Cover Letter Guide

The cover letter is one of your marketing documents (in addition to your resume) and your opportunity to bring additional focus to your resume with a specific reader in mind. You will write a unique and well-researched letter for every opportunity to which you apply. Before you begin constructing your cover letter, we encourage you to consider your lens.  What we mean is that we want you to adopt the mindset, or lens, of the person who will make the hiring decision.

  • What are the most important qualities needed to be successful in this role? 
  • What type of candidate will progress to the interview? 

Many of the answers you seek are found in the job description or through a conversation with a professional who works for the organization. Use all of these resources to identify the most important messages that you need to convey about your story in the cover letter. A Cover letter is an opportunity to tell your story in a compelling way by making a claim and substantiating that claim with examples. It follows much of the same structure as an essay.

  1. Present a clear thesis.
  2. Provide evidence to support your claims.
  3. Bring the story to a close with a succinct and compelling conclusion.

Not sure a cover letter is necessary?  Think of the cover letter as part of the resume.  If someone asks for a resume, send a resume plus a cover letter, unless there is an explicit request otherwise. This is standard practice. Also, if you are applying online and have a small text box in which to provide additional information, consider this an opportunity for a mini-cover letter.

Steps to Success

Make a strong first impression in the first sentence of the first paragraph.  A persuasive first sentence tells the reader that you are serious and keeps them reading.  Interesting and compelling information about your candidacy should be introduced in your first paragraph.  The final paragraph is too late.

Go beyond general statements that could be true for the majority of candidates.  Common qualities or characteristics will not help you to uniquely stand out.  Trust the resume to cover the basics and use the cover letter to highlight bigger patterns of success or share an anecdote about your achievements that relates to a requirement of the position.

Tell the reader about you. Communicate your interest and motivation to apply by connecting your background and interests to your knowledge of the organization.  Avoid reporting facts.  The reader already knows his or her organization but wants to know about you and why you are applying.  This is a great opportunity to show your level of research on the position.

Use evidence to build credibility around every claim in your letter.  The reader wants to believe you and needs detailed illustrations of your past success to do so.  If you have included more than a couple of claims (two or three are sufficient) about your ability to thrive in the job, you are sacrificing depth for breadth and duplicating the work that the resume should do.  Move extra information for the cover letter to the resume to improve it and trust the resume.

Jobscan

Generate a Cover Letter in seconds 
Get a boost from AI when crafting your cover letter using the Jobscan Cover Letter Generator. Jobscan will craft a cover letter that highlights skills and experience that directly relates to the job you are applying for. 

Cover Letter Template
Graduate Student Cover Letter Example
Undergraduate Cover Letter Examples

Cover Letter FAQ

Vital components that should be in every cover letter are headers, the individual/company being addressed, introduction, body paragraphs, closing paragraphs and the appropriate signature. These components should highlight your experiences, skills, values, strengths, etc as they relate to the position you are applying for. Consider adding unique touches within it such as connections to the company, knowledge about the company/role, and special qualifications.  

Every application may not require you to submit a cover letter, but if it is optional, submitting a cover letter can help your application. This can highlight your enthusiasm as a candidate for the position, while also generalizing how unique your experiences and skills are. A Cover letter is an effective and creative way to show why you are the BEST candidate for the position in which you are applying for. 

Generally, a cover letter should not exceed a full page but should also be longer than a half page.  

Yes, whenever possible you should address your cover letter to a specific person. This could be the contact listed on the job posting, your HR contact, the HR Director or a hiring manager. It’s important to find a specific person to address the letter to because that shows you’ve done your research and are more detailed. You can look up people on the company’s website or through Linkedin. If you’ve done your research and still have no luck finding someone, you can address the letter to the Hiring Manager.

Review the position description! The description will tell you what the company is looking for in their ideal candidate (e.g., requirements, qualifications, etc.). Once you identify the skills they are looking for, consider your experiences. Which ones highlight some (not all) of the skills they are looking for? From there, choose one or two and tell a story about them in cover letter. Highlight the skills you know they are looking for and give detail you don’t already have in your resume.  

As a Duke student, you have access to Jobscan Premium. This service allows you to quickly draft a cover letter that aligns with the position description using AI. We recommend closely reviewing the Jobscan generated cover letter to ensure it makes sense, highlights what you want it to, and is in your voice.  

Consider your transferable skills. You may have great communication, be a team player, or be a lifelong learner. Talk about how these skills will benefit the employer in your letter. 

Use Jobscan Premium! Duke students have access to unlimited resume and cover letter scans with Jobscan. This service will tell you which ATS the company you’re applying to uses along with tips to help you prepare your documents accordingly.  

You do not need to include any information about your education in your cover letter unless there is specific information that might support your candidacy that is not evident on your resume. Coursework may help illustrate transferrable skills if you do not have extensive experience. 

Common qualities or characteristics will not help you to uniquely stand out.  Trust the resume to cover the basics and use the cover letter to highlight bigger patterns of success and/or share an anecdote(s) about your achievements that relates to a requirement of the position. 

A good quality cover letter may be what you need to stand out so don’t sacrifice quality for something flashy. Tell the reader something interesting about yourself, what value you will add to their organization and be sure to write about a specific job or internship. 

To allow for an employer to be able to do a quick review of your application materials, it is best to follow a standard format or template, like the one we have provided, just to meet their expectations. The text, however, needs to tell your unique story and be relevant to your specific audience and there is no template for that. 

No, avoid repeating your resume in your cover letter. Your cover letter is an extra document that highlights more about you. Don’t just repeat the accomplishment statement from the resume. Really dive into the experience, the skills you were using, how you used them and the end result of your time and work.