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Cover Letters and References

Cover letters are the employer's first impression of you as a potential candidate; therefore, it is quite important to spend time on this document.  This letter allows you to express skills and characteristics that you cannot express in your resume. Cover letters provide a venue for you to discuss your technical and transferrable skills illustrated by solid examples. Follow the standard cover letter outline to assist you with your first draft. 

You must sound confident in your letter, emphasizing your positive qualities and how you will be an excellent fit for the position.

  • Write to a specific person, using his or her name and title. Never send a cover letter addressed "Dear Sir or Madam" or "To whom it may concern." Usually you can get a specific name by calling the organization or looking in a business directory. If possible, address your letter to the "decision maker" (the person for whom you would be working), not the Human Resources Department.
  • Demonstrate your knowledge of the organization. Do some research on the company and briefly express what you know about the company.
  • Target your skills and experiences. Present any relevant background that may be of interest to the person you are writing. The "selling" paragraph highlights specific results achieved by you in those areas known to be important to successful job performance.
  • When appropriate, use the specific vocabulary of the industry. Every field has its own terminology. Avoid overuse.
  • Avoid frequent use of personal pronouns such as "I," "me," "my,"and "mine;" especially at the beginning of paragraphs. Vary your sentence structure by beginning sentences with prepositional phrases, connectors, and subordinate clauses.
  • Define your next step. Don't close your letter without clearly defining what you'll do next.
  • Express your appreciation. Include a statement expressing your appreciation for the employer's consideration of your employment candidacy.
  • Proofread your typed letter and have someone else proofread it.
  • Keep a copy for your file. After the application deadline passes, you will want to contact the employer about the status of your application.

When employers request references, they will be interested in people who can provide information on your performance as a student, on the job, or in extracurricular activities. Carefully select references who know you well enough to offer concrete examples of your strengths. Always contact references before you share their contact information with employers. It is helpful to bring your reference list with you to interviews;your interviewer may request it!

Make sure you provide your references with a copy of your resume. You may also want to include a brief abstract detailing the position you are seeking, what has led you to this goal, and any major accomplishments or experiences that have influenced your career path.

Your name, address, and phone number should appear at the top of your reference list. It should be printed on resume paper. “References” should appear on the page, followed by 3-5 contacts. Include the individual's name, title, work address and phone number, and e-mail address, if applicable. Place the individual whom you've known the longest at the top of the list, or else the one who can provide the most positive information about you.

For an example of what a reference list should look like, click here.