Cover Letters & References

Cover Letters


A cover letter introduces your resume. Submitting a cover letter along with your resume allows you another opportunity to highlight your skills.


Writing cover letters (The Writing Center, University of Wisconsin)


The Heading


Use the same heading you created for your resume on your cover letter and reference page. This makes your materials uniform, professional, and consistent, and gives the recipient all your contact information at the top of all three documents (which should not be stapled when you submit them).

Your name, phone number and email address should all be in your header. A mailing address, LinkedIn, and other personal website or social media URLs are optional.

If you are sending your cover letter by email, simply address your recipient at the top as you would in a formal email. No need to include mailing addresses, etc. (These should already be in your signature at the bottom.)


Do not address a cover letter “to whom it may concern.” Address cover letters to a specific person. If you can’t find out the name of the person, address it to a title.


Subject lines: If you don’t know a name or title to address a cover letter to, consider using a subject line (such as BOB JONES’ APPLICATION FOR PROGRAM MANAGER POSITION) in all caps. This helps the reader quickly know your purpose and gives you something under the date before launching right into the content of your letter.

If emailing your cover letter, you already have a subject line. You can list it again, or leave it off and simply begin your letter.


1st Paragraph – Connect To The Job

State your purpose. State the job you are applying for and how you know about it. If someone recommended it to you, or if you have a reference at the organization who might put in a good word for you, this is the time to mention names.

2nd Paragraph – Address Qualifications

Acknowledge that you understand the qualifications for the job, and describe how you meet them. You don’t have to tell everything. If this letter is longer than 3/4 page it may be cast aside unread.


A critical component of successfully applying for a job is reading the job posting. From that posting, choose 3-4 qualifications you feel intersect with your own skill set the strongest. Those are the ones to mention here.

Knowledge of X is preferred (Vitae, Karen Kelsey, The Professor is In)

Only a sentence or two is needed to illustrate that you have these skills. Rather than focusing on you in your description, think about how your skills can meet their need. Help them see you in the role for which you are applying.

3rd Paragraph – Tell A Story

Choose one of those skills and package it in a story. This will help you live off the page and make you more memorable. It is an opportunity to show passion and personality. (Don’t overdo it.) Keep the story brief and be sure it highlights a skill they desire.

4th paragraph – polite closing

Restate your sincere interest in the job. Repeat contact information. And say thank you.

Avoid these 7 killer cover letter mistakes (Monster)

5th step – Follow Up

Don’t be afraid to follow up with a phone call or email after 1, then 2 weeks. People say they’ll let you know either way, but they hardly ever do. People also say they want to fill the job quickly, but they hardly ever do.

Job hunting is like dating – you don’t want to seem over-eager or desperate if someone is not offering you strong encouragement on the other end. But many people give up too easily and too quickly.

Appropriate follow up can bring you back to the forefront of a recruiter’s mind. Sometimes they whittle it down to 2-3 candidates and are having trouble deciding. If you have shown continued interest in the role, it can be the tipping factor. But don’t hound people. Calling after 1 week is okay. Calling after 2 weeks is okay. After that, use your best judgment.


A third document, created as a separate page that lists only your References, completes the application materials you may be asked to submit during the job search process.

A Reference page is not typically sent prior to the job interview, but it should be printed and ready to hand to a recruiter at the job interview if he or she should request it.

It should list 3-5 professionals willing to serve as your personal references if contacted by the recruiter. Each listing should be uniform.

In addition to the reference's name, title, company, email and preferred phone (work or personal), it's a nice touch to also include some context for your relationship.


Dr. John Smith
Professor of Management
X University
555.444.3333 (work)

Relationship: former advisor

3 types of people make good references:

  1. Employers (current or former) who can attest to your reliability/work ethic and skill level

  2. Teachers (current or former) who can attest to your skill level, academic achievements and potential to learn

  3. Leaders (coaches, ministers, mentors) who can attest to your character and personal motivation

You should inform references prior to sharing their contact information with recruiters. If you inform your references of your goals and current accomplishments (and share a copy of your current resume with them, for example), they are better positioned to help you. If, on the other hand, they receive a call about you and are caught off guard, it will be obvious you didn't prepare them.

It's also a courtesy to follow-up with references and let them know whether you got the job. You build strong networks when you stay in touch with your former employers, teachers, mentors, and business professionals.

Additional job search skills Content

Career Planning

Professionalism & Etiquette

Portfolios & Performance Evaluations



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