The cover letter is one of your marketing documents (in addition to your resume) and your opportunity to bring additional focus to your resume with a specific reader in mind. You will write a unique and well-researched letter for every opportunity to which you apply.
Before you begin constructing your cover letter, we encourage you to consider your lens. What we mean is that we want you to adopt the mindset, or lens, of the person who will make the hiring decision.
- What are the most important qualities needed to be successful in this role?
- What type of candidate will progress to the interview?
Many of the answers you seek are found in the job description or through a conversation with a professional who works for the organization. Use all of these resources to identify the most important messages that you need to convey about your story in the cover letter.
A Cover letter is an opportunity to tell your story in a compelling way by making a claim and substantiating that claim with examples.
- Academic Career Prep
- Campus Recruiting
- Career Fair Prep
- Communication Guide
- Cover Letter
- Curriculum Vitae (CV)
- Disability Disclosure in the Job Search
- Informational Interviewing
- Interviewing–Technical Interviewing
- Job & Career Research LibGuide
(for actual library catalog subject headings and other resources)
- Networking & LinkedIn
- Postdoc Search
- Professional Goal Setting
- Salary and Offers
- Time Management
It follows much of the same structure as an essay.
- Present a clear thesis.
- Provide evidence to support your claims.
- Bring the story to a close with a succinct and compelling conclusion.
Not sure a cover letter is necessary? Think of the cover letter as part of the resume. If someone asks for a resume, send a resume plus a cover letter, unless there is an explicit request otherwise. This is standard practice. Also, if you are applying online and have a small text box in which to provide additional information, consider this an opportunity for a mini-cover letter.
Steps to Success
Start online with the Optimal Cover Letter Builder
The Duke Career Center will not be renewing our partnership with OptimalResume/LetterBuilder and we will no longer have access to this tool after March 31, 2021. If you haven't used the tool before, we do not recommend beginning now–take advantage of the many other resources you find here.
If you are new to cover letter writing, take this short course to get an overview of the most important aspects of a successful cover letter.
In this course, you will learn about the purpose, value, and ways to prepare and develop a strong letter.
Make a strong first impression
in the first sentence of the first paragraph. A persuasive first sentence tells the reader that you are serious and keeps them reading. Interesting and compelling information about your candidacy should be introduced in your first paragraph. The final paragraph is too late.
Go beyond general statements
that could be true for the majority of candidates. Common qualities or characteristics will not help you to uniquely stand out. Trust the resume to cover the basics and use the cover letter to highlight bigger patterns of success or share an anecdote about your achievements that relates to a requirement of the position.
Tell the reader about you.
Communicate your interest and motivation to apply by connecting your background and interests to your knowledge of the organization. Avoid reporting facts. The reader already knows his or her organization but wants to know about you and why you are applying. This is a great opportunity to show your level of research of the position.
Use evidence to build credibility
around every claim in your letter. The reader wants to believe you and needs detailed illustrations of your past success to do so. If you have included more than a couple of claims (two or three are sufficient) about your ability to thrive in the job, you are sacrificing depth for breadth and duplicating the work that the resume should do. Move extra information for the cover letter to the resume to improve it and trust the resume.
Look through our Academic Job Search Guide for information on what goes into an academic cover letter.
Use this table as an example and create your own. Do this work ahead of time and writing an effective cover letter will be a much simpler process.
Your Skill or Certification
Where You Developed or Used the Skill
Sentence for Cover Letter
Internship with Microsoft
The three year research experience developed my proficiency in C++ programming and MATLAB scripting.
Student Organization at Duke
As President of the Biomedical Engineering society, I developed greater leadership and organizational skills through my experience planning an annual career conference featuring 80 alumni panelists and over three hundred attendees.
Internship at RTI International
At RTI International, the success of my internship in Innovation and Commercialization depended on my ability to interact with a variety of professionals. To achieve these interactions I adapted my leadership skills and ability to communicate.
Official certification as a Myers-Briggs facilitator has enabled me to enhance my leadership skills through presenting to professional associations, counseling in one-on-one settings and implementing workshops for higher education institutions.
While pursuing my BS in Biomedical Engineering I obtained my EIT certification which will enable me to continue on a path to becoming a professional engineer.