How to write an effective cover letter (with samples)

You will have to prepare a number of materials for employers while looking for a job. One type of document is the cover letter, which is included with your resume when requesting a job interview. An effective cover letter is directed towards a specific position or company, and describes examples from your experience that highlight your skills related to the role.

You want to convince the reader that your interest in the job and company are genuine and specific. You also want to demonstrate ways that your experience has prepared you for the role by sharing a few brief stories that highlight your qualifications. This takes time and research; use the job description and the company’s web site or LinkedIn page to identify traits and skills the company values.

Cover letter structure and format

A cover letter should be no longer than one page with a font size between 10-12 points. Be sure to include your contact information and address it directly to the hiring manager, using their name. If you are not sure who to address the letter to, write “Dear Hiring Manager.” If the role you are applying for has a reference number or code, be sure to include it in your letter so that human resources is able to accurately track your application. The reference code is usually included

Cover letters typically take the following structure:

  • Introduction (1st paragraph)

    • State clearly in your opening sentence the purpose for your letter and a brief professional introduction.
    • Specify why you are interested in that specific position and organization.
    • Provide an overview of the main strengths and skills you will bring to the role.

    Example: I am a second year master’s student in MIT’s Technology and Policy Program (TPP) writing to apply for a consulting position in Navigant’s Emerging Technology & Business Strategy group. After speaking with John Smith at the MIT career fair, I realized that Navigant’s values of excellence, continuous development, entrepreneurial spirit, and integrity align with the principles that guide me every day and that have driven me throughout my career. Moreover, I believe that my knowledge of the energy sector, passion for data analysis, polished communication skills, and four years of consulting experience will enable me to deliver superior value for Navigant’s clients.

  • Body (2-3 paragraphs)

    • Cite a couple of examples from your experience that support your ability to be successful in the position or organization.
    • Try not to simply repeat your resume in paragraph form, complement your resume by offering a little more detail about key experiences.
    • Discuss what skills you have developed and connect these back to the target role.

    Example: As a graduate student in MIT’s Technology and Policy Program, I spend every day at the cutting edge of the energy sector. In my capacity as an MIT Energy Initiative research assistant, I use statistical analysis to investigate trends in public acceptance and regulation related to emerging energy technologies. Graduate classes in data science, energy economics, energy ventures and strategy, and technology policy have prepared me to help Navigant offer the expert services that set it apart from competitors. Furthermore, I will bring Navigant the same leadership skills that I used as the student leader for the MIT Energy Conference’s Technology Commercialization round-table, and as the mentorship manager for the MIT Clean Energy Prize.

    Even before MIT, my four years of work experience in consulting—first at LMN Research Group and then at XYZ Consulting—allowed me to develop the skillset that Navigant looks for in candidates. As a science writer and policy analyst at LMN Research Group, I developed superb technical writing and visual communication skills, as well as an ability to communicate and collaborate with clients at federal agencies such as EPA and DOE. As a research analyst at XYZ Consulting, I developed an in-depth understanding of data analysis, program evaluation, and policy design.

  • Closing (last paragraph)

    • Restate succinctly your interest in the role and why you are a good candidate.
    • Thank the reader for their time and consideration.

    Example: I take pride in my skills and experience in several domains: critical thinking and analysis, communication, and leadership. I note that Navigant values these same ideals, and I very much hope to use my abilities in service of the firm and its clients. Thank you for your time and consideration, I look forward to speaking with you further about my qualifications.

Additional cover letter tips

  1. Be sure that each cover letter is specifically tailored to the company you are writing to. Research the company to help you determine your approach. Check the company’s website and other resources online. You can also use MIT’s extensive alumni network through the Alumni Advisors Hub to seek first-hand knowledge, advice, and insight about the company.
  2. Are you seeking a position in a field or industry that does not have an obvious parallel or connection to your academic training? Be explicit about why you are interested in that particular field, organization or job, and what value you bring. For example, if you are an electrical engineer applying to a finance or consulting position, highlight your quantitative skills and ability to problem-solve.
  3. If you are applying for a summer job or internship and do not yet have any experience that is directly related to the position, focus on transferable skills that will add value to the role – leadership, communication, problem-solving, project management, etc.
  4. Lastly, cover letters are a chance to demonstrate the communication skills necessary to most jobs. Careful composing and revision are essential. To put your best foot forward and ensure your cover letter will be effective, schedule an appointment with a CAPD career advisor.