Drafting Cover Letters

The purpose of the cover letter is to capture the attention of the reader, inspire him/her to go on to read your resume, and motivate the person to call you for an interview. The cover letter is often just as important as your resume. It emphasizes your qualifications for a specific position and demonstrates your genuine interest in the employer.

The key to a good cover letter is to make it as personal as possible. All letters should be addressed to a particular person instead of to a job function (i.e., "Dear Ms. Doe" as opposed to "Dear Hiring Partner"). If you cannot get the name of the appropriate person through written or on-line resources (such as Martindale-Hubbell or the organization's web site), you should call the organization directly. If no one is designated as responsible for hiring, you could address the letter to someone who practices in your area of interest or who is an alumnus/ae of your college or the UW Law School (in other words, someone who is likely to take an interest in your resume).

Personalizing your letter goes far beyond addressing it to a particular person, however. An employer wants to know why you are writing and how your personal skills and attributes can contribute to the organization. Relate what you know about the employer's type of work and how the work matches your interests, skills and experience by highlighting information contained in your resume. In order to do this, you will need to do some preliminary research on the employer before you send out your letter. The Office of Career and Professional Development has many resources available to help you with this task. In addition, many employers have their own web sites that describe in detail the type of work they do. The information that you gather in your research will enable to you show that the decision to write to the employer was an informed one, rather than one based simply on an employer's name appearing on a generic list.

Your cover letter should be in standard business format and printed on the same bond paper as your resume. In addition to being persuasive, it is important that your letter be well-organized, concise, grammatically correct and error-free. It should not exceed one page of approximately three brief paragraphs. Finally, always remember to sign your cover letter.

Cover Letter Format

Sample Cover Letters

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