Copyright

Cover Letter Dos and Don'ts

Feb 14, 2011

Preparing a job application? The cover letter is crucial for making a strong first impression. Check out these dos and don'ts for a crash course on writing an effective cover letter.

View popular schools

cover letter

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Agriculture
  • Architecture
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Business
  • Communications and Journalism
  • Computer Sciences
  • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Legal
  • Liberal Arts and Humanities
  • Mechanic and Repair Technologies
  • Medical and Health Professions
  • Physical Sciences
  • Psychology
  • Transportation and Distribution
  • Visual and Performing Arts

Creating an Outstanding Cover Letter

When you're applying for a job, the cover letter is your chance to make a stellar first impression. It gives you the opportunity to:

  • express your strengths
  • demonstrate strong communication skills
  • show you've done your homework
  • explain why you're the perfect fit for the job
  • let your personality shine

It can also be your first chance to lose the job before you get it - a poor cover letter may mean that the potential employer doesn't even look at your resume. You can avoid that fate by following a few simple dos and don'ts.

Do...Research the employer and position.

Before you get started on the cover letter, read up on the employer and go through the job posting with a fine-tooth comb. Get as much information as you can about the employer's mission and the position you're seeking. This will give you keywords to use in your letter and allow you to convey why you're a great fit. Although cover letters aren't usually scanned electronically for keywords (like resumes are), having the right keywords will show the reader that it's a 'no-brainer' to bring you in for an interview.

Do...Name drop.

Networking is one of the most effective ways to land a job. If you know someone at the employer, mention that relationship in the beginning of your letter - just make sure you've cleared it with your contact first. Say something like 'Jose Gonzalez from Sales thought I would be a perfect fit for this position' or 'I was referred to you by Mary Smith, a long-time colleague who told me your employer could really use my database management skills.'

Do...Toot your own horn.

A cover letter isn't the place for modesty. Use it to communicate your strengths, skills, and relevant accomplishments. Be honest and straightforward, yet strong and confident. As they say, 'It's not bragging if it's true.'

Do...Connect the dots.

If you've done your research, you should know exactly what the employer is looking for - connect the dots for them. Spell out precisely why you're the perfect fit, both for the specific position and for the employer as a whole. Don't assume the employer will make the connection; human resources staff and hiring managers may not have time for that.

Do...Be polite.

Someone is taking valuable time out of their day to review your application. Show your appreciation by thanking the reader politely (but not profusely) at the end. For example, you can end you letter with 'Thank you for your time and consideration.'

Do…Address the cover letter to the right person.

Address the letter directly to the hiring manager or to the contact person given in the job posting. If at all possible, address an actual person by name. Use your network to find the right recipient. If, after trying, you can't find the name of the appropriate person, you can use 'Dear Hiring Manager.'

Do...Proofread carefully.

Is the recipient's name spelled correctly? Is the date accurate? Are your spelling and grammar error-free? Your future employer is going to use this letter to judge your writing and communication skills, so this step is essential. Read it over several times yourself, then find someone else to do a final check for you. If you don't have a second pair of eyes, sleep on it, then re-read your cover letter the next day before you send it out.

A common source of embarrassing errors is using an old cover letter as a starting point for a new one. If you don't start each letter from scratch, it's critical to check that you've changed all the relevant info.

editing

Don't...Boast.

But didn't we tell you to toot your own horn? Yes, but the key is to keep everything you say about yourself specific and verifiable. Instead of saying, 'I am a great communicator,' say, 'I have above average written and oral communication skills from my 10 years as a freelance writer and 5 years in public speaking. I have been honored with numerous journalism awards and won speech contests in Toastmasters.'

Don't...Lie.

It can be tempting to exaggerate your skills or tell little white lies on a cover letter. Don't do it. You'll be held accountable for all of the abilities and experience that you describe. Not only is getting caught in a lie humiliating, it can cost you the job.

Don't...Ignore instructions.

Carefully read the job posting for special instructions. Some employers ask you to put specific information or answers to questions in the cover letter. If you don't, you'll most likely be put in the 'No' pile right off the bat.

Don't...Use a one-size-fits-all approach.

There are specific things that should always be included in your letter (see above), and it's a good idea to follow formatting conventions. But within that framework, be inventive. Each letter should be tailored to the specific employer, and it should bring out the parts of your personality and experience that will be most compelling. Your letter is your chance to make your application pop - approach it more as a work of art than a dull exercise in filling in the blanks.

Next: View Schools

What is your highest level of education?

Some College
Complete your degree or find the graduate program that's right for you.
High School Diploma
Explore schools that offer bachelor and associate degrees.
Still in High School
Earn your diploma or GED. Plan your undergraduate education.

Schools you may like:

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

    • MA in Communication
    • Master of Liberal Arts
    • MA in Science Writing
    • MS in Applied Economics
    • MS in Geographic Information Systems
    • MS in Bioinformatics

    What is your highest level of education?

    • BA: Criminal Justice
    • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
    • BA: Liberal Studies
    • BA: Psychology
    • BA: Psychology - General
    • BS: Computer Science
    • AA: Criminal Justice
    • AA: Liberal Arts
    • AA: Business Administration
    • AA: Information Technology
    • AA: Cybersecurity

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Master of Science in Nursing - Doctor of Nursing Practice Path, Executive Leader Specialization
    • Doctor of Nursing Practice
    • Master of Science in Nursing - Doctor of Nursing Practice Path
    • MS in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
    • Master of Science in Legal Studies
    • MS in Psychology
    • MBA
    • Master of Public Health
    • MBA - Human Resources
    • BS in Liberal Studies
    • BS in Business Administration
    • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Investment Career Focus Area
    • BS in Liberal Studies Leadership
    • BS in Nutrition Science
    • BSFIN in Accelerated MS Finance
    • AAS in Business Administration - Business
    • AAS in Legal Support and Services
    • AAS in Business Administration
    • AAS in Business Administration - Food & Hotel Management
    • AAS in Business Admin-Office Management
    • AAS in Criminal Justice
    • Medical Office Administration Certificate
    • Human Services Certificates in Child and Family Services
    • Graduate Certificate in Addictions
    • Graduate Certificate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
    • Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate
    • Pathway to Paralegal Postbaccalaureate Certificate

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
    • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
    • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences
    • MSHS in Translational Microbiology
    • MA in Education and Human Development in Secondary Special Education and Transition Services
    • MA in Education and Human Development in Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners
    • BSHS in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management
    • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences
    • BSHS in Biomedical Informatics

    What is your highest level of education?

  • What is your highest level of education?

    • Doctor of Business Administration - Management
    • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
    • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Special Education
    • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
    • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Industrial and Organizational Psychology
    • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
    • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors
    • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
    • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
    • MS in Psychology: General Psychology
    • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
    • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
    • BS in Psychology
    • B.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance and Sports Psychology
    • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
    • BS in Early Childhood
    • BS in Elementary Education / Special Education (Dual Major)

    What is your highest level of education?

  • What is your highest level of education?

    • Doctor of Education - Character Education
    • Doctor of Education - Curriculum & Instruction
    • Doctor of Education - Higher Education
    • Ph.D. in Communication
    • Ph.D. in Education - Character Education
    • Ph.D. in Education - Curriculum & Instruction
    • Master of Arts in Communication
    • Master of Arts in Communication - Political Communication
    • Master of Arts in Communication - Strategic Communication
    • Master of Arts in Government - Political Communication
    • Master of Arts in Journalism
    • Master of Arts in Law - Business
    • Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
    • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies
    • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Journalism
    • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Rhetoric and Public Culture
    • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Strategic Communication
    • Bachelor of Arts in English - Communication
    • M.Ed. - Individualized Degree Program - Autism Certificate
    • M.Ed. in K-12 Special Education - Autism Certificate

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Criminal Justice, M.S.
    • Business Administration, MBA
    • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Advanced Accounting
    • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Health Care Administration
    • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Leadership
    • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Project Management
    • Communication Studies, B.A.
    • Criminal Justice, B.S.
    • Psychology, B.S.
    • Psychology, B.S. - Emphasis in Biblical Studies
    • Accounting, B.S.
    • Business Administration, B.S.
    • Criminal Justice, A.S.
    • Psychology, A.S.
    • Communication Studies, A.A.
    • General Studies, A.A.
    • Business Administration, A.S.
    • Health Care Administration, A.S.

    What is your highest level of education completed?

  • What is your highest level of education?

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?