How to Write a Cover Letter Recruiters Will Read

Tiffany J. Franklin M.S.Ed, Associate Director


Cover letters are one piece of the job search many job seekers would rather skip. In fact, some will only apply to positions that don’t require them. Omitting the cover letter is a mistake. After all, a cover letter is really a marketing piece that allows you to make a strong case (backed up by examples) for why this company should hire you. Why would you miss out on an opportunity to show a recruiter why you are qualified for a position?

As a former recruiter, I would sometimes receive well over 100 resumes for one job posting. When evaluating which ones to interview, the applications with cover letters stood out because it demonstrated that the candidate took extra time and went a step further than other applicants. Cover letters provided insights into how well the candidate could communicate, their attention to detail, and made a case for why I should hire them. The best cover letters were customized. I gained a clear sense of why the candidate wanted that particular job and company. It was apparent the applicant took the time to think about why they wanted that company and role. Conversely, it’s easy to tell when a candidate uses the same generic letter and applies to 50 jobs.

When writing cover letters, you want to show that everything you have done so far has lead you to this job. It’s up to you to craft a story and pull out all your transferrable skills you gained during your academic and internship journey. Your goal is to inspire confidence in the recruiter that you have the skills and motivation to do this job and you have researched the company culture.

Some writers feel the need to list everything they have ever done and hope the recruiter will find something relevant. That strategy backfires because recruiters don’t have that kind of time to sift through extraneous information. Like the opening arguments in a court case, you need to provide the hiring manager the lens through which to view your experience in the first paragraph of your letter. Explain how your unique combination of education, experience, and skills has qualified you to make contributions to their team. Then, use the middle paragraphs to provide evidentiary support through relevant examples. Be sure that the cover letter is not simply restating your resume. Instead, it’s an opportunity to bring your resume to life and tell your story in a compelling way.

Here are a few tips for how to tackle that first cover letter.

1) At the top, include your address and the date

2) Address the letter to an actual person, not a generic “Dear Hiring Manager.” If you can’t find the contact name, Google “LinkedIn Company Name Recruiter” for ideas. Include contact name, title, company name, and address.

3) Opening Paragraph (I LOVE YOU) – Mention position title, requisition number if listed, why you want the company (see mission statement, About Us page), and a sentence stating why you are qualified to contribute to their team.

4) Middle Paragraphs (YOU LOVE ME) – This is the part where you pick 3-4 examples from your experience and bring your resume to life. Through success stories, you demonstrate your ability to do this job and highlight your transferrable skills. These examples should speak to the key skills mentioned in the job description. That job description may list 50 different qualifiers, but usually these can be grouped into a few primary categories.

5) Closing Paragraph (LET’S TALK) – Restate your interest and summarize key qualifiers, how to reach you (contact info), that you’ll be available for an interview, and thank them for the consideration.

The first letter may take a little longer to complete, but it’s worth the time investment. Writing subsequent letters should be easier as you get used to the format. Be sure to have different letters for each industry and job type to which you apply. From there, customize each one to each company and specific position.

There are great samples at The samples are a helpful guide, but be sure to make the letters your own and that they are not too close to the samples. This is your chance to shine and you need to make it unique to your skills. Proofread your cover letter and have someone else read it before applying to any positions. One grammatical or spelling error will reflect poorly upon you, so editing is a must.

Career Services is here to help! We have walk-ins throughout the week and you can schedule an appointment to have an advisor review your resume and cover letter.





Gifts for You!

As many of us enter a season of gift giving, don’t forget to claim the gifts that Career Services has for you. Many of these gifts are available throughout the year or at set times, in person or online, occasionally or 24/7. What do you need? If it regards your career, we probably have something you can use.

Thinking about being a scientist? Teacher? Marketer? Filmmaker? Consultant? Programmer? Professor? Unsure? We have information to help you learn about different career fields, whether you are exploring a wide range or are ready to dig into a specific area.

Want to talk to other students or alumni to learn about their career paths? Use our resources or meet with us to explore the many connections available to you. Or read our surveys to see what other students have found in their internship and job searches.

Continue reading “Gifts for You!”

Getting in the Loop: Crafting a Letter of Interest

By Sharon Fleshman

This semester, I’ve talked to a few students who are interested in particular jobs that they’ve seen posted, but wonder whether it’s too soon to apply since they’re not graduating until May. Maybe that’s your dilemma. Or perhaps you know that you have your heart set on working at a particular organization, but at the moment, there is no position posted that matches your skills and interests. What to do? You may assume that correspondence with a potential employer has to be in response to a given opportunity. Not so! In both cases, you can send a “letter of interest,” a type of cover letter that will allow you to express your enthusiasm about a given organization or position.

Let’s start with the first scenario I mentioned. You see the posting for an ideal job, but suspect that the position would need to be filled sooner than your graduation date. Of course, your letter would highlight your interest and qualifications, but it can also include something like “I was excited to see that you had an opening for Position X. I will be graduating in May 2011 and I hope that you will consider my application for this position. However, I realize that you may need to hire someone sooner. If that is the case, please consider me for any future similar opportunities that arise.”

In the second scenario, let’s say that you simply want to pursue an opportunity with a given organization but there are no current job openings relevant to your background or career interests. You should include much in your letter that focuses on what attracts you to the organization itself. After you bring attention to how you resonate with the organization’s mission and core values, be sure to identify your skills and qualifications as it relates to particular areas and functions of the organization which interest you. As I already noted, you can request that the recruiter consider you for any future opportunities. In addition, you may want to inquire about the possibility of an informational interview.

To get started, check out the resources on the Career Services website on how to write cover letters. Once you develop a draft, feel free to make an appointment with a Career Services advisor who can help you tweak your letter and networking strategy.

Seniors: Five Job Search Tips for Winter Break

by Kelly Cleary

Once the semester stress is behind you and you’ve had some time to rest up and celebrate, I imagine many seniors will start to focus on your post-grad plans. Even through, for many industries, the application timeline won’t begin until later in the spring semester, there are some things you can do now to better position yourself when you do start applying for jobs. Below are a few tips and resources to help you get started.



1. EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS: Spend some time exploring career possibilities by looking at some of the websites below. This can be an overwhelming project but it’s an important first step.

  • First Jobs and Graduate Schools for Penn Grads, listed by major–  these are long lists of what Penn students have done with their major in past years.
  • Career Plans Surveys for the Class of 2009 and earlier years – you might be surprised by the wide variety of paths your predecessors have chosen. And hopefully you’ll be encouraged to see that while only about 30% of the College Class of 2009 had accepted job offers by the end of December, almost 75% of them had accepted job offers by the end of May.  (The 2009 report is preliminary. It will include more detailed employer information soon.)
  • What Can I Do with this Major?—These PDF’s provide a helpful overview of career paths related to specific majors including suggestions for types of employers and advice on preparing for those jobs.
  • Watch ourCareer Exploration video:

Career Exploration from Penn Career Services on Vimeo.

2. RESEARCH EMPLOYERS: Once you’ve narrowed down your preferences for types of work, industries of interest, and where you hope to live, it’s time to start developing your wish list of prospective employers and build your list of favorite job search websites.

  • Vault & Wetfeet Guides – Yes, these two companies make great books to help students land i-banking and consulting jobs, but they also publish career and company guides for other industries like entertainment, fashion, retail, green, healthcare, pharma, marketing, PR, and many others. You can download the career guide books for free from our Online Subscriptions page.
  • PennLink – This is where employers who specifically want to hire Penn students post jobs. Under the “Advanced Search” tab, you can set up a Search Agent to schedule weekly emails of new jobs that match your interests so you don’ t have to log into PennLink every day.
  • Career Resources by Field – From Anthropology and Arts to Sciences and Sports, you’ll find job search websites and transcripts from alumni speakers. There are similar websites for Wharton, Engineering, Nursing, and Graduate programs.
  • Online Subscriptions – this page includes log in and password information for over 25 job search websites including Art Search, Ecojobs, JournalistJobs, Policy Jobs and many others.
  • GoinGlobalFrom GoinGlobal you can access international country and U.S. city guides that include lists of job search websites and links to local chambers of commerce which all have extensive employer directories for their regions.

3. TALK TO PEOPLE WHO DO WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO: Yes, I’m talking about networking. Outside of trying out a job through volunteering, interning or actually getting the job, talking with people who do or have done the job is one of the best ways to figure out if a career is right for you and to gather advice for landing a job in a particular field or within a specific company.

  • PACNet – Penn’s alumni career networking database is an easy way to connect with Penn alumni who have volunteered to be career mentors. They are a great resource for information and advice.
  • LinkedIn – Linked In, which is basically a professional version of Facebook is one of my favorite job search tools. If you don’t already have an account with an up to date profile, you should. Here are a couple of tips for making the most of LinkedIn for  your job search:
    • PEOPLE Search –  If you don’t find what you’re looking for in PACNet, you can search for alums (or even people with whom you don’t have a common affiliation) who work in the fields and/or organizations that interest you. You can view their profiles to see sample career paths and you can send direct messages to ask for advice. While this is more like cold calling, if it’s done respectfully and professionally, it can be worthwhile.
    • GROUPS – There are thousands of groups (i.e. alumni, specific industries, etc.) in LinkedIn where people share job postings and other career-related information, and they also serve as a forum for asking questions and gathering answers from more experienced professionals. Joining the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Group is a great first step.
    • Want to learn more about LinkedIn? Check the LinkedIn Guide for Recent Graduates. Tutorial from
  • Watch our Networking Tips video.



  • Unless you’re heading straight to graduate school, it’s likely that it will be a while before you have such a long mid-winter break again, so  sleep in, eat well, and enjoy good times with your loved ones.


Good luck with your remaining finals and papers. I hope you all have a safe and fun break. We look forward to seeing you in 2010!