Student Professional Development Center

Frequently Asked Questions About Cover Letters 

Writing a cover letter can be very confusing! We’ve talked to students, alumni, career service professionals, and employers to get the most common cover letter questions answered just for you. If you have further questions about formatting, check out our cover letter outlines and our expert tips.

What is a cover letter? Do I even need one? 

A cover letter is your sales pitch. Your cover letter tells an employer how your skills, experience, and personality can benefit their company. A cover letter highlights specific experiences that are relevant to that particular employer. A great cover letter can greatly increase your chances of getting an interview that could lead to a job or internship!

How do I address a cover letter if I do not know the hiring manager’s name?

There is a structured format for how to put a mailing address, date, and opening salutation on a cover letter, although everyone has a different approach. It is preferable to have a specific person’s name, such as Rita Recruiter; this shows that you have researched the organization and are reaching out to a specific individual. Use LinkedIn, the organization’s website, or even call the organization to get a specific name and their title – and make sure you spell everything right!

If you absolutely cannot find a specific individual to address, the opening salutation can be “To the Hiring Manager.” We strongly advise against using “To Whom It May Concern.”

How long should my cover letter be? 

Cover letters should NEVER be longer than a page. Three to four paragraphs of approximately four sentences each should give you enough space to cover all the relevant information.

Our cover letter outlines and real-world examples show various options for how to write and organize a cover letter.

Can’t the recruiter just read my resume to get the information they need? 

No! A cover letter allows you to express your enthusiasm for the organization, highlight specific skills, and persuade the employer to give you an interview. Always send a cover letter with your resume, and make sure that both the cover letter and resume are written with that specific organization in mind.

What is the most common cover letter mistake?

One of the most common mistakes job seekers make on cover letters is not creating a unique cover letter. Each new cover letter can follow the same format, but needs to address the specific job description, specific organization, and specific key words used by the employer. Having a general cover letter that you send to all employers is NOT a smart approach.

Do I tell the employer that I will contact them , or do I wait for them to contact me? 

It is always wise to follow-up with the employer, as it shows that you are truly interested in the job opening and the organization. However, it does not need to be explicitly stated in your cover letter.

It is your personal decision to decide whether or not you want to tell the employer that you will contact them in a few weeks to check on your application. If you choose to include it in your cover letter, make sure you that you keep that promise!