The Ultimate Cover Letter Tool Kit

1/01/2020 by Alexandra Arrington

The Purpose of a Cover Letter
Many people find it hard to write a compelling cover letter for two reasons: they don’t know exactly what to write or how to write it. Understanding the purpose of a cover letter is the first step toward working through those common road blocks. Like the resume, cover letters are marketing tools. The difference with a cover letter is that you have a bit more space to tell a story about the “great greatness” you possess i.e. what you do, how you do it, and why you do it in ways that are different and better than others. Writing cover letters, although they are tedious, provides the opportunity to do more than “cover” the resume, but to expound on the information in your resume that gets straight to the heart of meeting an organization’s expressed business need. By extension, you are able to share how you have done similar things in the past that you can apply to the organization, which is a critical part of the cover letter’s purpose. The cover letter structure, which answers the “how to write it” question, is the next important part to master.

The Anatomy of a Cover Letter
The cover letter structure or the essential items to be included, also, can be missed or misunderstood easily, which is a set up for failure when it comes to the content. What should be included in a cover letter, at minimum and more or less in order of appearance, is:

1. Contact information for where the letter is going (e.g. company/department name, street address, email address, and phone number)
2. The date of submission
3. Greetings to A SPECIFIC point of contact, encountered through research (instead of “To Whom it Concerns” or “Dear Hiring Manager”)
4. A point of connection to the opportunity (How did you find out about the role? Who referred you?)
5. A one line summary of your interest
6. A two sentence summary of background, experience and relevant qualifications
7. TWO TO THREE detailed and poignant examples of how you have demonstrated meeting the expressed needs of the role and what preferred skills/qualities you possess (think STAR/BAR method – Situation/Task/Action/Result or Behavior/Action/Result). No more than two paragraphs, about 4-5 sentences each. Alternatively, in bullet format you can highlight more examples, but this section should not take up more than one half of a page.
8. A short request for an interview
9. Closing greetings and your contact Information

You should be able to tell a hiring manager or gatekeeper how and why you have what they need explicitly, that they should continue on to review your resume, and that you want to be interviewed in no more than three quarters of a page. Breaking up the content with bullets or information chunks and using subtle design elements can serve as tie-breakers if all else is equal.

Things NOT to Have in a Cover Letter
Things that are too general or unsubstantiated:
• “I am a great fit for this position.” Instead of saying you are great fit, give specific examples of why and how you are a great fit.
• “I possess many skills that would be useful for the role.” Concentrating on what those skills are and how they would be useful for particular needs expressed in the job description responsibilities is best.

Things that are obvious:
• “My name is…”
o The reader will know your name because it is on the page already so avoid taking up space with this kind of unnecessary filler content.
• “Please feel free to contact me if you need more information.”
o Rest assured, if the reader does need or want more information, they will contact you, so use this word count to give them a reason to contact you!

Things that are not relevant to the job/job description:
• If team work is a strength you have, but the job description describes the role you are applying for with words like “self-starting, self-motivated, minimal supervision, independent,” then it may not be the right role for you or you will need to focus on other strengths that lend to the type of needs that the job description includes.
• Personal examples are much less powerful than professional/academic ones.
o For the cover letter, use the class project where you helped bring the team together with your negotiation and diplomacy skills versus how you settled an argument as the middle child between your siblings.

Things that are automatic red flags:
• Bad grammar and/or typographical errors
o Proofread the cover letter! Read it to a friend. Get a third review from you’re your Career Services office.
o If you have errors and bad grammar in a cover letter, it is like typing “THROW THIS IN THE TRASH” at the top of the letter in 78 point font.
• Listing a company’s name or contact information incorrectly or sending one company’s name to a different company altogether are costly mistakes to avoid.
• Verbatim cover letter template phrasing
o Readers can tell when phrases are lifted from online or Microsoft Word templates. There are all kinds of negative associations that a reader can make about you as a person from this. Start from somewhere, but use your own words as much as possible.

Put The Ultimate Cover Letter Tool Kit into Practice
So how does one use her own words to put a cover letter with the right information? It certainly varies depending on the job, the expressed needs in the job description, your experience and the particulars of your “great greatness.” In any case, an example of a real job description excerpt and a subsequent cover letter that was developed, actually submitted, and for which an interview was extended follows. The elements that were most germane to the job for the applicant as well as most aligned to the applicant’s experience are in bold. Note the detailed and direct ways that those needs are addressed by the applicant, as well as how the words in the job description are matched in the letter. The letter and job description are stripped of references to a particular organization or role and edited to be used as a template that can be adapted, not copied (see previous “Things that are automatic red flags”)!

Finally, whether a cover letter is optional or required, take the opportunity to become a person and not just a piece of paper to the reader. Let your “great greatness” and personality come through. Have some tasteful, conservative color elements to distinguish your cover letter from other submissions.

You now have the tools to put together the ultimate cover letter. Happy writing!


Duties and Responsibilities: Assist in organizational development through the completion of special projects and assignments including: compiling research on topics within the mission of the organization; writing grants, annual reports and newsletters; developing educational materials; planning events and various fundraising activities; performing assignments related to marketing, website and social media management; providing financial administration services; preparing minutes for board and committee meetings.

Must possess strong oral and written communication skills. A working knowledge of Microsoft Word, Publisher and Excel are required. A working knowledge of social media applications as well as email marketing applications is beneficial.

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