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Writing Cover Letters for C.V.s

As a college undergraduate, you will normally be sending your C.V. under one of three (possibly four) circumstances: as part of an application to graduate or professional school; as a response to an advertisement for a job; or as part of a set of letters of inquiry to learn about positions. You might need a C.V. to apply for certain kinds of internships as well.

When applying to a graduate or professional school, you will normally have to complete a set of application forms to accompany the C.V., and a cover letter is likely to be unnecessary, since schools will usually have their own set of procedures, expectations, and forms to submit. If you wish to use the C.V. to send out as part of job search inquiries, you can use the kinds of cover letters described in the Career Center booklet "Job Related Correspondence." This booklet will discuss only those letters which are sent in response to specific advertised openings. A model for a cover letter, and a sample cover letter follow these instructions. In addition, a sample cover letter to accompany an application for an internship is included.

Although a curriculum vitae is a fairly complete record of your academic and other work-related accomplishments, the accompanying cover letter is a critical element in personalizing your experience. Cover letters for position ads that request C.V.s may exceed the one-page rule, but clarity and conciseness are as important as they are in other kinds of letters. The goal of the cover letter is to highlight and elaborate on pertinent themes using your own writing style. Remember that the quality of your writing will also be noticed.

Preliminaries

Since you are seeking a "match" between you and the potential employer (school system, higher education institution, corporation, other organization), you need to know something about your audience.

A. Obtain background information by talking to friends, professors, other acquaintances, and University of North Florida alumni/ae, especially those who may be presently or formerly associated with an organization similar to the one in which you are interested. You should also call and request information from public relations or admissions offices of the institutions in which you are interested, and visit the community or institution if possible. Try to learn about both the stated and unstated philosophy and politics of the institution and the department you would be working in (generally, you can only learn this by talking with people who work there).

B. When seeking an advertised position, research the duties associated with it and research the history of the particular job for which you are applying. If possible, speak to individuals who may have knowledge of the position. Find out why it is vacant, how long it has been vacant, and what kind of search process will take place. Be sure you have the name of a specific person to whom you will address your letter of application.

Remember, candidates who research potential work places are viewed as resourceful and as displaying high interest. This kind of information is also a tremendous asset during interviews.

Content

Rather than rehashing your C.V., your cover letter should summarize your experience and concentrate on highlighting your appropriate accomplishments and interests related to the job. These will vary according to the nature and goals of the position:

  • Academic teaching positions: emphasize relevant coursework and experience (including any relevant volunteer work or internships) that would suggest you are likely to be a successful teacher; people hiring teachers are interested both in their knowledgeability of relevant subject matter, and in their experience with and interest in working with students; if you are in the sciences, you may also want to note your research background and interests, including a short summary of your thesis if appropriate.
  • Administrative positions: while it is unlikely that as a recent (or nearly recent) college graduate you will have the qualifications required to obtain administrative positions, it is possible that you will be able to find appropriate entry-level positions (particularly in student affairs work); for these positions, your letter (and your C.V.) should emphasize at least two or three accomplishments which illustrate both your leadership style and your priorities. Spell out what you did to make something happen, and don't be afraid to toot your own horn a bit. Your personal philosophy should come through. Finish up by demonstrating how your particular experiences, education, beliefs, individual traits and talents could contribute to addressing the needs of the new environment. (Here's where your homework comes in--knowing about key issues or philosophical stances of the hiring organization.)
  • Internships: as is the case with teaching positions, you will want to emphasize any relevant coursework you have completed, and any other relevant experiences; if you have completed another internship, be sure to mention that as well; to the extent possible, focus the C.V. so that it is clear how and why the particular skills and experiences listed are relevant to the particular internship for which you are applying.
  • Consulting/research positions: emphasize the necessary skills, knowledge bases, and experience to serve effectively as a consultant to the organization. Unless requested to talk about your own interests, restrict your discussion to the organization's needs or possible needs (again, this is where your homework will come in handy). Issues of your personal style are appropriate, especially as they relate to the organization's "culture."

Style

Avoid stilted or overly formal language, but don't be too casual. Strive for a style that both reflects your personality and is consistent with a professional image. Your letters should not only provide information about your qualifications, but should suggest self-confidence and self-knowledge (without being brash, of course).

Format and Presentation

Formats are the same as for other kinds of letters (see the "Writing Job Related Letters" booklet). Use a standard business format (see Model letters that follow). Type or word-process each letter individually; use a clean, new ribbon. Letters should be on a good rag-quality bond (8-1/2 by 11 inch), preferably matching your C.V.. If you are currently working for another organization (and are attempting to change jobs), do not use the letterhead of the organization you currently work for.

Other Accompanying Materials

Generally, you should send only what is requested. These items may include the names of your references (typed on a separate sheet with phone numbers included) or letters of reference, a short writing sample, transcripts, and sometimes a written goal or personal philosophy statement. You should only include samples of your work (e.g., copies of published papers) if requested. Generally, when you have been screened into the next "cut," you will be asked for more information, and can provide it then.

Source: University of North Florida