Cover Letters

A business woman writing on sheet of paper, surrounded by crumpled peices of paper A cover letter is a marketing tool used to create interest in you as a candidate. It accompanies your résumé and is written specifically for each organization/position. The goal of the cover letter is to motivate the reader to look at your résumé and ultimately invite you for an interview. A good cover letter will clearly demonstrate how you and your background fit with the particular position and organization. Additional information and sample cover letters can be found in the Additional Resources section below.

Building a strong cover letter begins with a few basic concepts:

Learn about the organization. What are the goals and mission? Browse around their website to learn more about them and add a few sentences in the first paragraph about why you are specifically interested in them.

Look for important words and phrases from the position listing. These are the concepts that the employer is placing value on in the job description. Try to use some of these in the cover letter.

Connect the dots from the employers' needs to your skill sets. Make sure to draw connections between what the employer is looking for and what skills (hard or transferable), experiences, or education you have.

Write a draft that clearly identifies why you should be considered for the position. Describe two or three experiences, accomplishments, or skills that demonstrate your fit with the position in the second paragraph. Be specific and provide examples to support your claims. Don't repeat what is on the résumé. Highlight what you have to offer rather than what you hope to gain. Try to avoid starting each sentence with "I" - while you want to sell your qualifications; don't forget to explain how you add value to the company.

General Formatting Guidelines. Use standard business block style. A cover letter should not be more than one page. You can use your header from your résumé at the top to give both documents a uniform style. Make sure to use the same font style and size in both documents. Try not to address the letter to "To Whom It May Concern." Make a phone call to try to find the name of the appropriate person and their title. Write in a professional, confident tone, making sure to let your personality and enthusiasm come through. Try to avoid negative phrases such as, "While I have not…." or "Although I have never…" Always be positive about your skills and experience. If you do not have experience directly in the field, make sure to point out your transferable skills and activities.

If you are a current student or alumnus, Career Services provides two ways to receive feedback on your cover letter.

  • Schedule an appointment by calling (585) 395-2159
  • Stop in during drop in hours (fall and spring semesters only)

Additional Job Search Letters

Thank you - Thank you letters are sent after you meet with or interview with an organization. They can either be handwritten (if you have nice penmanship) or can be typed. They can also either be sent via email or send traditional snail mail. They are usually very brief and thank the interviewer for their time, briefly recap part of the conversation, and highlight your continued interest in the position. A sample cover letter can be found in Additional Resources below.

References – References are listed on a completely separate page from a résumé and are sent when requested from the employer. You should develop a list of references with name, title, relationship to you, address, phone number, and email. Use your header from your résumé, use the same font type of size from your résumé, and then list 3-5 references nicely spaced out on a page. A sample reference page can be found in Additional Resources below.

  • Always ask the person's permission to use him/her as a reference. Asking the question "Would you be comfortable serving as a reference for me?" begins the dialogue. It is usually recommended that you give your reference a copy of your résumé and tell them what types of positions or what degree programs you are applying to.
  • A typical set of references might include a professor in your major, a current or former supervisor in an internship, a supervisor from a part-time job, or a current colleague. People who provide your references should be able to share information about your skills and abilities relevant to the types of positions for which you will be applying.

Additional Resources

Career Services Job & Internship Guide (PDF)

Cover Letters, Thank You Letters and Reference Pages (PDF)

Career Services Resource Room – houses cover letter books with samples from a variety of career areas.