4 Tips for Writing a Successful Cover Letter

A cover letter is your chance to show a potential employer who you are and what you’re passionate about. Here are four tips on how to make the most of it.

Make It Personal

To make your cover letter seem more personable, it’s a good idea to address the reader directly. Try to avoid phrases like “to whom it may concern”, or other vague language. Instead, acknowledge the person you’re writing to at the very beginning of the letter.

Usually, you’ll have some idea of who’s in control of the hiring process. If you’re unsure, research! Take a look at the company directory; who’s in hiring, talent, or recruitment? These are often your first leads.

Past, Present, and Future

Dividing your personal introduction into past, present, and future sections is a good way to stay organized while talking about yourself. Start with your background; what is your level of education? Have you worked in related fields in the past? Then, discuss your present; what are you doing now? Finally, explain your long-term career goals. These segments can be very brief – even just a sentence each – and are a thorough, effective way of describing yourself professionally.

Research is Key!

An important question to address in a cover letter is why you want the job. There are many practical reasons to apply for a position; connections, experience, and, of course, to make a living. Although these are all completely valid reasons to get a job, they also apply to nearly everyone else you’re competing with. To avoid blending in with other applicants, identify specific aspects of the position or company that appeal to you. You can draw inspiration from the original job posting, or browse the company website until you find something compelling. Adding specific information shows that you’re well prepared, well researched, and genuinely excited about your potential role in a company.

Keep It Brief

It’s recommended to keep cover letters under a page, so don’t write like you’re trying to meet a word requirement. If you use clear, direct language, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’re able to get your point across. If you’re finding it difficult to communicate your point concisely, try making an outline of everything you want to say. By laying out all of the information, you may find points that don’t seem completely necessary, or that repeat something you’ve already said.

Even if you’re not currently job searching, it’s always helpful to practice writing cover letters for when the time comes. Choose a company for your “application”, and go through all the steps of researching them! Resumes are only half the solution to getting hired; if you become an expert at cover letters now, your future self will thank you.

Be sure to take advantage of the wonderful resources with UMBC’s Career Center. They are there to help you!

Join the Conversation


  1. Lewis says:

    I have a few questions. What should the cover letter be about if the job is not related to what I am currently doing? Also, how can I make a one page cover letter when I have so much I want to say?

    1. Jack says:

      Hey Lewis, I’ve spent some time wondering about these items myself.
      For a new industry, it may take some research to really feel confident about what you’d like to say. It can never hurt to look at the company’s current projects and the recent trends in the industry. This knowledge can prove very useful when it comes to the interview stage, as it shows that you’ve done some diligence to the area you’re interested in working in.
      As for the one-page limit, consider it a goal! Chances are that after writing your first or second draft, there are still some things that can be said more concisely. If after several versions you still can’t reduce it any further, send it as is. The most important thing is that it is an accurate depiction of you and what you bring to the table. Hope this helps!

  2. Raju Ram says:

    Great tips on how to make the most of a cover letter! The advice on making it personal, dividing it into past, present, and future sections, and researching the company are all very useful. I also appreciate the emphasis on keeping it brief and using clear, direct language. One question I have is how to handle formatting for online applications where you have to copy and paste the cover letter into a text box? How can we ensure that it still looks professional and presentable in that format?

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