer that you are withdrawing from further consideration.
  • Informational Interviewing/Networking Letter: Attempts to expand your network and gain insight into a specific job function, industry, or company.
  • Thank You Letter: Expresses appreciation to anyone who has helped you in connection with your job search. In the case of a job interview, it is an opportunity to reinforce your interest in the position, clarify something that you said during the interview, or highlight something that you failed to mention.
  • Statement of Purpose:  A statement of purpose is sometimes requested for formal applications. A well-written statement will articulate your intent for applying, future aspirations, and learning objectives; it will also showcase your personality through its writing style.

Tip: Proofread Carefully - Errors can be “Deal-Breakers”

The Cover Letter: Format & Content

Note: Check out this OCS 2-minute cover letter video for additional cover letter tips

The cover letter is your personal introduction to a prospective employer that outlines your interest in the position and the organization and expresses why you are qualified. While your resume lists all of your relevant experiences and associated skills and accomplishments, your cover letter makes an explicit connection between the 2-3 most relevant skills you have that match the skills an employer is looking for as listed in the position description.

Each cover letter should be tailored to a specific job description and organization. Demonstrate what you know about the organization/industry and why you are a good fit. Show how you meet the required qualifications for that particular job by emphasizing your 2-3 strongest skills; where possible, make a direct connection between those skills and how you could use them to accomplish what is required for the position. Use confident language, write in an active voice, and, except in rare circumstances, limit your letter to one page.

Tip: Before you begin, ask yourself these four questions

  • What is the employer looking for in a candidate?
  • What skills/attributes do you have that match the skills/attributes that an employer wants?
  • Why do you want to work for them? 
  • Why this position?

Remember, an employer is trying to match the skills they need with the skills you have, so where possible, use key words from the job/internship description and weave them into your cover letter.

Cover Letter Format

  • Same font as your resume, sized within 1pt (larger, not smaller)
  • One page in length, left justified, margins ideally 1”
  • For consistency, consider using the same header on your cover letter that you use on your resume
  • Top of letter: date, employer name, contact information (if you are short on space, remove the employer name/contact info and only include the date)
  • Formal salutation (person's name, if possible)
  • End of the letter: your name and contact information (your contact information is not necessary if you include it in the header)

Cover Letter Framework

  • Opening Paragraph: Introduce yourself. Who are you (e.g. rising senior at Yale studying Anthropology)? For what internship/job are you applying? Why do you want to work for that employer (e.g. draw a connection between who you are and why you are a good fit with this employer)? End your introduction with a short ‘thesis statement’ that highlights the 2-3 related skills that will enable you to contribute to this position (e.g. My experience conducting statistical analysis combined with my ability to take an initiative make me a strong fit for this position).
  • Middle Paragraph(s): Start each supporting paragraph with a topic sentence that highlights one of the 2-3 skills you have that relates to the position for which you are applying; use the rest of the paragraph to showcase examples of that skill. Where possible, show how that skill will help you accomplish what is required for the position. Do not simply restate your resume; use the cover letter to expand on your resume and help your prospective employer make sense of your skills. 
  • Concluding Paragraph: Summarize your qualifications and reiterate your interest in the employer. Invite them to speak with you further regarding how your qualifications align with their mission and purpose.

Overall Elements of a Strong Cover Letter

  • Tailored to the employer and position – makes a connection
  • Focuses on 2-3 skills that match the skillset the employer is looking for
  • Uses specific examples rather than a string of generalities
  • Varies sentence structure, is well-written, keeps the reader’s attention and flows well
  • Has genuine tone, demonstrating style and personality
  • Is confident, not cocky
  • Complements, instead of repeats, the resume

Frequently Asked Correspondence Questions

FAQ: How should I address the letter if I don't have a contact name at the organization?

Always try to address a correspondence to a specific person rather than “To Whom It May Concern.” If you do not have a name, call the organization to try to get one or check out the OCS Employer Directory within the Yale Career Link to see if OCS has a contact name. Be sure you have the person’s full name, correct spelling of their name, and current title.

FAQ: How should I address the letter if I'm not sure of the recipient's gender?

Start each letter with a salutation (i.e., Dear Ms. Employer:). If you are unsure about the recipient’s gender, type out the full time (i.e., Dear Pat Pollen:).

FAQ: How much of my contact information should I include?

All letters require your return address, including telephone number and e-mail address, the date, and the full name, title and address of the recipient.

FAQ: How long should the letter be?

In general, your letter should contain no more than three to four paragraphs, with double space between paragraphs. The introductory and concluding paragraphs should be between one and three sentences, and the body paragraphs should be between three and five sentences. Vary the sentence length and structure throughout your letter to ensure a smoother flow.

FAQ: How should I close the letter?

Close your letter with Sincerely, Yours truly, or Best regards, followed by your name. If you are submitting a hard copy, use resume-quality paper, and sign each letter individually (leave four returned blank lines before your typed name). Make sure the letter looks professional. Align all of your information to the left margin, and use a clear, easy to read font, such as Arial or Times New Roman.

QUICK LINKS

GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE SAMPLES

COVER LETTER SAMPLES