Tips to Writing a Cover Letter
General Tips as you Start
Finding employment is, in large part, a function of effective communication. The success of your job search will hinge on your ability to present yourself professionally and demonstrate your value as a prospective employee. You must convince employers that you have something to offer if you are to receive further consideration. Employers are seeking to hire persons whose interests and abilities most closely match requirements of the job. A good fit between an individual's personality, values and philosophy and the organization's culture is also highly desirable.
Producing a Professional Letter
Just as with your resume, your letters should be error free and visually appealing. Although you may be able to send the same resume to a variety of different organizations, each letter you send should be carefully tailored to the situation and the employer being addressed. Never send a form letter.
Employers will view your letter as an indication of your written communication skills, so keep it formal, businesslike, and concise. One page should be sufficient and it should be in print that is sharp and easy to read. Do not use unusual fonts.
Whenever possible, address your letter to a specific person. This may require you to call the organization and ask to whom you should address your cover letter. Last, but not least, proofread carefully. Typos, spelling, grammatical or punctuation errors will prevent you from receiving serious consideration.
- Write to a specific person.
- Present your message clearly, concisely, and honestly with consideration for your reader. Desirable length is usually one page.
- Give specific and pertinent information relative to the position you seek. Generalities are not only confusing, but they imply you are trying to conceal a weakness. Include enough facts to be convincing.
- Be yourself and be positive. Personnel executives easily recognize letters copied from textbooks, written by employment agencies, or sent out in mass.
- Make the appearance attractive. Use a standard business letter format and 8 1/2 x 11" bond paper. White, ivory, and light gray colors are desirable. Type the letter with proper margins, indentation and spacing.
- Proofread your letter. Is it interesting and persuasive? Does it include important aspects of your college experience, a bit of your personality, and all pertinent qualifications and skills? Are the punctuation, grammar, and spelling correct?
- Drop off a draft, or make an appointment with a Career Development staff member for an objective critique of your letter.
Addressing Illegal Questions
Various federal, state, and local laws regulate the questions a prospective employer can ask you. Questions must relate to the job for which you are applying!
You have options if you are asked an illegal question
- Choose to answer the question knowing you are providing information that isn't job related. You take the risk that a "wrong" answer could harm your chances for a position.
- Refust to answer the question. You will be within your rights, but you may come off as uncooperative or confrontational which could put off potential employers.
- Examine the intent behind the question and respond with an answer to this. For example, if you are asked if you are married or engaged, you might choose to respond that your personal life allows you to meet all the requirements for the position.
Questions that might be asked - illegally and legally
National Origin / Citizenship
Employers are allowed to ask if you are authorized to work in the US. They are not allowed to ask if you are a US citizen, were born in the US, or your native language.
Employers are allowed to ask if you are over the age of 18. They are not allowed to ask how old you are, your birthdate, or the year your graduated from college if it isn't on your résumé.
Marital / Family Status
Employers need to know if you are able to perform the requirements of the job - including working overtime, relocating, or traveling if necessary. These questions should be asked directly. They are not allowed to ask about your marital status, children, or daycare arrangements so they can make assumptions if you are able to meet these requirements.
The social organizations or clubs you belong to are personal. The employer may aks if your membership in any organization might be relevant to your ability to perform the job.
Your height and weight is personal. The employer's right is restricted to knowing if you can fulfill the physical requirements of the position (e.g., lifting a 50-pound weight).
Employers are not allowed to ask if you are disabled or for your, or your family's, medical history. They may ask if you are able to perform the essential functions of the job and even request you demonstrate job-related functions. Once hired, companies are allowed to have you undergo a physical examination. Results are confidential with the exception that medical/safety personnel may be notified of conditions which could require medical treatment and supervisors regarding the needed accommodations.
For more information on when and how to disclose a disability, check out The National Organization on Disability and National Mental Health Center.
Employers are not allowed to ask if you have been arrested but may ask if you been convicted of a crime that is resonably related to the performance of the job.
Employers are not allowed to ask if you were honorably discharged from the military. They must limit their questions to the branch of service or training and education received during your time in the military.