Cover Letter Tips

Why write a Cover Letter?

The cover letter is the normal practice in business and is a basic courtesy.  Do not underestimate the importance of writing an effective cover letter.  This is your chance to personalize the application package and showcase your writing skills, attention to detail, enthusiasm about the firm and the position and your ability to perform in the job.

What should a Cover Letter Look Like?

Keep the letter brief. It should not exceed one page in length. Three to four paragraphs are standard. A lengthy letter is only frustrating to the employer and will likely not be read, whereas a concise and interesting letter will be read and appreciated by an employer who has several hundred applications to review. Your letter should contain three basic elements:

Paragraph One: Opening
This is an introductory paragraph in which you - identify yourself (e.g. "I am a fourth year engineering student at The University of Western Ontario") and state the specific position for which you are applying (e.g. "I am applying for the position of Manufacturing Engineer in your Sarnia location"). If applicable explain how you learned of the position (e.g. through Engineering Career Services).

Paragraph Two/Three: Body
This section usually contains two types of information. The first and most common is a description of the attributes and experience of the applicant that would be of interest to the employer. Begin by addressing your academic experience followed by any relevant employment experience. Avoid simply repeating the information in your résumé. Choose a few specific skills and demonstrate them using examples from your background. As much as possible focus your application on the requirements of the company. If you have no engineering experience, state how the skills you have acquired are transferable to the position for which you are applying. It is important to be specific yet modest in your description. Generally, this is the most important section of your cover letter and the longest. Therefore, take the time to research each employer. You may also want to explain gaps in your résumé or poor grades (optional).

Paragraph Three: Closing
In this paragraph, the applicant usually confirms the items that are included in the application package (generally, this should be your résumé, copies of official transcripts if required, and optionally letter of reference or a list of references).  It will also include an invitation for the company to contact the applicant (include phone number if it is not in the heading of your letter) and sincere thanks the employer for taking the time to consider the application. Use a professional ending such as "Sincerely".

Other Helpful Hints:

  • Tell them what you can offer the company, promote your skills.
  • Maintain a business tone, avoid slang, short forms or jokes.
  • Use the same type of heading, paper, font, and print quality as on your résumé
  • Type your full name under your closing salutation.
  • If you are submitting this in person or by fax,  include your signature above your typed name.
  • Have someone proof read your cover letter - double check your spelling, grammar, addresses and contact name. (Engineering Career Services is available for this.)
  • Ensure the correct date is on the cover letter.
  • Include the company address between the date and the greeting.
  • If you wish you can include a "Re:" line after the greeting (RE: Position Title, Posting Number).

Cover Letter Handout