- There is no such thing as a generic cover letter! Customize each letter to the specific position and company where you are applying, emphasizing your relevant skills and experience.
- Address the letter to a specific person if possible. You may need to contact the company to ask for the name and title of the appropriate person. If you cannot get a name, “Dear Hiring Manager” is acceptable.
- Use a standard (block text) business letter format.
- Keep the letter to one page or less.
- Use descriptive action verbs to describe what you have done in past paid and volunteer positions.
- Proofread your letter carefully before sending it!
A cover letter generally has three main parts: an introduction (one paragraph), a body (usually one to three paragraphs), and a conclusion (one paragraph).
Explain why you are interested in the company or organization and in the specific position to which you are applying (reference a job title and/or number, if available). Indicate where or how you found out about the position (eCareer, Nittany Lion Career Network, personal referral, etc.).
The last sentence of your introductory paragraph should provide an overview of the topics you plan to cover in the rest of the letter (e.g., “My internship experience last summer working in the automotive industry, my leadership skills as president of Penn State ASME last year, and my volunteer work as a math tutor have all prepared me well for this position”).
Make the case for your candidacy by providing specific examples of your experience and qualifications for the position you want. Use key words from the job description to show that you understand what the position entails. Identify specific examples that highlight at least two or three of your skills and/or paid or unpaid work that would fit with what the employer is seeking (as stated in the job description).
If you don’t have the exact type of experience the employer wants, emphasize your transferable skills (e.g., discuss your leadership potential at the company based on leadership experience you’ve had in student or volunteer organizations).
Restate your interest in the job and the company and briefly summarize your strengths and qualifications (e.g., “I am very interested in working as a test engineer at ABC Company, and I feel that my past internship in this industry, my leadership skills, and my volunteer experiences have all given me the background I need to be successful in this position”). Request an interview if you know the company will be interviewing soon and indicate what you will do to follow up with the employer.
Sign off with “Sincerely” or “Best regards” and your name.
See our Sample Job Search Documents page for examples of different types of cover letters.
A cover letter is an important tool to use when applying for a job because it:
- Introduces you to the prospective employer
- Highlights your enthusiasm for the position
- Describes your specific skills and qualifications for the job or internship, and clearly explains why you are a good fit
- Confirms your availability to start a new position
You should always include a cover letter when applying for a job unless you are specifically told not to by the employer. We recommend that you write a cover letter (aka letter of intent) after you have drafted and tailored your resume or curriculum vitae (CV) for a particular job description. For academic faculty and teaching positions, see cover letter instructions in Masters, Ph.D.'s and Postdocs section. When applying online and limited to uploading one document, you can create a single PDF document that includes both your resume and cover letter.
What to Include in a Cover Letter
Use the cover letter template and planner to get started. When drafting your cover letter, keep the following DO’s and DON’Ts in mind:
- Limit the cover letter to one page if possible, unless applying to academic faculty, teaching or research positions.
- Use the same font and formatting in the cover letter as you use in your resume.
- You might also want to use the same header in both a cover letter and resume. See header formatting examples.
- If providing a printed copy, use the same type of paper for both your cover letter and resume. Resume paper can be purchased at the UC Davis Bookstore or at an office supply store.
- Many tech companies prefer the cover letter not be attached, but uploaded as text in an email with the resume attached.
- Use formal, professional language in a cover letter. This is true when sending your cover letter as text in an email (above point).
- Personalize each cover letter to the specific position you are applying to.
- Address your cover letter to a specific person or the hiring manager whenever possible. If you don’t know their name, use one of the following examples:
- "Dear Hiring Manager,"
- "Dear [insert department here] Hiring Team,"
- "Dear Recruiter, "
- “Dear Search Committee Chair and Committee Members:” (used for academic teaching positions)
- "To Whom It May Concern: " Note, this last one uses a “:” not a “,”
- Check for typos, proper grammar and accuracy.
- Use spellcheck, but do not rely on it to catch all errors.
- Have multiple people review your application materials.
- Make an appointment with an ICC adviser to review your application materials before you apply.
- Unless told explicitly not to, you should always include a cover letter in your application.
- Don’t use text abbreviations or emoticons if you are using email.
- Don’t be too wordy or write just to fill the entire page.
- Don’t submit a generic “one size fits all” cover letter; tailor your cover letter to fit each position. Thus, none of your cover letters will be exactly the same, though a lot of content will be similar in each.
- Don’t repeat or summarize your resume in your cover letter. Instead, focus the cover letter on your enthusiasm for the job, excitement about working with that organization, to highlight unique skills that make you qualified for the position and a good fit for the employer.
- Don’t overuse adjectives or superlatives, especially subjective ones (e.g. “You are the best company in the world” or “I am the most hardworking student intern you will ever meet.”).
- Quantify when possible. "I've helped organize three club events, including two successful initiatives attended by 25 people" is a better descriptor then "I've helped organize several club events, including a couple successful initiatives attended by many people."
- Don’t exaggerate your skills or experience.
- Don’t use UC Davis letterhead, logo, or UC seal in your cover letter. [NOTE: For graduate students and postdocs, some departments allow use of department letterhead for tenure-track faculty applications. Check with your department before using.]