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University Writing Center

SWC 8: Composing a Cover Letter

Dynamic PDF: Composing a Cover Letter

A cover letter is a short (typically one page) document that expands upon your resume and provides hiring professionals and/or graduate school admissions offices with additional specifics surrounding your education, work history, and other relevant experiences. While a resume is a brief overview of your general qualifications, a cover letter gives you the opportunity to explain why your qualifications make you the ideal candidate for a particular internship, job, graduate program, etc. In other words, it is your initial sales pitch, and like a resume, you will customize this to the specific application and position.

Overall Goals:

  • Introduce yourself as a candidate with the skills for this specific job position  
  • Provide context—how you learned about the opening
  • Explain why this particular job interests you
  • Show how the job is appropriate for you by using language or terminology similar to the advertisement
  • Highlight and explain specific qualifications in your resume
  • Emphasize relevant skills and experiences

Tips for Successful Cover Letters:

  • Read the job description carefully and follow instructions
  • Avoid copying phrases verbatim from the advertisement
  • Match your tone of the letter to the language of the advertisement
  • Do not include unrelated personal information (keep it professional) or salary, benefit, or schedule requests
  • Do not create a replica of your resume; a cover letter should be more in-depth and specific.

Writing about Yourself: It is important to use strong action words when describing your jobs and accomplishments.

Stronger Cover Letter Words:

  • Accomplished
  • Capable
  • Confident
  • Efficient
  • Exceptional
  • Experienced
  • Expert
  • Practiced
  • Proficient
  • Seasoned
  • Skilled
  • Successful
  • Talented
  • Thorough
  • Authorized
  • Mediated

Overused, Vague Cover Letter Words/Phrases:

  • Detail-oriented
  • Go-to person
  • Good
  • Hardworking
  • Motivated
  • Problem solver
  • Team player
  • As you can see on my resume
  • I am the best candidate because
  • I feel
  • I think I’d be a great fit

Design: When designing your cover letter, use a simple font sized at 11 or 12 point. If submitting with a resume, consider making the formatting (header, font type, and font size) the same to promote readability and organization. Margins should be set at 1” to maintain professionalism.

For an example cover letter template, see the printable version. 

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