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Cover Letter Workshop - Introduction

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The following resources should help you conduct research and compose your cover letter (also known as the job application letter).

What is the purpose of the cover letter?

A cover letter:

  • introduces you and your resume to an employer
  • explains why you are writing or applying for the job
  • details why you are a good match for the organization and the position
  • demonstrates your abilities and helps to establish your credibility
  • draws your readers' attention to specific qualifications
  • provides a sample of your written communications skills
  • explains when you plan to contact your prospective employer.

Tailor your cover letter to:

  • show specific needs of employers and how you meet them
  • persuade that your goals align with the organization's goals (mission) and that your skills align with the position requirements (also see our Effective Workplace Writing resource).

An effective cover letter:

  • highlights the qualifications related to the position as laid out in the job criteria
  • proves that you align well with the organization and that you meet the job requirements
  • provides contact information and a plan for future contact.

Learning about the job

Your ability to learn the needs of your readers will help you write a cover letter effectively. You should learn as much as you can about your audience (your potential employer) before writing your cover letter. Your goal is to learn about the organization, its goals and needs. Then, you should learn about what kind of employee the organization needs and what an employee will be expected to do.

After reading a job advertisement, ask as many questions as you can to learn what your prospective employer wants. Lastly, think about who will be reading your job application documents - human resources, prospective employers, etc. Think about how your document many move through the organization you want to join (also see our Audience Analysis resource).

Some questions to begin with are:

  • "What values and skills would a good match have for the prospective organization/job?"
  • "What kind of personality do I have?"
  • "What level of education do I need?"
  • "What kind of work experience do I need?"

Read the job advertisement carefully. Most advertisements are divided into two sections, a qualifications section, and an explanation of what duties the hired candidate will perform.

Contact the organization

Another way to learn about a good match for the organization and job is by contacting someone with "inside information" (insiders).

Insiders include, but are not limited to:

  • a professor
  • your potential employer
  • an expert in your field
  • a person who holds the position you want at a different company.

Insiders may be able to tell you what a job entails, and what kind of person an employer is likely to hire.

If you decide to call insiders, it is essential for you to be kind and truthful at all times. Being kind will help you to avoid offending someone with whom you might work in the future. It is best for you to see each contact with a company as an opportunity to make a good impression.

When calling insiders, try to plan the flow of your conversation ahead of time.

  • Start by explaining who you are and why you are calling.
  • Ask questions that will facilitate an informative, friendly conversation.
  • Write questions before calling to avoid a lull in the conversation.

Questions such as the following will help you to start an effective conversation:

  • "What are the organization's goals/missions?"
  • "What kind of person is your company looking for?"
  • "What qualifications are most important for this position?"
  • "Is there anyone else I can contact to learn more about your company?"
  • "Is there anything you think someone with my experience should do to improve my qualifications?"

Try to keep the conversation rolling, and maintain a pleasant tone at all times. Also remember to thank your contact for speaking with you, even if he or she was unable to provide you with helpful information.

Read the organization's website

Another good way to do your audience analysis is by reading an organization's website.

Corporate/organization websites provide a good idea of what a company/organization values. Look for words that describe the company and its employees. Words repeated throughout the website reveal particularly important values. Some organization websites may even have a "Mission Statement" you can read to learn about what they want to achieve. Use the language on the website and in the missions statement to help guide your language in your cover letter.

Use college career centers

If you are in college, see what information is available at your university's career center. See if the university has any connections to this company. Career centers should have any information concerning upcoming visits of companies to career fairs. At Purdue University, the Center for Career Opportunities (CCO) maintains a number of resources that are helpful for students looking for internships and jobs.

In addition, Purdue University offers a career Wiki here.