How and Why to Write a Great Cover Letter

A cover letter is a one-page business letter that you submit when applying to a job, along with your resume. As a piece of persuasive writing, your cover letter will aim to convey to the employer why you’re a great candidate for the role.

What is the purpose of a cover letter?

Your cover letter complements your resume by making it easy for the employer to see how your experience and interest connect to the position. Your goal is to convince the employer to interview you.

With your cover letter, you’ll aim to:

  • Highlight your qualifications: You’ll show how your skills and experience relate to the employer’s needs for a specific position.
  • Showcase your motivation: You’ll demonstrate your enthusiasm for the specific position and the organization.
  • Reflect your voice and written communication skills: You’ll give the employer a sense of your personality and writing style.

When should I write a cover letter?

Not all jobs require cover letters. So, how do you decide whether to submit one?

Submit a Cover Letter when…

  • The posting explicitly requests that you do so
  • You’re applying to an opportunity at a mission-driven organization
  • You think that doing so could provide important information to the employer that they wouldn’t get from your resume

Consider Submitting a Cover Letter when…

  • It’s marked “optional” in an application, and you have the bandwidth to do so
  • You have content that you can easily recycle or repurpose into a tailored cover letter

No Need to Submit a Cover Letter when…

  • A posting specifically tells you not to submit one
  • There’s no way to submit one in an application portal, and doing so would require a serious workaround

Pro-Tip:

If you’re applying to several similar opportunities, creating a draft cover letter in advance, geared toward that type of opportunity, can be a helpful way to save time in your actual application process.

How do I write a cover letter?

Your cover letter should articulate your qualifications and motivation for the position. Read the job description closely and research the organization. As you craft your cover letter, use examples that demonstrate your relevant skills, knowledge, and interests. The cover letter should be concise, clear, and well-organized.

Before Writing

Research the employer

Learn enough about the organization to articulate why you are a strong fit for that firm. 

  • Review the firm’s website and LinkedIn page.
  • Speak with current or previous employees.
  • Read articles and social media for current news.

Analyze the job description

Look for skills, duties, and qualifications of the job so you can design your letter to match these as much as possible.

Reflect on your experience and motivation

Identify skills and personal qualities you have developed which will be useful in this role. Ask yourself:

  • What attracts you about this role/company/industry?
  • What have you have done in your work experiences, classes, internships, activities, projects, volunteer work, travel, etc., that is similar to the duties required of the job? 

Cover Letter Structure

As a business letter, the cover letter should include:

  • Heading: Include your name and contact information in the same format as your resume
  • Salutation: Address your letter to the specific individual who can hire you, if this is known. If the name is not included in the job description, address the letter to the Hiring Manager or title mentioned in the job description.
  • Body Paragraphs: Discuss your experiences, interests, and skills to show the employer how you can add value to their team. See the section below for more guidance.
  • Signature Line: Include a closing and your name.

The cover letter should be one page, about three or four paragraphs, and single spaced. Use 10-12 point font and one inch margins. 

When applying online, upload your cover letter as a PDF file, unless another format is specified. When sending your resume and cover letter by email, you may write a short note or paste your cover letter in the body of your email (without the address header) and also attach the PDF file.

Your cover letter should answer who, what, when, where and why you are applying for the opportunity. 

Cover Letter Content

Introduction

State the position for which you are applying. If you have a referral or spoke with someone from the company, you can mention it in the introduction. Provide some basic information about yourself; this can include your class year and what you’re studying at Columbia. Briefly outline why you’re interested in the organization and what you bring in terms of relevant experience and skills. 

Body Paragraphs

These paragraphs will highlight your qualifications and strengths that are most relevant to the organization and position. Use the job posting and your research as clues to determine what the employer is seeking in a candidate. Have your resume beside you and reflect on what you want the employer to know about you. Are there experiences you want to expand upon that demonstrate your understanding of the role and ability to do the job requirements?

Structure the paragraphs based on relevance, not chronology. Lead with your most relevant skill or strongest experience.

Start each body paragraph with a clear topic sentence. This can highlight a key skill set, a transferable experience, or a core area of knowledge you’ve built through your studies. Walk the reader through a project or experience, integrating the relevant skills you used and qualities you demonstrated. Provide details about your accomplishments and impact. Connect how these experiences have prepared you for this role and why you are motivated to do this job. There is no need to apologize if you feel you lack experience; focus on the accomplishments that you have.

Conclusion

Recap what you would bring to the organization and your interest in the position. Thank the employer for their consideration. Keep your tone positive and enthusiastic. 

Editing Tips

Use the Cover Letter Checklist to make sure your format and content is in line with best practices. 

Ethiopian Reporter Jobs
  • Ensure that the content reflects the requirements in the job description
  • Keep the cover letter concise, at one page or less
  • Correct any errors in grammar, sentence structure, and spelling
  • Use the active voice
  • Avoid beginning too many sentences with “I”