The Center for Life Beyond Reed

Cover Letters


  • Include the same header that you use on your resume.
  • Below your header, include the address of who you are writing to aligned to the left.
  • Below the address, include a space followed by the date you are applying aligned to the left.
  • To greet your reader, write “Dear [name of person you are writing to].” The name of the hiring manager is often listed in the job posting. If it’s not listed, it can usually be found by calling the organization or searching its website. If you cannot determine the name of the person, write something like “Dear Hiring Manager.” Avoid “To Whom It May Concern.”
  • All your paragraphs should be aligned to the left. Rather than using indentation, paragraph separation comes from the spaces between paragraphs.
  • After the final paragraph, write “Sincerely, YOUR NAME.”


  • Although there is no rule on how many paragraphs to include, a good guideline for starting out is to include 4 paragraphs.
  • First paragraph:
    • Use this paragraph to give a quick summary of your experiences and what you want to contribute. Make sure your enthusiasm comes through!
    • It is not necessary to recap basic information from your resume, such as your name, year in school, college, and major.
    • This paragraph does not have to be long – 2 to 3 sentences should suffice.
  • Second paragraph:
    • Describe why you are interested in this position and the company. This shows that you really care about this opportunity and the organization. If you do not have personal experience with the organization, research the company’s mission statement, website, or news stories to find something you can identify with and write about.
    • For example: My experience attending a liberal arts college has inspired me to work at Reed College, as I have found it meaningful in my own education to be exposed to a wide variety of subjects and disciplines.
  • Third paragraph:
    • Describe why you are qualified for this position. The job description likely has 5 to 10 qualifications they are looking for. You probably do not have space to address each qualification, but determine what you believe to be the most important qualifications and show how you meet or exceed those requirements.
    • Note that you should not repeat the points from your resume! Rather, dig a little deeper than the points on your resume and write more about your process and what you have learned from various experiences.
  • Fourth paragraph:
    • Reiterate your interest and qualifications in 1 to 2 concise statements.
    • Include any relevant logistics (ex. when you can start) or information for how they can reach you.
    • Thank the reader for their time/consideration.

Additional Notes

  • Make sure that you have done research on the organization and that this comes through in your writing.
  • The overall question you should keep in mind is why are you the person to solve the company’s problem? Show them!
  • As with your resume, proofread carefully and many times! Employers need candidates with attention to detail, and your resume is your chance to prove you have this skill.
  • Be clear about what you will contribute as opposed to what you will gain. For example:
    • This is a great opportunity to expand my knowledge of biology outside the classroom.


    • The skills I have gained in biology courses at Reed College will enable me to advance the research mission of this organization.

Personal Statements

Sometimes an application may ask for a personal statement instead of a cover letter, although these are much more common for graduate school, fellowship, and research applications as opposed to job and internship applications. However, if you encounter this and would like more information about writing a personal statement, please contact CLBR.

Short Answer Questions

Some job and internship applications ask for your answers to various questions, either instead of or in addition to the cover letter. Often, the questions will include a word limit, but if they do not, you can assume that 250 words is fairly standard. If your cover letter addresses some of the subjects asked about in the short answer questions, do not repeat the language used on your cover letter and instead think of new ways to explain or expand upon the material you present elsewhere in your application.

Visual outline

Please view the cover letter visual outline example to get an idea of how the information can look when it all comes together on one page.

Cover letter visual outline