Cover Letter Guide

A cover letter is a persuasive document that highlights the
candidate’s skills, knowledge of the employer, and ability to
contribute to the organization.
Colgate University
Center for Career Services
Spear House 315.228.7380
Steps to a Successful Cover Letter Writing
Step 1 – Research the information employers will expect you to know:
Regarding the Career Field & Employer:
⇒ How is the employer unique?
⇒ What are its major products or services?
⇒ Whom does it serve?
⇒ What are its areas of growth?
⇒ What are the challenges and opportunities?
Regarding the Employer and Career Field:
⇒ How formal is the attire, language, and etiquette?
⇒ How
would you describe the working
⇒ How is success measured?
⇒ What is the pace of work?
Regarding the Position: Reference the job description.
TIP: The comprehensiveness of job descriptions
⇒ What are the skills needed to succeed in this position?
vary. Your research along with the job description
⇒ What are its main responsibilities?
will be imperative to demonstrate your potential.
Step 2 – Identify your past/present relevant experiences:
Past performance predicts future potential. Identify two or three experiences or themes of experience that
best exemplify your answers from Step 1. Describe their context and provide succinct detail using the
STARR/SOARR model. Assume that your audience is unfamiliar with the experiences you cite, but will
reference your resume’s bullets where more detail exists.
Situation: Environmental conditions (differentiate of and describe the organization/situation).
Task or Obstacle: What was asked or expected of you? OR What did you have to overcome?
Action: What did you, not the organization, specifically do to address the task or obstacle?
Result: Outcomes or impact that you had during the time that you were on task.
Relate: How does this example relate to the potential opportunity you seek.
Step 3 – Explicitly illustrate your potential:
A cover letter should reference your past and present experiences (from Step 2) in the context of describing
how they will help you perform the specific functions of the position for this unique employer (from Step
1). By focusing on the employer’s and position’s goals with specificity, blended with your background, you
demonstrate your seriousness, preparation and career focus. General cover letters that do not demonstrate any
knowledge of the needs or uniqueness of the employer are perceived as uninformed and weak.
Step 4 – Ask for feedback on your draft:
Obtain honest, constructive, and critical feedback on your draft from a career advisor or peer advisor. Your
networking contacts, especially those within the position or career field, can provide guidance.
Step 5 – Submit the letter with your resume and other materials indicated before the deadline.
Step 6 – Follow up your application with a phone call.
Contact the employer within 10 days of submitting your cover letter to ensure your application was received.
Inquire about the timeframe for interviewing.
Cover Letter Development: Step-by-Step
Step 1: Research the information employers will expect you to know:
Sample Job Description:
Special Events Intern, Guthrie Theater
The Special Events Intern will support the
preparation and production of large and small scale
events. Responsibilities may include collecting
RSVPs, assisting with guest registration and greeting, collaborating with volunteer management and
day-of event coordination, participation in planning
meetings, assisting with general administrative
tasks, filing, mailings, donor calls, database projects, internet research and other special projects.
The department seeks candidates who have the
following attributes: detail-oriented, good discretion
with confidential material, excellent interpersonal
skills, diplomatic, tactful, organized, efficient, able
to multi-task and adaptable to change, independent,
background or strong interest in the arts, fundraising, or event production, strong writing and communication skills. Computer skills: Microsoft Office, Internet research skills, Mac proficiency.
From the job description: skills/traits:
⇒ Strong organizational and project
management skills (efficient, adaptable,
⇒ Exceptional writing/communication
⇒ Research and office support skills
⇒ Team-orientation
⇒ Ability to maintain confidentiality and
discretion with sensitive info
Interpersonal skills, friendly
Work unsupervised, show initiative
Experience/Interest in the arts
From additional research:
⇒ Non-profit reliant on volunteers and
fundraising to achieve goals (entire
team dedicated to that)
Employer presents itself professionally
Theater produces many shows in a
season: the pace is fast.
Step 2: Identify past/present relevant experiences. Describe them in STARR/SOARR
Where have I done this? (What skill/trait does it show?)
⇒ Developed excellent grammar and syntax as an Classics major (communication skills)
⇒ Experience in college theater production reviewing scripts (interest and understanding of the arts,
theater; ability to balance school and extracurriculars in a busy calendar; team orientation)
⇒ Appointed treasurer to the STG (Student Theatre Group) - a new student group - organized the budget
for the first show (organization, project management, initiative)
⇒ Helped raise all money for sorority’s philanthropy (understanding of non-profits, ability to fundraise)
Student Theater Group Experience for STARR/SOARR
S: I am the treasurer of the STG, a new theater group. As a new group, we lacked an existing budget.
O: For our first major show, the cost of production was estimated to be higher than STG’s budget
A: I organized and implemented a theater showcase fundraiser through minimal costs. I managed a lot of
different responsibilities. We also had to do it in a short amount of time.
R: We raised enough to cover production. I also learned a great deal about event planning and fundraising.
R: Our production hinged on the success of our fundraising and this showcase, similar to the Guthrie
Theater. It was team-oriented similar to the work of the special events team. I did the grunt work, and
glamorous pieces. I did this in the context of supporting the arts.
Cover letters are one page, single-spaced. Standard business format is used: 1” margins; Times New
Roman, Times, or Arial font, sized 10, 11 or 12
The Anatomy of a Cover Letter
Your street address
City, State Zip Code
Contact Name
Street Address
City, State Zip Code
Dear Mr/Ms. _______:
The opening paragraph should pique the employer’s curiosity by stating enthusiastically why you are
pursuing the organization. You should name the position and tell how you became aware of the
opportunity. If you were referred by someone, or networked with someone extensively who would be
relevant to the employer, mention that person’s name. This paragraph should encourage the employer
to want to read more. Reveal your knowledge of how you would fit within the unique environment
of the employer and industry. Finish your paragraph as if you are writing a thesis statement for the
rest of the letter. Briefly cite the specific highlights of the body paragraphs you will discuss in greater
The most effective middle paragraph(s) articulate specific examples of how your past experiences will
be applicable to excelling in the position you seek. Provide concrete examples that outline your
specific qualifications, skills, or accomplishments that match the job description. These will likely
be past or current academic, extracurricular, work related or personal experiences. Refer to the key
aspects of your resume, but avoid restating your resume’s descriptions. Additionally, if your relevant
personal qualities are not obvious from your resume, this is your opportunity to discuss them.
Close your letter with a strong indication of your desire to work for this organization. You should
request an interview and indicate that you will follow up to discuss this possibility. Note that your
resume is enclosed. Include your contact information (phone number and email). Close the letter by
thanking the employer.
(signature here)
Your typed name
Best Practices for Cover Letters
Customize your letter for the position. It is the writer’s responsibility, not the reader’s, to connect
your experience to the employer’s needs.
Write concisely, formally, and keep your writing focused. Your letter should not exceed one page.
Address your cover letter to a specific person. If the contact is not provided, call the employer to
secure the information, unless the employer specifically asks candidates not to call.
Provide your contact information (phone number and email) in the closing paragraph or below your
Have several people proofread your letter to ensure it is error free.
If sending your cover letter and resume via email, attach both documents separately as PDFs that
include your name. Provide a brief sentence in the body of your email that indicates your purpose
and refers to the attached documents.
If submitting via email, provide an email subject that is relevant to the information: write the
position title, your name, and date as the email subject (Production Assistant-Jane Doe, 10-25-2014).
If sending a hard copy, print your letter using white or cream bond paper.
Sign your signature in black or blue ink.
If you will be abroad when interviewing will occur, reference the best method of contacting you and
emphasize your willingness to call for a phone interview, or to interview before your departure.
Follow up with the employer within 10 days of sending your cover letter.
⇒ Mass-produce your cover letter. Generic cover letters are obvious and will not be impressive.
Provide a list of accomplishments without articulating their connection to the employer’s needs.
Send your materials to “To Whom It May Concern” or “Director of Human Resources” unless no
other option exists.
Overstate your accomplishments. Expect employers to research you.
Use contractions, slang, abbreviations, or other casual language.
Use “Mrs.” in the salutation. Always opt for “Mr.”, “Ms.”, or “Dr.” (Last name). If you are unsure of
the contact’s gender, use Dear (Full name).
Example 1
Contact’s Name
Guthrie Theater
Street Address
City, State zip code
Dear Mr. X:
It is with great enthusiasm that I am applying for the Special Events internship posted through Colgate
University’s Career Services. I am highly motivated and possess a solid understanding of theater
administration and polished communication skills. It would be incredible to work in support of the
department of special events for the Guthrie Theater, especially in the context of your fast-paced production
My proven experience in event coordination and fundraising for my college’s new, unfunded, theater group
speaks directly to my potential to exceed expectations as a member of the special events team. As Treasurer I
led our membership to organize and implement a theater showcase that raised nearly $3000—the amount
needed to support the cost of our upcoming production of Othello. My work minimized the showcase’s costs
by using second-hand costumes, scenic designs, and creating my own promotional materials. There was no
task too small or complex that I didn’t tackle. This experience required me to balance a multitude of
important elements, yet, I gained great perspective of the complexity and necessity for effective event
planning. I would bring this same dedication and drive to my work with the Guthrie Theater where similarly,
event facilitation is key to the ability to support your productions.
In studying Classics at Colgate, I have challenged myself to developing strong writing, research and analysis
skills. I am accustomed to producing polished writing through independent processes under short
timeframes. I am certain that in working for Guthrie Theater the rigor of my coursework will assist me to
produce publicity and internal communications with little direction.
I know I will be able to contribute immediately to the success of the events team. Please find enclosed my
resume, which I hope you will consider. I will be in contact with you to discuss the potential of interviewing
and to learn more about this opportunity. Feel free to contact me if you have questions or concerns at (315)
XXX-XXX or [email protected]
Respectfully yours,
(Handwrite your signature in cursive if sending a hard copy)
Candidate’s name
Candidate’s street address
City, State, zip code
Example 2
Candidate’s street address
City, state, zip code
Employer’s title
Employer’s street address
City, State zip code
Dear Ms. X:
Please accept the submission of my resume for a Sales and Trading Analyst position with ABC Company. I have been
encouraged to apply after speaking with your on campus recruiter at Colgate University. Through my past internship
in finance, I have gained considerable research experience and quantitative analysis skills; additionally, my coursework
and campus activities have provided me with the sharp analytical skills necessary to succeed in the challenging, fastpaced environment of the Sales and Trading.
My potential to make an immediate impact stems from my internship at 123 Corporation. I researched airlines and
shipping companies to determine how they hedged their risk of fluctuation in interest rates, oil prices, and foreign
exchange rates. The derivative sales team then used the information I found to advise clients in these particular
industries. This experience was particularly rewarding as it was my first significant exposure to sales and trading, and
sparked my interest in the field. I will utilize the knowledge and skills I obtained from this experience to apply them to
the dynamic environment of ABC Company.
As the treasurer of Brothers, a student organization supporting students of color at Colgate, I learned to think on my
feet, make sound fiduciary decisions, and work collaboratively meet our organization’s goals. This experience has
given me an opportunity to sharpen and demonstrate these essential traits needed to thrive within the culture of sales
and trading.
Thank you very much for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you, and can be contacted by email at
[email protected], or by telephone at xxx-xxx-xxxx.
Candidate’s name