Writing a Knockout Cover Letter

The biggest challenge to overcome in landing the job or internship you want is the first level of applicant screening. Often this means getting a very bored, junior person to sit up and pay attention to the cover letter and resume you have sent in. Today we’re going to focus on cover letters.

Most people will admit they have difficulty writing cover letters; what they usually mean is that they have a lot of trouble starting cover letters. Here’s a formula for overcoming the writer’s block and anxiety of doing cover letters.

First, ask yourself this question:   “As I look at this job/internship posting, what are the three or four most important skills/abilities I have that this employer wants?” The answer is what should go into the first paragraph of your cover letter. It’s a fill-in-the-blank paragraph – usually two sentences and about four lines long – that should look something like this:

“Having (Experience A) and (Experience B), I would like to apply for (title of the position). In addition, I would bring to your company/organization (Skill C) and (Experience D).”

Give it your best shot and don’t be modest. Depending upon what the job description emphasizes, your first paragraph should highlight factors such as: “strong research and analytics skills” … “excellent written and oral communication skills” … advanced knowledge or a foreign language … advanced knowledge of a particular software (other than Word and PowerPoint, which everybody has) … etc. etc.

Now that you’ve finished the all-important first paragraph, the second and third paragraphs should, to some degree, provide more detail and backup for the claims you made in the first paragraph. E.G., “During my two semesters as a Research Intern with Employer X, I worked with experienced professionals on a number of key projects, where I was able to enhance my research, analytical and problem-solving skills.”

Before concluding your letter, be sure to mention important generic skills all employers want – and most of you have acquired – during the course of some internships: “experience multitasking under deadline pressure” … “worked collaboratively in a team-focused environment” … “learned good detail management and prioritizing.”

Have a simple wrap-up sentence; e.g., “Thank you for considering my qualifications. I look forward to hearing from you.”


  • Use over-the-top words; e.g.,: “love” “excited” “perfect” “unique” – it makes you sound immature.
  • Put your contact info in the last sentence; it should be at the top of the letter.
  • Write more than three-quarters of a page, down to your name at the bottom.
  • Go on-and-on about how much you admire the employer. One sentence is enough.


Good luck!