How Do I Compose a General Cover Letter?

by Nicole Vulcan

When you're composing that all-important cover letter as part of a job application, not just any generic cover letter will do. Cover letters are generally broken down into three parts: an introduction, an explanation of your background and a discussion about how you can contribute to the organization to which you're applying. All of those sections require information specific to the organization in question, meaning you'll need to start from scratch for every individual letter. Even if you don't know the specific job you want, you should be able to speak intelligently about your experience to any employer.

Type the date at the top of the letter, justified to the left of the page. Skip a line and then type your address, phone number and email address all on separate lines, justified to the left of the page. Skip a line and then type the addressee's name and the business name, separated by a comma. Skip another line and type the addressee's street address, followed by the city, state, and zip code on the next line, the addressee's telephone number on the next, and her email address on the next, all justified to the left. If you're addressing your letter to a human resources office or you don't have an addressee's name, skip the name and include the other information. Company contact information is typically readily available online.

Skip another line and then type "Dear Ms." or "Dear Mr." followed by the addressee's last name. Use a colon following the last name and justify the line to the left of the page. If you're not sure of the addressee's name, it's OK to use "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Human Resources Manager."

Begin your introductory paragraph by telling the addressee the name of the position for which you are applying and how you heard about the position. As always, skip a line between paragraphs. If you have personal or professional connections who referred you to the position, say so. If you're sending out a general application letter to an employer without a specific job title in mind, do enough research about the employer to know what types of jobs you're interested in, and then mention a few ideas.

Draft a paragraph that elaborates on why you're the right person for the job, or in the case of a general query, why you'd be a good fit for the company. This paragraph should focus on specific skills or training you have and how that fits into the position or the work the company does. Don't just reiterate what's on your resume; instead give examples of how you honed a certain skill or why you'll excel in a certain aspect of the job. If you've been given special awards in your industry or have other achievements of note, mention them here. Whatever you choose to include, keep them relevant to the employer. "Ask not what the potential employer can do for you, but what you can do for the employer," reminds the University of Pennsylvania Career Services department.

Write some information about the next steps in your next paragraph. If you're especially bold, one option is to state a date and time during which you're going to contact the hiring manager to discuss the opportunity. Another slightly-less bold option is to provide a time of day and a date range for the hiring manager to contact you. If you're sending a query because you'll soon be graduating from a special program in the company's area of focus, mention your graduation date and that you look forward to getting hired following that date. In any case, thank the addressee for her time and then sign off with "Sincerely," justified to the left of the page. Type your name several spaces down.

Items you will need
  • Computer


  • Whether you're sending your letter via email or postal service, format the letter in the same way, including as much contact information as you have in the address section. If you're sending the letter via email, paste the content in the body of the email, but also attach it as a PDF so the hiring manager can print it out.

About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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