Cover Letters

A cover letter is a one-page document that introduces you to an employer and gives that employer additional context about the qualifications, skills, and experience that you have outlined in your résumé. Always include a cover letter for a job application if you have the opportunity to do so!


  • There is no such thing as a generic cover letter! Customize each letter to the specific position, emphasizing your relevant skills and experience.
  • Address the letter to a specific person if possible. Otherwise, "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Search Committee Chair" is acceptable.
  • Use a standard (block text) business letter format and the same standard 10–12-point typeface (e.g., Times New Roman, Arial, Tahoma, Garamond) that you are using for your résumé.
  • Keep the letter to one page or less.
  • Proofread your letter carefully before sending it.

Suggested Layout

A cover letter generally has three main parts: an introduction (one paragraph), a body (usually one to three paragraphs), and a conclusion (one paragraph).


  • Explain why you are interested in the company, institution, or organization and in the specific position to which you are applying (reference a job title and/or number, if available). Indicate where or how you found out about the position (Nittany Lion Careers, The Chronicle of Higher Education, institutional website, personal referral, etc.).
  • The last sentence of your introductory paragraph should provide an overview of the topics you plan to cover in the rest of the letter. Examples:
    • "My internship experience last summer working in the automotive industry, my leadership skills as president of the Engineering Student Council last year, and my volunteer work as a math tutor have all prepared me well for this position".
    • "My research experience last summer and my first-year student teaching background have prepared me well for this position."


  • Make the case for your candidacy by providing specific examples of your experience and qualifications for the position you want. Use keywords from the job description to show that you understand what the position entails.
  • Identify specific examples that highlight at least two or three of your skills and/or paid or unpaid work that fit the job description.
  • If you don't have the exact type of experience the employer wants, emphasize your transferable skills (e.g., discuss your leadership potential at the company based on leadership experience you've had in student organizations, or emphasize research in a similar or related area).


  • Restate your interest in the job and the company and briefly summarize your strengths and qualifications.
  • Indicate your interest in an interview if you know the company or institution will be interviewing soon and state that you will follow up regarding the position within a specific time frame.
  • Sign off with "Sincerely" or "Best regards" and your name.

See our Sample Job Search Documents page for links to different types of cover letters.

Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Optimization Tips

Employers are increasingly using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to filter job search documents—such as résumés, CVs, and cover letters—using keywords such as job titles or specific skills. An ATS can store and track job search documents and help hiring managers by screening for the most appropriate candidates to contact and potentially interview.

To increase the likelihood that your cover letter makes it through the initial screen and into the hands of a real person, it’s important to make it as ATS-friendly as possible. 


  • Create the document from scratch, using Microsoft Word. Avoid templates, especially fancy ones that include graphic elements and colors.
  • Use well-known, easy-to-read font styles.
  • Don’t use text boxes or graphics, including special characters or symbols; these can confuse the ATS.
  • If including URLs, use the whole address (e.g.,
  • Maintain a one-inch margin on all sides of the document.


  • Follow any instructions that the ATS presents.
  • Review the job posting carefully and try to identify keywords pertaining to what the employer is seeking. Incorporate exact keywords from the job description wherever possible in your cover letter to describe your skills and experience.
  • Submit your cover letter in .doc, .docx, or PDF format.

Check how well your cover letter is optimized by using a service such as Jobscan, which provides up to five document scans a month for free (although you must create an account to use the service).

Learn More: Cover Letters


Engineering Career Resources & Employer Relations

College of Engineering

117 Hammond Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4710

Phone: 814-863-1032