The Purpose of a Cover Letter

You will need to include additional documents with every résumé you send out, whether it's applying to an online application, responding to a job ad by e-mail, or following up on a referral from your network. While all of these can be considered a cover letter, each one would be tailored to its specific purpose.

A good cover letter complements your résumé and entices the reader to look at your résumé. The cover letter:

  • Highlights connections between your experience and the position
  • Communicates your personality, stature and credibility
  • Demonstrates knowledge of the hiring company
  • Differentiates you from other applicants
  • Asks for an opportunity to discuss your qualifications in more detail

The cover letter doesn't have to be long and should never be more than one page. Here are a few tips to writing an effective letter.

The Introduction

The first paragraph of the letter tells the reader:

  • The job you are applying for
  • How you learned about it
  • Any contacts you have in the company

This information is important because it helps the reader put your résumé in context. Your opening sentence should grab the reader's attention. It can be as direct as “Emily Miller suggested I contact you to see if my experience as a quality control engineer for Ratliff Pharmaceuticals would be of interest to you at XYZ Laboratories.” Or it can reference a specific opportunity such as “I was interested to read in C&EN about XYZ Laboratories' recent expansion into analytical chemistry. As an experienced quality control engineer conducting stoichiometric calculations and statistical process control, I can make significant contributions to XYZ's efforts in this area.”

Employers hire people because they have a problem to be solved or a need to get something done. Your opening paragraph should show the reader that you understand why companies hire chemists, and have done your homework on that company.

The Body

This section of the letter shares relevant details for the reader. If you are responding to an ad, scan it for important details, and then incorporate them into your cover letter. What you want to do in one to three paragraphs is:

  • Expand on your qualifications
  • Pick the most relevant qualifications and describe in detail

The purpose of the cover letter is to generate interest in your résumé. Do compare your qualifications with every job requirement point by point; your résumé provides the in-depth detail. You want to pique the reader's interest by targeting your most relevant qualifications and accomplishments and persuade them to read your resume, and then to contact you.

In the event that you're contacting an employer at the suggestion of someone in your network, do your best to establish what problems need solving - ideally, with some input from your networking contact-and address those points in your letter. Don't forget to do some research about the company and industry that you can use to inform your letter.

If you're writing to follow up on an informational interview (a meeting to learn more about a particular career path or industry), take the opportunity to expand on a specific topic that was discussed by sharing examples from your previous experience.

The bottom line is that the body of your cover letter should focus on results, examples and other accomplishments that are in your résumé. Instead of just cutting and pasting bullet points from your résumé into your cover letter, say something about them or provide some additional information that isn't in the résumé.

The Closing

Your conclusion Your closing should be no longer than one paragraph. In your closing paragraph, you want to:

  • Request an interview (or some other action, as appropriate)
  • State where and when you can be reached
  • Express your willingness to come to an interview or supply further information

End the letter on a positive note and keep the focus on the value you can add: “You will find me to be an extremely motivated, hardworking team player and leader who has a strong commitment to the people and organization for which I work. I have every confidence in my ability to make an enduring contribution to Ratliff Pharmaceuticals and would welcome the opportunity to discuss my qualifications in greater detail. In the interim, thank you for your time, consideration, and forthcoming response.”