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The Cover Letter

The Purpose

The purpose of a cover letter is to arouse interest, interpret information and motivate a response.  By arousing interest, the reader's attention is grabbed, so that they will read on.  Like a good short story, it should have a hook -- winning your audience from the beginning. It should also create a mental association between you and the application or your résumé

The cover letter also interprets information. While the résumé lists your qualifications, the cover letter shows how those qualifications apply to the job you are applying for.  In doing so, it may accomplish any of the following:

  • draw conclusions for the reader

  • reaffirm your qualifications and what you can do for the employer

  • alleviate problems or hesitations in the reader's mind. For example: substituting education for experience could be done effectively in a letter, where you may not be able to do that in a résumé.

  • introduce any extras which are unique that you can bring to a job, e.g., your personality, adaptive skills, passion for the work, etc.

A good cover letter also needs to motivate a response.  The immediate desired response is to have the résumé read.  Write something in the letter that creates an impression that will get you noticed.  Always end the letter on a positive note with an invitation or expectation of a response.

Tips for an Effective Cover Letter

  • Make an impact -- make it interesting.
  • Keep it short, one page, and focus on your purpose.  Invite follow-up. NOTE: Federal and provincial government applications sometimes require a longer cover letter outlining how you have acquired all the skills for the position.  Check the job posting’s “How to Apply” section to see their expectations.
  • Your writing should give the employer a sense of your personality.
  • Tell them why they should hire you. Highlight the major skills, personality traits and areas of knowledge and expertise that you have to offer, and indicate how you perceive these match their needs -- tell them what you can do for them.
  • This is also the time to distinguish your letter from the rest by telling the employer why you want to work for them.  Let them know that you are knowledgeable about what they do.  Make sure you do your research.
  • Use standard business format.
  • Try modifying your cover letter to suit other professional correspondence:
    • prospecting for leads
    • developing your network
    • thanking someone


Check out our Cover Letter Tip Sheet to see how to set up the structure and the focus of each paragraph.


Examples of Cover Letters