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Writing a successful cover letter

While it may be rare that you are required to write a cover letter for an engineering job, when the time comes, it had better be good.  At the very best, a cover letter can help you, as a job-seeker, stand out from the crowd.  At worst, it can actually make you, already a qualified and promising candidate, seem like a bad writer, uncreative, or even (gasp!) a “copy and paster.” You do NOT want to fall into any of those categories.

Below are tips to make your cover letter help, not hurt, your chances of getting hired.

  1. Tailor it to the job and company.
    The first paragraph of your resume should state the position you are applying for, how you found out about the job, and most importantly, your genuine interest in the company.  So many students use standard, generic templates for cover letters that could be sent to any job or any company.  You will stand out and grab their attention if you can mention something you learned through researching the company.  Example: “After attending your info session and learning more about your efforts in sustainability, I know that my values match with your company's.” Show the employer you are impressed with who they are and what they do/have done.
  2. Don’t just repeat your resume.
    The main goal of the cover letter is to match the job’s requirements with your qualifications.  In the second paragraph, you will describe exactly how you match the stated qualifications.  Don’t worry if you don’t have EVERY qualification they are looking for--pick 3 to 4 of their top requirements and prove with specifics that you have those skills/experiences.  Instead of listing these experiences in a full paragraph, consider separating them into bullet points.  If you choose this format, do not just copy and paste points from your resume; this is where you may write full sentences and elaborate more.
  3. Keep it short.
    Employers take at most about 30 seconds to scan a resume; they don’t want to take a whole lot longer to read a cover letter.  Less is more.  Three or four paragraphs that span no more than 2/3 of the page is sufficient.  Get to the point!  Be focused and concise.
  4. Ask for the interview!
    After you’ve buttered them up in the first paragraph, proven how well qualified you are in the second, you will then be bold in the final paragraph by reiterating your interest and saying something like, “I look forward to having the opportunity to meet you and discuss my qualifications in an interview.” Make sure to provide accurate contact information so that they can communicate with you regarding the next steps.

For more information and examples of cover letters, hop over to the "Document Library" in CareerEngine.  Also, feel free to stop in to ECS during walk-in hours for a quick look at your cover letter.  It is ALWAYS best to have more than one person proofread your work!

Happy writing!

“Desire is the key to motivation, but it's the determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal - a commitment to excellence - that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”
-Mario Andretti

Categories: Job Search Letters

About the author

Katy Arenschield

Katy Arenschield is the Engineering Co-op and Internship Program Manager.