Cover Letter FAQ

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a formal letter written to your prospective employer that explains why you want this job and why you’re qualified. It’s usually one page and about three to four paragraphs. You’ll write formally and personably. You’ll show why you are the right candidate. We’ll talk about what goes in each paragraph below. Think of your cover letter as an opportunity to focus on three to four of the needs outlined by the job description and how your skill set and experience can address those needs. Your cover letter is also a place to show your enthusiasm for the position and organization by demonstrating how you uniquely understand their mission, values, and accomplishments.

Quite simply, cover letters are essential to your job hunt. It’s the employer’s first contact with your voice and style so it’s important to take the cover letter seriously.

Take a look at our guide to see what goes where in your cover letter. 


Where can I see some examples? 

Take a look at our before and after cover letter examples to see how to improve your own cover letters. 

Why can’t an employer just look at my resume?

Because you are more than your resume! A good cover letter is not simply a restatement of your resume. If you’ve written a cover letter and it feels like a restatement of your resume then you haven’t expanded far enough into your skills and why you want to work for this specific organization and/or in the specific capacity that you’re applying for.

A good cover letter does three things: it shows enthusiasm about why you would like to work for a particular organization and demonstrates that you understand their values, mission, and accomplishments. If you don’t know very much about the company or organization, you’ll have to do some research. Secondly, it goes in-depth into why you are the perfect candidate for this position by expanding upon what cannot be communicated via a resume such as your work habits and personality. Are you a quick-learner and great at working groups? Are you able to intensely focus and work well alone? Try to expand upon what qualities about your personality or work habits make you a great fit. Thirdly, a good cover letter is specific to the organization and position. It is in-depth. It is personal and precise. It isn’t a form letter mailed to thirty different jobs. A good cover letter takes research and revision.

What goes into a cover letter? Where do I start?

Take a look at our guide. All cover letters should be tailored to a specific job. The example we’re going to show you has five paragraphs, but yours could be between three to six paragraphs.

Should I use a fancy font or color to show my creativity?

No. Cover letters are formal documents. Use fonts like Times New Roman or Ariel that are clear and professional. Your font size should be between 11 and 12. Don’t include your picture or clip art.

The job description says I should attach my cover letter and resume and e-mail these documents. I’m not sure how to do this.

Most job descriptions will give you very specific details about how documents should be formatted and combined. Some job descriptions will want you to put your resume and cover letter and combine them into one PDF. Remember to follow the directions. If there are no instructions about how to format or combine the documents be sure to paste both with titles that include your name and what the document is (for instance, “Rosa_Artsy_Resume” and “Rosa_Artsy_Cover_Letter_Internship”). Make sure they are in PDFs as these are universally readable across many machines and formats. You should also paste the cover letter into the body of the e-mail.

What if I have a lapse in my employment or something else that I’m worried about an employer seeing?

You can use your cover letter to address this but remember that your cover letter should show you at your finest—if you want to address something be sure to do so in a way that bolsters you as a candidate rather than highlights a flaw. This can be tricky. If there’s something specific you’re concerned about, a UCSC Career Counselor can help you navigate this in your job search.

Why can’t I just make a standard cover letter and send that out?

A non-specific standard cover letter or a mass copied cover letter is obvious to employers and will likely be discarded. Each cover letter you write should be specifically tailored to a specific position and to a specific company.

What if I don’t know who I should address the letter to?

Try contacting the organization or company to see who you should address the letter to. Try, in all instances, to find a specific person to address the letter to rather than a generic phrase. If you cannot contact anyone or the job description specifically states “no phone calls,” then you may address the letter to the “Hiring Manager” or “Hiring Committee.”

What if the job description doesn’t request a cover letter?

You should always send a cover letter. Even if it’s not requested it will help the Human Resources staff or hiring committee know where to direct your materials. The cover letter is an opportunity to sell yourself and it is an opportunity that should not be passed up.

Do you need help or someone to look at your cover letter? Make an appointment with one of our Career Counselors today!