Applying for a Job

22 Cover Letters

In the era of social media, the idea of writing a cover letter to introduce your résumé may seem outdated. However, the cover letter (also known as an application letter) still serves a few critical functions. If your résumé is characterized by breadth—giving a broad overview of your qualifications—the cover letter is characterized by depth—choosing a few most significant qualifications to cover in detail.

Even more than that, your résumé tells the reader that you could do this job. Your cover letter entices them to call you for an interview so they can discover why you are the right person who should do this job.

Your cover letter is the first writing sample your employer will see from you that is in paragraphs rather than bullet points. Marketing your unique qualifications and how you will fit in with the culture of the company can best be done in written paragraphs. An effective cover letter will create a picture of you as a potential employee and inspire a potential employer to learn more about you.

Keep the following points in mind as you write your cover letter:

  • Your cover letter is essentially an argument for why you should be granted an interview.
  • Make sure to support the claim that you are qualified for the position with evidence.
  • Demonstrate your authority by speaking in detail about your qualifications and show the reader that you have the skills and abilities necessary to do the job at hand. The more detail you offer and the more precise your language, the more the reader will be able to picture you doing the job.
  • Use your audience analysis research to help you connect with the company and to choose the appropriate tone, level of formality, and level of technicality.
  • Aim for one page for your letter and avoid spilling over onto a second.
  • Follow the Seven “C”s to make sure you’ve edited your letter professionally.
  • Note that your cover letter always lands before your résumé; it “covers” the résumé.

Outline for cover letters

A clear structure helps you to connect with the reader and tell your story. There are many possible structures; consider reviewing the chapters in this OER textbook about persuasive writing and creating outlines. Having recommended that, however, here is a time-honoured structure for a cover letter:

  1. Salutation
  2. Subject line (noting the job you’re applying for)
  3. Opening paragraph (indicating desire for position and tell the reader how your résumé shows you’re a good match for the job)
  4. Body paragraph(s) (explaining the value of your past professional experience, skills, and education in whatever order works best for you)
  5. Closing paragraph (expressing gratitude and indicate desire for an interview)

Make your cover letter relevant, conversational, and persuasive. Show the reader you could do the job, then get them interested in whether you should do the job. Remember, at this stage, the goal is to secure an interview, not secure the job. That will come during the interview process.


Make your best attempt to find a specific name (or at least the job title) of the person to whom you should address this letter. If the information is unavailable, use a generic salutation such as “Dear Hiring Manager.”

Subject Line

If the job posting had a specific title and/or job posting number, put those in the subject line so that people know exactly which job you’re applying for. Remember that many organizations are recruiting for multiple positions simultaneously, so you want to ensure you’re being considered for the position you’re interested in.

Opening paragraph

Express your interest in the position and briefly explain why you are an ideal candidate.

Body paragraph(s) 

Your body paragraphs show how you are uniquely qualified for the position. There are many approaches here, such as the one listed above, that structures the body paragraphs by professional experience, skills, and then education (linking to the employer and the job as much as possible).

Another approach is to build each paragraph around a single qualification or unique professional strength that relates to the job for which you are applying. Open the paragraph with a claim about this qualification/strength and then provide a developed illustration of a time in your work or academic history when you used/excelled at this skill or used it to benefit others.

For example, if the job requires excellent customer service skills, you might discuss a time in which you used your customer service skills to satisfy a customer or increase your company’s profits. It can be effective to conclude your middle paragraphs with sentences that express how these past experiences will prepare you for the potential job.

Be sure to begin each paragraph with a clear topic sentence that unifies the information found in the paragraph.

Closing paragraph 

Express gratitude for being considered and request an interview.

If there is any information the reader should know about getting in touch with you, include it. Adding your email address and phone number (even if they are listed elsewhere) is a good idea, too.


This chapter was adapted from Effective Professional Communication: A Rhetorical Approach by Rebekah Bennetch, Corey Owen, and Zachary Keesey, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Bennetch, Owen, and Keesey adapted their chapter from “Technical Writing” by Allison Gross, Annemarie Hamlin, Billy Merck, Chris Rubio, Jodi Naas, Megan Savage, and Michele DeSilva (on Open Oregon). It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash



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