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Cover Letter Guide

A cover letter is a tailored message to a potential employer, typically written in business letter format, which you may include with your resume when applying for internships or jobs.

Included in this guide:

  • Overview of essential cover letter parts
  • Top tips for cover letter writing
  • Samples of cover letters based on format

Please note! The information presented in this guide focuses on common cover letter practices used in the United States. If you are drafting a cover letter for another region, cultural differences may apply.

Questions? Reach out to COBE Career Services.

Cover Letter Guide Video

Prefer this information in video format? Watch our cover letter guide video.

Cover Letter Parts & Tips

Your cover letter’s header should be the same as your resume’s header.

Headers should include:

  • Your Name
  • Phone Number
  • Email
  • Shortened LinkedIn URL (optional, but highly encouraged)

Application Information (Optional)

Just under your header, you may elect to include information about the position you are applying for and who should receive your application. If included, this section provides an opportunity to show preparedness and understanding.


A tailored greeting can set you apart from other applicants. Avoid using generic language such as, “To whom it may concern.” Instead, conduct research to uncover who will be reviewing your application.

If you can identify an individual name, include “Dear [name].” Moreover, skip using formal titles such as “Mr.” or “Ms.” unless you are certain that is what the reviewer prefers.

If you cannot find an individual’s name, specify the company and department – like this, “Dear KPMG Audit Team.” Alternatively, you could use “Dear hiring manager.”

If two or more people will review your application, address the group by using multiple names or “Dear hiring committee.”

Opening Paragraph

In your cover letter’s opening paragraph, clearly state what you are applying to and succinctly communicate your why.

Your why might be:

  • Why your top skill, qualifications, or prior experience fits that position
  • Why you are personally connected to that employer or industry
  • Why you are positioned to solve a problem or meet a need
  • Why your background has prepared you to succeed in that position, on that team, at that company, etc.

By including your why, your opening paragraph becomes unique to you. Moreover, you draw the reader in immediately, addressing what they care about and need to know right away.

You can also mention how you learned of the position – but note that this is only helpful if you were referred by someone the employer knows.

Body Paragraphs

In the body of your cover letter, provide specific examples of how your top skills and qualifications align with the position.

Steps to follow to draft body paragraphs:

  1. Start by picking two or three of your most relevant and transferable skills or qualifications. Take note of keywords and verbs listed in the position description.
  2. Dedicate a short paragraph to each skill or qualification, telling a story about an experience where you gained or grew that skill or qualification. Bonus points for including accomplishments and impact.
  3. Conclude by explaining how you plan to apply that skill or qualification to – succeed in that position, support the employer’s mission, add value to their team, solve a big challenge, or contribute to the company’s future, etc.

Structuring your body paragraphs in this way will help the reader understand what you offer and why you are a good fit for the position.

Closing Paragraph

Keep your closing paragraph concise.

  1. First, summarize what makes you a great fit for the position within one sentence.
  2. Then, state your excitement for next steps in the application process and thank the employer for their time and consideration.

Sign Off

A professional sign off should have a closing phrase and your typed name.

Appropriate closing phrases include:

  • Best regards
  • Respectfully
  • Sincerely
  • Thank you
  • With thanks

Top Tips

Do your homework

Cover letters should be customized for each application and speak directly to the position’s goals and needs. Spend time reviewing the position description before drafting your cover letter. Make it clear to the reader that you wrote your cover letter for that position.

Establish a brand

Matching the styling of your cover letter to other application documents, such as your resume, demonstrates that you can craft a consistent brand identity. Use the same fonts and formatting across all documents.

Elaborate, don’t reiterate

Cover letters say what your resume cannot – transforming a list of bullet points into a person. Do not simply repeat everything on your resume in your cover letter. Put another way, your cover letter should give concrete examples of your most transferable skills and relevant experiences.

Set yourself apart, objectively

Avoid clichés and vague descriptions like “I am hardworking.” Instead, show the hiring manager what makes you objectively different from other applicants. Highlight transferable skills and relevant experiences. Moreover, do not be afraid to incorporate your personality into what you write.

Follow common practices

First and foremost, keep your cover letter to less than one page. Then, check that your font size is readable and your margins are realistic (between .5 – 1 inch). Finally, submit your cover letter in whatever format is requested, or default to submitting as a readable PDF.

Consider alternative formats

Sometimes applications ask that you omit a cover letter, or they might not mention one at all. Consider conveying the information you would have included in a cover letter via email or in an additional information field on the application. See our Email Sample Cover Letter for more guidance.

Sample Cover Letters

Once you are ready to draft a cover letter, view these samples. Use these to gather inspiration, while also making sure to use your own writing style.

Formal Business - Sample Cover Letter

View or make a copy of our sample cover letter for formal business use.

Email - Sample Cover Letter

View or make a copy of our sample letter for email use.