Cover letters are never optional. They should accompany each résumé that you send out to a potential employer. A cover letter is your personalized sales pitch that determines whether your résumé will be reviewed. It is a chance to show the reader the person behind the accomplishments, to make a personal connection between the reader and your background.
A cover letter should:
- Explain why you are sending the résumé
- Tell specifically how you heard about the position
- Convince the reader to look at your résumé
- Reflect your attitude and personal attributes
- Link your skills and experience to the requirements of the position
Getting Started on Your Cover Letter
Research both the job description and company before writing the cover letter. Have a firm understanding of what the position will entail and what the company does. Ask yourself, “What skills and experience do I have that would be an asset to this company and to this position?”
Whenever possible try writing to an individual by name. You may be able to find out the name through your research or you can simply call the company and ask who the letter should go to.
Be Clear and Specific
Don't make the reader guess what you are asking for; be specific. Clearly communicate why you are writing. When writing the body of your cover letter call attention to your relevant experience and knowledge. Be as specific as possible and provide examples. However, try not to overwhelm the reader; don’t retell your entire career history.
Cover Letter Outline
- Create an opening that catches the reader’s attention right from the start. If you have a mutual friend or are answering an ad the employer placed on Handshake, say so right off. Immediately mention the traits you want the reader to consider when thinking of you.
- In the body, demonstrate your knowledge of the company. Show how your specific traits, interests, experience, and education make you a perfect fit.
- Close the letter by letting the employer know how they can reach you and by taking responsibility yourself for the next step. Tell the reader when you will contact him/her to see when the two of you might meet to talk in person.
Cover Letter Quick Tips
- Proofread your letter. Make sure there are no grammatical or spelling errors
- Ask someone to critique your letter
- Use a business letter format
- Don’t be too wordy; cut out extra words
- Avoid clichés
- Be positive and enthusiastic
Cover Letter Resources and Samples
Drop-In Cover Letter Critiques
Get your cover letter critiqued by one of our counselors; no appointment necessary! Check out our Career Resource Room link to obtain more information on drop-in hours.
This handout provides you information on how to structure your cover letter and includes a sample. You can also find this handout in the Career Resource Room.
Career Resource Room Library: Cover Letters
We have several books on writing cover letters in our Career Library located in the CRR.
A résumé is a concise method of introducing yourself to a potential employer. With this document an employer will decide whether you have skills, education, and experience necessary for the position. Rarely will the résumé produce an immediate job offer. It is, however, commonly used my employers as a screening tool. The candidates with the best résumé will be given further consideration. Therefore, it is important to invest in its preparation. It is not enough to list your experiences and credentials. You must also decide which of your qualifications you wish to highlight. The more clearly you can demonstrate the match between your skills and the prospective employer’s needs the more likely you will be given further consideration.
A well-crafted résumé:
- emphasizes relevant education, skills and experience.
- translates experience and training into tangible skills and accomplishments.
- is clearly designed and written with brief action phrases.
Résumé are organized in terms of category headings such as Objective, Education, Experience, Activities, Affiliations, Honors, Interests, and References. Many of these headings are optional. Choose categories that are appropriate for representing your background and qualifications.
This is the central element on which the content of the résumé is based. Because job titles vary from company to company, think of what you want to do (function), at what level (entry, trainee, middle management, etc.) and in what setting (financial institution, aerospace industry, etc.). A good objective is a bit paradoxical: it must be specific yet open-ended. If you are considering more than one occupational field, prepare a separate résumé for each. If you are having difficulty writing a career objective, drop by Career Resource Room and talk with a career counselor.
List education in reverse chronological order, beginning with your most recent education and working backwards. A high GPA (e.g., 3.0 or above) and other academic achievements may be included. You may also choose to list courses that especially qualify you for your career, not overlooking courses that are almost universally appropriate (e.g., writing skills, speaking ability, foreign languages, computer skills, etc.).
The key to the experience section is to think broadly. This section will include not only paid employment that you have had, but also other types of experience where you used related skills. For instance, you may want to list that you were captain of the intramural volleyball team or that you volunteered as a trainer in Special Olympics. The "skeleton" of the experience section includes the "position title" (in some cases this may be "Social Subcommittee Chairperson" or "Club President"), "company" name (again in some cases your "company" may be your fraternity or volunteer setting), city, state and dates for each entry. This core information should be on your résumé, regardless of the format you use for this section.
There is no ideal format for the experience section, but two common styles are acceptable to most employing organizations: chronological and functional. A chronological format lists past employment in reverse chronological order by dates, with the most recent experience listed first. With a functional format, experience is summarized in skill categories rather than by chronological order. It consists of a selection from your total experience of only those skills which relate to the job you are seeking. A functional format will require an additional section entitled Employment History, where you show the reader where you have worked and in what positions. A third possible format is a combination format. List your experience in reverse chronological order. If you include brief job descriptions, stress the connections between those jobs and the one for which you are applying.
Skills and Accomplishments
You have acquired many skills and accomplishments through your education and life experiences that you can mention to prospective employers. You would list your skills and accomplishments under each position in a chronological format and in your skills categories in a functional format. Start each accomplishment with an “Action Verb” followed with a description of what you did (e.g., “Prepared and delivered presentations to business owners” or “Scheduled speakers and companies for tours and conferences”). If you are unaware of all your skills and unclear as to which ones relate to employment. A career counselor can help you.
If your references are so well known that the mention of their names would be a magic key, think about listing their names on your résumé. In most cases, a good strategy is to use the phrase "references available upon request" at the end of your résumé only if you have room. This gives you the flexibility of altering your list according to appropriateness for each job for which you are applying. Possible references are former supervisors, UCSB faculty, and others who are qualified to comment on your work habits, achievements, personal qualifications, etc. Line up your references in advance and clue them in on your career objective so they will know which of your sterling qualities to emphasize. Keep your references posted on your progress and send a thank you letter. People who help deserve to be appreciated. If an employer does ask for your references you can list them on a separate page.
Résumé Design Tips
- Remember the goal is to create a document which stands out in the stack because it is well designed, consistently formatted, clear, clean, and easy to read.
- Leave at least ½ inch margin throughout.
- Avoid a text heavy document.
- Put headings in CAPS/BOLD to help identify the sections.
- Use bullet points instead of paragraphs to outline key accomplishments.
- Point size should ideally be between 10-12 and consistent throughout, with the exception of headings and your name which need to stand out.
- Use Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica or other common font styles throughout. Pick one of these fonts to use, do NOT use a combination of font styles.
- Use phrases, not complete sentences. (“Supervised five employees” vs. “I supervised….”)
- Begin phrases with action verbs.
- Avoid personal pronouns (I, me, my)
- Place the most critical information near the top of the page.
- Keep it to one page for current students and recent graduates.
- Spell check and proof your document before sending to anyone!
A PDF of the full Résumé & Cover Letter Guide is available.
Writing samples are something that an employer may request in order to get a sense of your written communication skills. They are general only necessary for jobs that involve writing, but employers may request them regardless of the position.
- Some things you could submit are a press release, academic paper, news article, or blog post. Be sure to specify if the sample has been published and where.
- If you don’t have anything you want to submit, write an article or a press release on something you think is relevant/interesting.
- If the employer doesn’t specify length, keep the sample to 2-5 pages
- There is no tolerance for mistakes in your writing sample, so have somebody you trust double check it before you submit!
- Try to send a sample that is similar to something you’d write on the job. For example, don’t submit a creative writing piece for a marketing internship.
- If you submit a course paper, be sure that the sample you turn in is free of instructor comments/grades.
- Be cautious with submitting blog posts. Make sure they are more professional than personal.
- Remember to ask your previous employer for permission if you are submitting a sample that you’ve written for a previous position.
- Don’t handwrite your writing sample. Submit an online or printed copy.
- Keep in mind that the purpose of your writing sample is to show how you get ideas across, not that you have creative ideas (though creativity won’t hurt).
- If an employer requests a writing sample or says that it is “optional,” submit one. If they don’t mention writing samples during the application and interview process, don’t submit one.