Career Preparation: How to Write a Cover Letter

You’re graduating from college—congratulations! Having that degree or certificate in hand can position you to land a job in your field and grow your skills even further. But as you shift your focus to the professional world, the competition can seem overwhelming. Understanding how to write a cover letter that showcases your skills and background can help you stand out.

When you’re applying for jobs, don’t skip this crucial step. Companies use cover letters to assess which candidates might be the best fit, and some hiring managers won’t even consider applicants who don’t include them. A good cover letter demonstrates that you’ve done your research, your skills match the open position, and you pay attention to details.

When it comes to how to write a cover letter for a job, keep these tips in mind.

1. Do Your Research

Your cover letter should emphasize why you want to work for the company you’re applying for—not just any company. That means you need to know what the company’s all about. Spend some time on its corporate website. Get a feel for whether the company’s a buttoned-up Fortune 500 firm or a small start-up. Read its About Us page, blog, and social media feeds, and search for recent news about the company online. This will help you understand its values and goals and better communicate why you’re passionate about the position.

2. Read the Job Description Thoroughly

Job descriptions are a valuable resource when writing a winning cover letter. Since they typically outline precisely what the company is looking for in a candidate, you can highlight relevant skills in your cover letter to emphasize how and why you’re well equipped for the job.

Pay attention to anything mentioned multiple times in the job description—the company is telling you those skills are important. Also, focus on how your skills correspond with the first requirements listed since companies usually put their key priorities at the top of the list.

3. Follow a Simple Format

Writing a cover letter can feel intimidating, especially if you really want to land the job. The good news is that it doesn’t need to be long. In fact, your cover letter shouldn’t be more than a page. Aim to make your points in three to four paragraphs using the following framework:

First Paragraph

Introduce yourself with a little bit of your background. Mention the position you’re interested in, your degree, and the school you attended. Include a sentence or two about why you’re interested in this job in particular. If you have a connection to the company—for example, if an employee recommended you apply or you spoke with a recruiter at a job fair—mention it.

Second and Third Paragraphs

Here’s where your research on the company and your close attention to the job description come into play. Outline how your skills align with those listed in the job description. Share an example of work you’ve done or a problem you’ve solved that demonstrates your abilities. If the job description highlights collaboration and cooperation, for instance, provide an example from another job or from group projects or activities. Emphasize how you can help the team, rather than how the job would benefit you.

Fourth Paragraph

In the final paragraph, reiterate your enthusiasm for the company and the position. State that you plan to follow up via email or that you look forward to scheduling an interview and thank them for their consideration.

4. Check Your Spelling and Grammar

Run your software’s spelling and grammar check, proofread your letter, and have a friend or advisor read it over for you to catch anything you missed. Sloppy mistakes can indicate a lack of effort, which might mean getting skipped over for a job even if you’re the perfect candidate otherwise.

5. Customize Your Cover Letter

It’s okay to use a template for the general structure of your cover letter, but write a personalized letter for every job. If you repurpose parts of a previous cover letter for a similar position, be careful not to carry over any information specific to that company, such as its name, history, or mission statement.

6. Connect with Support

You don’t have to tackle your cover letters on your own. Azusa Pacific University’s Center for Career and Community-Engaged Learning can help you identify what to include and how to highlight your strengths. Once you feel confident about what you want to communicate, the Writing Center can help your sentences shine.