Cover Letter Overview


Explain why you are sending a resume.

Don't send a resume without a cover letter.  The cover letter goes on top of all other documents.

Don't make the reader guess what you are asking for; be specific: Do you want a summer internship opportunity or a permanent position at graduation? Are you inquiring about future employment possibilities or something that has been advertised for an immediate opening?

Tell, specifically, how you learned about the position or the organization such as a flyer posted in your department, a web site such as ArtSearch or a referral from a professor. It is appropriate to mention the name of someone who suggested that you write.

Convince the reader to look at your resume.

The cover letter will be seen first. Therefore, it must be very well written and targeted to that employer. Proof read carefully! Reference things in the letter that will encourage the reader to look at your resume.

Call attention to specific elements of your background—education, leadership, experience—that are relevant to the position you are seeking. Be as specific as possible, using examples.

Provide or refer to any information specifically requested in a job advertisement that might not be covered in your resume, such as availability date or reference to an attached writing sample.

Indicate what you will do to follow-up:

In a letter of application—applying for an advertised opening—applicants often say something like "I look forward to hearing from you." However, if you have further contact info (e.g. employer's phone number) and if the employer hasn't said "no phone calls," it's better to take the initiative to follow-up, saying something like, "I will contact you in the next two weeks to see if you require any additional information regarding my qualifications."

In a letter of inquiry—asking about the possibility of an opening—don't assume the employer will contact you. You should say something like, "I will contact you in two weeks to learn more about upcoming employment opportunities with (name of organization)."  Then mark your calendar to make the call.

Page margins, font style, and size:

For hard copy, left and right page margins of 1 to 1.5 inches generally look good. You can adjust your margins to balance how your document looks on the page.

Use a font style that is simple, clear, and commonplace such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri (I use Palatino). Font SIZES from 10-12 points generally look appropriate; it should be uncluttered and easy to read.

Keep in mind that different font styles in the same point size are not the same size! A 12-point Arial is larger than a 12-point Times New Roman.

If you are having trouble fitting a document on one page, sometimes a slight margin and/or font adjustment can be the solution, but try editing first. Simpler is always better.

Serif or sans serif? Sans (without) serif fonts are those like Arial and Calibri that don't have the small finishing strokes on the ends of each letter (like the letters in this document). There is a great deal of research and debate on the pros and cons of each. Ultimately, use what you like—within reason. Note what employers use; generally sans serif fonts are used for on-monitor reading and serif fonts are used for lengthy print items (like books); serif fonts may be considered more formal (which would be my advice here.)

Should your resume and cover letter font style and size match? It can be a nice touch to look polished. But it's also possible to have polished documents that are not in matching fonts. A significant difference in style and size might be noticed.