What is a Cover Letter and do I have to have one?

January 20, 2009

A cover letter serves as your letter of introduction to the employer, and is also a valuable marketing tool in the job search process.  So the answer is yes, you should definitely include a cover letter when applying to job or internship opportunities.  Also, think of it this way:  your resume lists your credentials…your education, experience, training, skills.  But the resume doesn’t communicate WHY you are interested in the specific company to which you are applying, WHY you are interested in this specific job or career field, WHY you would be good fit for the position, or WHY this opportunity fits your interests and career goals.  The cover letter needs to address those questions. 

So how do you go about writing a cover letter?  Look carefully at the job listing – it usually lists the requirements and duties of the job.  Take a highlighter and mark the key words in the job description and the qualifications or requirements.  Now, how do you fit those requirements?  Have you gained experience and/or knowledge of some or all of the job duties?  (Don’t forget about your classes and class projects – you may have gained experience and skills from those as well as from internships or jobs!)  Try to tailor the letter to the job description as much as possible, because these are the key points for the employer in looking at candidates to interview.

Another tip:  When emailing your resume to an employer, your cover letter should be the actual message you send, not sent as an attachment (unless you are instructed to send the cover letter as an attachment).   When applying to a position via email, it is critically important that the employer see something which entices them to read your resume – and a well crafted cover letter can provide this information.

For more information, including sample cover letters and a sample email cover letter, download our Help Guides at:  http://www.cofc.edu/careercenter/tipsheets.html.

Also, for a great article, with additional tips and another sample cover letter, go to JobWeb at www.jobweb.com.  This site contains a wealth of career and job search advice for college students!

And remember, once you have draft of your cover letter, the Career Center will be happy to review and critique it and provide you with feedback and tips for improvement.  Just call our office for an appointment or come in during our drop in hours Monday – Friday, 1 – 4 pm.

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