Write that first Cover Letter

Do and Don’ts when writing your first cover letter

Looking to stand out when you lack the work experience of other job applicants?  A well-written cover letter helps you quickly highlight and demonstrate your knowledge and skills and better explain your current and future career path to prospective employers.  A good cover letter should be clear, concise and to the point.  As a job seeker who is trying to get that first job, what do you include? Here are some things to do and not to do to help you write a letter that gets your resume noticed.  Don’t forget that your school or local career center may also have staff available to help you.  Good Luck!

Things to do:

  • Begin with a greeting and mention the title of the job that interests you. Preferably to a specific person at the company and using the exact title mentioned in the job posting. Research the name of the hiring manager and address the letter directly. If you are unable to find a specific name, don’t guess, address the letter to “hiring manager” or something similar.
  • Discuss any work experience and employability skills developed. Many people may have work experience even if it is not a “formal” job.  It could be babysitting, mowing lawns, or working in an unrelated industry and these experiences should be emphasized in a cover letter. If you haven’t done any of these, don’t worry, many people are active in school clubs, athletics, or even volunteer activities. Talking about experience gained through these activities are a great way to show employers you have relevant skills for the position. You can use these experiences to emphasize your “employability” such as hardworking, dedication, motivation, professionalism, etc.  For example, a member of the high school’s speech and debate club could emphasize public speaking and communication skills, or a captain of a sports team could talk about being an “experienced leader” or “team player.” 
  • Research the position and company. Do not send out the same cover letter twice. This is an opportunity to tell a hiring manager why you are the perfect fit for the position. Research what skills and duties the position requires and, using that information, share why you are a good fit for this position specifically and how you have developed those skills. 
  • Use an engaging, but also professional tone. Your cover letter is the hiring manager’s first impression of you, so try and make it a good one. Using a bland and generic tone will not differentiate you from the crowd. An ideal cover letter will be personal, sincere, and appealing, while keeping a professional tone.
  • Show sincere interest and ask for an interview: Employers want to know that you are truly interested and excited to work for their company. Try and highlight not only why you are qualified for this position, but why you are particularly interested in working there as well. At the end of your cover letter, end with a few polite closing sentences and ask to schedule an interview. This will help increase the likelihood of getting an interview and emphasize your interest.

Things to not do:

  • Write over one page. Hiring managers will have to read through many applications. Writing too long of a cover letter may lose the attention of a busy hiring manager.  Keep it simple.
  • Apologize. As an individual with possibly less experience than other applicants, you may feel underqualified for a job.  You are not.  Hiring managers have your resume, there is no need to highlight any lack of experience you have.  Focus on positive attributes rather than wasting time focusing on any lack of experience or other potential shortcomings.
  • Repeat your resume. If your cover letter reads like a list of things you’ve done instead of telling a story about your experience and skills you most likely repeated your resume. Try to find 1-2 meaningful experiences that you can tell a story about. This will help highlight your skills while also writing an engaging letter.
  • Forget to proofread! Make sure your first impression is a good one.  Be sure to read over your cover letter to eliminate spelling or grammatical errors.  Ask for help from a parent, sibling, or friend to get another perspective before you submit it.  It is hard to proof your own work.


Check out this template for a sample on how to write a cover letter, and good luck!