What Makes a Strong Cover Letter?

johnlink2By John Link

Cover letters are arguably the most important part of an application. A resume is a concise, targeted summary that describes a candidate’s strongest experiences, skills, and abilities for the position they’re applying for. A cover letter gives the candidate a unique opportunity to describe in detail how their experiences will be helpful for what the company is seeking in a qualified candidate.

Follow these steps for writing a cover letter with a punch!

  1. Build a framework around the job description

Review the job description and highlight the qualifications you have direct experience in. write down all of the skills and abilities you have specific examples to share with the employer, and begin thinking about which experiences will be most helpful for showcasing your transferable skills.

  1. Build a strong opening paragraph

The opening paragraph should identify who you are, the position you’re applying for, and where you learned about the position. Close the first paragraph with explaining what interests you about the position and working for the company.

  1. Sell your strongest qualifications

The body of your cover letter should be focused on your strongest qualifications in relationship to the responsibilities of the position you’re applying to. This is an opportunity to revisit the framework built around the job description. Review the list of skills that are essential to the position, and provide examples of how you’ve exhibited those skills in a work related context.

For beginners with limited transferable experience, a three-paragraph cover letter is a great starting point.  Your cover letter should always be customized with a specific position in mind. For more resources and cover letter examples, please refer to the Career Planning & Development Center’s guides and samples for Cover Letter Writing.


John Link is the Assistant Director in the Webster University Career Planning & Development Center.