Cover Letter 101

A cover letter is a commonly requested document that you submit when you apply for a job, internship, or other professional experience. Unlike a resume which quickly summarizes your experience in a highly formatted way, your cover letter is more like a persuasive essay that you'll write to convince an employer that you are qualified for a position. 

In order to write an effective cover letter, you will end up customizing it completely for each position. While that may sound daunting, there are steps you can follow to make the process easier.

The 5 Steps of Cover Letter Writing

The purpose of the cover letter is to discover what skills the employer is looking for and demonstrate how your skills match the ones listed in the job description. 

Step 1: Determine if you meet the basic or minimum qualifications to apply (usually education requirements and years of experience). 

Step 2: Look for key words/phrases throughout all parts of the job description that match your skills and experiences (not just under “Required or Preferred Qualifications”).  

Step 3: Retype key words or phrases (transferable skills) from the job description directly onto a new document and highlight them in another color. The highlighting tells you which key words came from the job description, so you won’t change them.  Do not use synonyms – use these exact key words. 

Step 4: Take each key word/phrase and provide an example of when you used/acquired this skill, which will be unique to you. Ask yourself the following: 

  • What Does the Employer Want?: List the skills, qualities, or values in the job description (or deduce what skills will be needed for such a position): Example: Direct communication skills 
  • What Evidence Can You Provide to Highlight Your Skills?: Unpaid experiences, work, classes, academic projects, internships, jobs, etc.).

Incomplete response: "Demonstrated strong communication skills."

Excellent response: "Demonstrated direct communication skills when assigning five cancer walk volunteers specific set up and break down instructions."

Step 5: Place these examples into paragraphs in a sensible order for the reader. Begin with the strongest, most relevant examples or skills first. The least relevant (or weakest) will be at the bottom of the cover letter. 

Cover Letter Formatting Tips

First Paragraph

  • What position are you applying to? (Include a job ID # if there is one) 

  • Where did you see it advertised? 

  • Why do you want this job? (Be as specific and unique as possible, and demonstrate enthusiasm) 

Middle Paragraphs (usually between 2-4 sentences) 

  • Must include words/phrases directly pulled from the job description 

  • Opening paragraph has the most relevant skills and important qualities, last paragraph has the least relevant 

  • Use short narrative examples to showcase how your skills and experience match their qualifications 

  • Several short paragraphs are easier to read and comprehend rather than one long one 

Closing Paragraph and Tone

  • Include final skill sets, or additional qualities or characteristics that make you stand out

  • Must include a “Thank you for your time and consideration” phrase 

  • Professional, positive, direct, enthusiastic

Business Style Design 

  • Use your resume header, or put your contact information at the bottom only

  • Use only one white space (aka return) in between all paragraphs 

  • Minimum of three sentences necessary for a paragraph  

  • Do not indent paragraphs


  • Font is the same style as your resume and should be same size 

  • Length - one page  

  • Keep bolding, all-caps, colors, lines, and italics to a minimum 

  • Margins between .05 and 1.25 inch  

Final Advice 

  • Create a NEW cover letter for each application, as the skills and qualifications will vary- don’t waste time with generic phrases or cover letters  

  • Never mention things you don’t have, such as “While I don’t speak Arabic, I know some Spanish”. Instead, write about how you have utilized conversational Spanish in the past and enjoy learning new languages 

Sample Cover Letter

Your Address
Your address


HR Direct
1234 Maple Drive
Trumbull, CT 01002

Dear Hiring Committee:

I am writing enthusiastically to apply for your Human Resource Specialist position that I found on Handshake. I am graduating with my bachelor’s degree with a Concentration in Human Resources and am looking to leverage my 10+ years in customer and support services. My background includes experience with problem solving, advanced communication skills, and taking the initiative in multiple settings. I am particularly interested in HR Direct given your focus on innovation, which resonates with my career values.

In my current role at Best Customer Service Company, I utilize advanced skills in multi-tasking, customer service, problem solving and attention to detail to improve my daily workflow. Leadership has given me increasing levels of responsibility over the last few years; they noted how I take the initiative to learn more than just what is required when approaching a new task. I now train most incoming employees, and recently began to manage financial spreadsheets, as my supervisor has noted my strong attention to detail.

Being a customer service success representative can be challenging, and I often utilize strong interpersonal skills. Oftentimes, a customer will have a complicated request that will lead to frustration. The leadership has lauded me publicly in meetings for my ability to problem solve under frustrating or time sensitive circumstances. Recently, my supervisor has asked me to put together a training manual to keep track of all the different customer issues that might arise, and I am excited to standardize these issues in a way that will help all employees.

To advance my knowledge of Human Resources, I recently completed 12 hours of Compensation and Benefits advanced coursework via LinkedIn Learning. My enthusiasm for this work continues, as I am excited to align my academic coursework, independent learning, and strong background in customer service success as a Human Resources Specialist for HR Direct.

Thank you for your consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.


Your name