Look at me, look at me! The value of a good cover letter.

While we don't recommend that you use this headline for your cover letter, we do want to help you get the same result. Your cover letter needs to stand out to a potential employer so he or she will take a look at your resume. You'll use a cover letter whenever you send a resume to a company, either in response to an advertisement or to inquire about possible positions. Following are guidelines for killer cover letters. We've also provided samples of cover letters for you to review.

The basics

  • Keep it to four paragraphs, highlighting a couple of your most impressive abilities or accomplishments that make you stand apart from your competition.
  • Use standard 8.5 x 11 paper; no fancy stationery is required.
  • Set up one-inch margins on all sides and use block paragraphs.
  • Send in a business mailing envelope. Unless you have extremely neat and legible handwriting, type the address or send through your printer.

What to include

Letter Part Instructions Example
Return address    Your return address should be printed in the upper right corner about 4 inches from the right edge.
Date        Write out the date on the line below the last line of your address. Spell out the month rather than using XX/XX/XXXX format.
Addressee  Two lines below the date, insert the full name of the addressee, followed on subsequent lines by title, company name, street address, and then city, state and ZIP code on the final line.
Salutation Place this two lines below the address. Begin with "Dear Mr. ___" or "Dear Ms. ___" followed by a colon. Never use the addressee's first name. If you must use a general salutation, select "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Good morning."
First paragraph        State clearly and concisely what position you wish to be considered for and state your academic status. If responding to an ad, say where and when the ad appeared. I am a senior in mechanical engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and I am interested in the manufacturing engineering position advertised in the Serendipity Times on April 25.
Second paragraph Describe what you could contribute to this company and show how your qualifications would benefit them. If you're responding to a classified ad, discuss specifically how your background relates to the position requirements. Having majored in mechanical engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, where I did extensive design on the solar-powered vehicle project, I am confident I can make an immediate contribution as an automotive engineer.
In addition to my degree in computer science, I have experience in development of C and C++ programs for embedded systems using both Motorola and Intel processors.
Third paragraph Describe your interest in the company. Subtly emphasize your knowledge about them and your familiarity with the industry. Be sure to present yourself as eager to work for this company. I am confident that with my initiative and strong technical background, I can contribute to your company's success in making the transition to infrared technology.
Final paragraph Request an interview. Include your phone number and the hours you can be reached or mention that you will follow up with a phone call within the next several days. I would like to interview with you at your earliest convenience. I can be reached at (123) 456-7890 between 3:30 and 6:00 p.m.
Closing    End your letter two lines below the final paragraph with a simple "Sincerely" or similar closure. Four lines below that, put your full name as it appears on your resume. Sign your name in blank ink above your typed name.
Enclosure line    If you are enclosing a resume or other materials, add an enclosure line two spaces below your name. Enc. resume

Adapting your letter to e-mail

Making contact with companies and sending cover letters and resumes via e-mail is becoming more common. As a job hunter, it is your responsibility to make sure your e-mail correspondence is as polished as paper versions would be. Generally, e-mail tends to have a more conversational, informal tone, but you should not treat e-mails to potential employers that way because it will make you sound unprofessional and even immature.

Instead, if an employer requests your cover letter and resume via e-mail, make sure the letter still follows the guidelines above. Simply omit the date and address blocks and begin with your salutation. Place the body of your cover letter within the e-mail and then send your resume as an attachment. If you send your thank-you note via e-mail, keep it brief but specific enough that the employer knows exactly who you are.

Follow these tips to prepare well-written e-mail correspondence:

  • Pay attention to your subject line. You want the subject to get their attention, but it should be appropriate.
  • Do not use slang or inappropriate wording.
  • Don't use "leet speak" or emoticons. This is business correspondence, not a chat session.
  • Use a standard font for your e-mail such as Times New Roman or Arial. The font should be between 10 and 12 point in size.
  • Avoid backgrounds and embedded graphics.
  • Be brief and succinct with your e-mail. It should be no longer than a letter that would be printed and mailed.
  • Always proofread and spell check your e-mail before you send it.