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Cover Letters

The preliminary application for a professional position generally consists of two documents: a cover letter and a resume. This handout describes the cover letter; the resume is described in a separate Writing Center handout.

While the resume is a somewhat generic advertisement for yourself, the cover letter allows you to tailor your application to each specific job.  Although the thrust of your various letters may remain the same, with the assorted text-processing options available at RPI—options that include find-and-replace and merging capabilities—there is really no reason to have a single, generic cover letter.

Effective cover letters are constructed with close attention to


Your cover letter and resume usually provide all the information which a prospective employer will use to decide whether or not you will reach the next phase in the application process: the interview.

While your goal is an interview and, ultimately, a job offer, the more immediate purpose of your cover letter in some cases may simply be to gain an attentive audience for your resume.


A cover letter provides, in a very real sense, an opportunity to let your prospective employer hear your voice. It reflects your personality, your attention to detail, your communication skills, your enthusiasm, your intellect, and your specific interest in the company to which you are sending the letter.

Therefore, cover letters should be tailored to each specific company you are applying to. You should conduct enough research to know the interests, needs, values, and goals of each company, and your letters should reflect that knowledge.


A cover letter should be addressed to the specific company and the specific individual who will process your application. You can usually find this through research or simply by calling the company to find out who you should address your letter to.

The letter should name the position for which you are applying and also make specific references to the company. Indicate your knowledge of and interest in the work the company is currently doing, and your qualification for the position. You want the reader to know:

  • Why do you want to work at that specific company?
  • Why do you fit with that company?
  • How do you qualify for the position to which you applying?

In addition to tailoring your application to a specific job with a specific company, the cover letter should also

  • highlight the most important and relevant accomplishments, skills, and experience listed in your resume
  • point to the resume in some way (as detailed in the enclosed resume”)
  • request specific follow up, such as an interview.


A cover letter should be in paragraph form (save bulleted lists for your resume) with a conversational, though formal, tone.

The first paragraph should be brief, perhaps two or three sentences, stating

  • what job you are applying for and how you learned about it
  • any personal contacts you have in or with the company
  • your general qualifications for the job.

The body of your letter should consist of one to three longer paragraphs in which you expand upon your qualifications for the position. Pick out the most relevant qualifications listed in your resume and discuss them in detail, demonstrating how your background and experience qualify you for the job. Be as specific as possible, and refer the reader to your resume for additional details.

The concluding paragraph of your letter should request an interview (or some other response, as appropriate). State where and when you can be reached, and express your willingness to come to an interview or supply further information. Close by thanking your reader for his or her time and consideration.

Example: Cover Letter 1

34 Second Street
Troy, New York 12180
October 4, 2001

Ms. Gail Roberts
Recruiting Coordinator
Department DRR 1201
Database Corporation
Princeton, New Jersey 05876

Dear Ms. Roberts:

Your advertisement for software engineers in the January issue of the IEEE Spectrum caught my attention. I was drawn to the ad by my strong interest in both software design and Database.

I have worked with a CALMA system in developing VLSI circuits, and I also have substantial experience in the design of interactive CAD software.  Because of this experience, I can make a direct and immediate contribution to your department.  I have enclosed a copy of my resume, which details my qualifications and suggests how I might be of service to Database.

I would like very much to meet with you to discuss your open positions for software engineers. If you wish to arrange an interview, please contact me at the above address or by telephone at (518) 271-9999.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Joseph Smith

Example: Cover Letter 2

1234 15th Street
Troy, New York 12180
January 30, 2002

Mr. John M. Curtis
Recruiting Coordinator
HAL Corporation
55 Washington Avenue
New York, New York  10081

Dear Mr. Curtis:

As an experienced computer programmer who is presently pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I am writing to request information about possible summer employment opportunities with HAL.  I am interested in a position that will allow me to combine the talents I have developed in both computer programming and electrical engineering.  However, as you can see from the attached resume, I have extensive experience in many related fields, and I always enjoy new challenges.

I feel that it is important for me to maintain a practical, real-world perspective while developing my academic abilities. I am proud of the fact that I have financed my entire education through scholarships and summer jobs related to my field of study.  This work experience has enhanced my appreciation for the education I am pursuing.  I find that I learn as much from my summer jobs as I do from my academic studies.  For example, during the summer of 1986, while working for IBM in Boca Raton, Florida, I gained a great deal of practical experience in the field of electronic circuit logic and driver design.  When I returned to school in the fall and took Computer Hardware Design, I found that my experience with IBM had thoroughly prepared me for the subject.

Having said all this, I realize that your first consideration in hiring an applicant must not be the potential educational experience HAL can provide, but the skills and services the applicant has to offer.  I hope the experience and education described in my resume suggest how I might be of service to HAL.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss with you how I might best assist HAL in fulfilling its present corporate needs.  I will be available for employment from May 14 through August 31, 2002.  Please let me know what summer employment opportunities are available at HAL for someone with my education, experience, and interests. You can reach me at the above address or by phone at (518) 271-0000.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Joan Doe

Developed by The Center for Communication Practices at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.

April 29th, 2009

Careers and Graduate School

Cover Letters
Graduate School Essays

April 29th, 2009


A resume is a brief summary of your abilities, education, experience, and skills. Its main task is to convince prospective employers to contact you. A resume has one purpose: to get you a job interview.

Resumes must do their work quickly. Employers or personnel officers may look through hundreds of applications and may spend only a few seconds reviewing your resume. To get someone to look at it longer, your resume must quickly convey that you are capable and competent enough to be worth interviewing. The more thoroughly you prepare your resume now, the more likely someone is to read it later.

This guide, “Preparing a Resume,” will be useful if you’re writing your first resume or want to analyze the effectiveness of your current one. The Center for Communication Practices can also help you draft your resume and cover letters, and can give you sample resumes and related handouts. Simply drop by; no appointment is necessary.


This document, which is divided into eight separate sections, can be read in two different ways. You can either read it all the way through, as you would a paper version, or you can click on any of the links listed below to jump ahead to a particular section.

Gather and Check All Necessary Information

Write down headings such as EDUCATION, EXPERIENCE, HONORS, SKILLS, ACTIVITIES. Beneath each heading, jot down the following information:

EDUCATION usually means post-secondary and can include special seminars, summer school, or night school as well as college and university. If you are just starting college, you can include high school as well. List degrees and month/year obtained or expected; names and locations of schools; major and minor, if any; grade point average. A brief summary of important courses you’ve taken might also be helpful.

EXPERIENCE includes full-time paid jobs, academic research projects, internships or co-op positions, part-time jobs, or volunteer work. List the month/years you worked, position, name and location of employer or place, and responsibilities you had. As you describe your experiences, ask yourself questions like these:

  • Have I invented, discovered, coordinated, organized, or directed anything professionally or for my community?
  • Do I meet deadlines consistently?
  • Am I a good communicator?
  • Do I enjoy teamwork?

Even if you’re new to a field, you aren’t necessarily starting from scratch.

HONORS. List any academic awards (scholarships, fellowships, honors list), professional awards or recognition, or community awards (i.e. for athletic skills).

SKILLS. List computer languages and software, research, laboratory, teaching or tutoring, communication, leadership, or athletic, among others.

ACTIVITIES. List academic, professional, or community organizations in which you hold office or are currently a member; list professional and community activities, including volunteer work. Listing extra-curricular activities or hobbies is optional.

After you have all this information down, check it for accuracy. You’ll need full names, in some cases full addresses, correct and consistent dates, and correct spellings.

Match Your Skills and Experience with an Employer’s Needs

POSITION: What kind of position do you want for this job-search? Make notes. Now match your wishes up with positions that are actually available. You can get this information through postings, ads, personal contacts, or your own research.

Also, the Rensselaer Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) can help you with job-search techniques. The CCPD offers workshops, materials, personal assistance, and on-campus recruiting. It also coordinates a “Focus Program” to help freshmen, sophomores, and juniors find out about their field from Rensselaer alumni.

EMPLOYER: For a certain position, what aspects of your education, experience, or skills will be most attractive to that employer? List SPECIFIC coursework, areas of specialty, specific skills, or knowledge that you think would interest the employer.

Highlight Details That Demonstrate Your Capabilities
Look over what you’ve written and try to select details of your education, experience, honors, skills, and activities that match an employer’s needs in a few important areas.

Organize the Resume Effectively

PERSONAL INFORMATION: Top center of first page. Name (no title); addresses; phone numbers; e-mail and/or fax addresses (optional); citizenship if applicable.

NOTE: A potential employer has no legal right to request information about age, sex, race, religion, marital status, health, physical appearance, or personal habits. Don’t include such information on your resume.

EDUCATION: Often comes first in student resumes, especially if it is a strong asset.

EXPERIENCE: Here, you can use one of two formats:

Functional: To emphasize skills and talents, cluster your experience under headings that highlight these skills: for ex.: leadership, research, computers, etc. This format can be helpful if you have little relevant job experience.

Chronological: To emphasize work experience, list jobs beginning with the most recent.
Some hints:

  • Write all job descriptions in parallel
    phrases, using ACTION verbs
  • List the most important responsibilities
    or successes first
  • List similar tasks together
  • Emphasize collaborative or group-related

AWARDS/HONORS: Use reverse chronological order; include titles, places, dates.

ACTIVITIES: Generally, list hobbies, travel, or languages only if they relate to your job interests. In some cases, you may wish to emphasize your willingness to travel or relocate.

REFERENCES: You need not put these on your resume. Instead, you can prepare a separate list of references, with complete name, title, company name, address, and telephone numbers for each individual. Usually, you give this list to prospective employers after your interview.


  • Look at other resumes written
    for positions within your field.
  • TYPE each entry in a format close to
    the one you want to use for your resume.
  • LENGTH: for many resumes, two pages
    is the maximum length (NOTE: an academic resume or “curriculum
    vita” is often at least five pages long).

If you are considering listing your participation in a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course), you could add that experience to your resume or CV in a section for ‘Employment Related Activities’ or ‘Professional Development’. Not everything needs to be on a two-page resume, but there may be reasons to list items like this if you have room for them. For more, see

Consider Word Choice Carefully

In a resume, you need to sound positive and confident: neither too aggressive, nor overly modest. The following words and phrases are intended as suggestions for thinking about your experience and abilities.

Whatever your final word choices are, they should accurately describe you–your skills, talents, and experience.

Choose ACTIVE VERBS that describe your skills, abilities, and accomplishments. Examples: I can contribute, enjoy creating, have experience in organizing. . . While at X Company, I administered, coordinated, directed, participated in…. Below is a list of such verbs:

accomplish; achieve; analyze; adapt; balance; collaborate; coordinate; communicate; compile; conduct; contribute; complete; create; delegate direct; establish; expand; improve; implement; invent; increase; initiate; instruct; lead; organize; participate; perform; present; propose; reorganize; research; set up; supervise; support; train; travel; work (effectively, with others)

NOTE: You can change the forms of any of these verbs to stress different aspects of your abilities and experience: organize ==> organized, organizing, organization.

Choose ADJECTIVES and NOUNS that describe yourself positively and accurately:

able to; administrative; analytical; (fluently) bilingual; broad scope; capable; communication skills; collaboration; collaborative; consistent; competent; complete; creative; dedicated; diversified; effective; experienced; efficient; extensive; exceptional; flexible; global; handle stress; imaginative; intensive; in-depth; innovative; integrated; able to listen; motivated; multilingual; multi-disciplinary; a negotiator; other cultures; reliable; responsible; a supervisor; teamwork; well- traveled; work well with….

Ask Other People to Comment on Your Resume
WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND that you have an advisor, potential employer, or someone in your field critique your resume. For more help, ask:

NOTE: People may offer many different opinions. Use your own judgment and be open-minded about constructive criticism.

Make the Final Product Presentable

Use a computer and high-quality (preferably laser) printer. If you don’t have a computer or laser printer, you should either have your resume professionally produced, or use the resources that Rensselaer has to offer:

  • IBM/PCs, UNIX, and SUN workstations
    on campus
    . Depending on which system you use, you have
    some choice of fonts, limited layout capability (i.e. creating
    borders, boxes, and columns), and access to laser printers.
  • Computer labs/printers closest
    to the Writing Center
    . Windows 98 workstations (room

Evaluate Your Resume
Hold your resume at arm’s length and see how it looks. Is the page too busy with different type styles, sizes, lines, or boxes? Is the information spaced well, not crowded on the page? Is there too much “white space”? Is important information quick and easy to find?


  • Name is at the top of the page: highlighted
    by slightly larger typesize, bolding, and/or underlining
  • Address and phone number(s) are complete
    and correct, with zip and area codes, and are well-placed
    in relation to name
  • All entries highlight a capability or
  • Descriptions use active verbs, and verb
    tense is consistent; current job is in present tense; past
    jobs are in past tense
  • Repetition of words or phrases is kept
    to a minimum
  • Capitalization, punctuation, and date
    formats are consistent
  • There are NO typos or spelling


  • Your best assets, whether education,
    experience, or skills, are listed first
  • The page can be easily reviewed: categories
    are clear, text is indented
  • The dates of employment are easy to
    find and consistently formatted
  • Your name is printed at the top of each


  • No more than two typestyles appear;
    typestyles are conservative
  • Bolding, italics, and capitalization
    are used consistently and in support of the information
  • Margins and line spacing keep the page
    from looking too crowded
  • Printing is on one side of the sheet
    only, on high-quality bond–white or off-white (i.e. beige
    or ivory)
  • The reproduction is good, with no blurring,
    stray marks, or faint letters
  • The right side of the page is
    in “ragged” format, not right-justified. Right justification
    creates awkward white spaces

Now you’re done! Just one more suggestion: If you are sending your resume to a prospective employer, you’ll probably also have to include a separate cover letter. This is usually one page long. The letter indicates your interest in a particular company or position, summarizes the most important aspects of your education and experience, and lets the employer know where and when you can be contacted for an interview. The Writing Center and the Career Development Center can give you more information about effective cover letters.

Developed by The Center for Communication Practices at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.

April 29th, 2009

Who We Are

The staff at the Center for Communication Practices is composed of graduate and undergraduate students who enjoy reading and responding to writing, oral presentations, and multimodal projects from all disciplines!  All of the consultants who work at the CCP  have significant experience in composing many types of texts.  All undergraduate consultants have also excelled in a 4-credit course, Writing and Response, that has prepared them to read and respond to a wide range of texts.

Each consultant may have unique experience with specific types of communication.   Look below to read our consultant profiles before scheduling an appointment:  you may find someone especially well-suited to your needs!

Director—Dr. Barbara Lewis: Barbara is the director of the CCP and enjoys the challenge of reading technical texts from all different fields.  She also loves reading and talking about papers written for Humanities courses, and has quite a bit of experience reading resumes, cover letters, and graduate school application essays.  When she’s not working in the CCP, Barbara teaches writing courses in the Department of Communication and Media.

Chris Adamczyk:

Jacqueline Bower:

Emily L:

Emily Z:

Lisa Brown:



Lorelei Wagner:

Kirk Winans:

Stephanie Jennings:

Jason Coley:


March 17th, 2009


The CCP resides on the first floor of the Folsom Library next door to the ALAC tutoring space.

Contacting the CCP

Lower Level, Folsom Library
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, NY 12180

Hours of Operation

Mon - Thu 10AM-5PM AND 7 - 9 PM
Fri 10AM-1PM
Sun 7 - 9 PM
Closed Saturday
NEW Evening Hours
Sun - Thurs 7 - 9 PM

If you need help, you can email the Director, Dr. Barbara Lewis, at

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