Cover Letter Writing

Cover Letters

An important marketing tool, a cover letter introduces you to a potential employer and should always accompany a résumé. By clearly highlighting your strengths and credentials, the cover letter should capture the employer’s interest and ultimately secure you an interview. You should customize your cover letter for each employer and address it to a specific person. If you don’t know the recruiter’s name, address your letter to “Northwestern Recruiting Team” or “Hiring Manager.”

A cover letter is written in a business letter format. It should be kept to one page of three to five paragraphs, focusing on specific content in depth and not repeating your entire résumé. 

Types of Cover Letters

Prospecting/Introductory Letter

This type of letter is used to inform the employer of your interest and to inquire about available opportunities.

Application Letter

This type of letter is the most common and is sent to an employer in response to a specific job or internship posting.

Cover Letter Tips

  • Cover letters are written in a business letter format and should not exceed one page in length consisting of three to five paragraphs.
  • Address your cover letter to a specific person. If you do not have a specific name, address your letter to "Dear Recruiter" or Dear Hiring Manager".
  • Customize your cover letter for each employer by researching the company.
  • Solicit feedback on your cover letter from NCA Staff.
  • Always proofread your cover letter before submitting.

Cover Letter Structure

The opening paragraph introduces you. State your reason for writing and how you learned about the organization or position. If someone referred you, include the person’s name and affiliation with the employer. Demonstrate your level of interest in and knowledge of the organization in two to three more sentences.

The middle paragraphs emphasize and elaborate on your strongest qualifications and key relevant experiences.

Address qualifications specifically listed in the job description. The cover letter and résumé together should convey a complete picture of what you want the employer to know about you.

The closing paragraph is generally used to express thanks for consideration, to request an opportunity to discuss the position, and to indicate how you can be reached. For long-distance searches, let the employer know of any plans to visit the area, in hope of arranging an interview then. 

If you are using the heading from your résumé, you needn’t repeat your contact information in the closing paragraph. Include your name, institution, degree, and graduation date in the signature.

It is a good idea to solicit feedback on your cover letter by sharing drafts with NCA staff, professional contacts, and peers. Ask your reviewers, “What did you learn about my qualifications and interest in the position?” And, of course, you’ll want to proofread it before sending it.

Sample Cover Letters