A well-written cover letter offers an additional opportunity beyond your resume to highlight your qualifications and set you apart from other applicants. In many cases, including an engaging cover letter with your application can help you move closer to receiving an invitation for an interview.
Our previous post, Quick and Easy Steps to Build Your Cover Letter, included information on how to organize and structure the content of your letter; this post addresses seven common cover letter questions that students have asked our staff during Career Planning and Development presentations and career advising sessions. Refer to the dos and don’ts for each question as you write or enhance your letter.
- What Should I Focus On in My Cover Letter?
Don’t make the letter all about what the job will offer you, such as your desire for benefits or opportunities for advancement.
Do keep your cover letter focused on what you have to offer – your strengths, accomplishments, qualifications, enthusiasm for the job, and interest in the organization.
- Should My Cover Letter Be Generic or Specific?
Don’t send out one generic cover letter to multiple employers with general statements that you can use for any job application.
Do take time to tailor your cover letter to the job description with specific examples of your relevant skills and accomplishments.
- How Should I Address My Qualifications for the Job?
Don’t point out qualifications that you don’t have or include qualifications that are not relevant to the position.
Do focus on the qualifications you have that specifically match the needs of the employer and position.
- What Information Should I Share About My Previous Employer(s)?
Don’t share negative experiences or personal feelings about your previous employer. If you were laid off from a job or left an employer due to challenging circumstances, avoid providing details about why you left.
Do keep your letter positive, highlighting the knowledge and experience that you gained during your prior work roles that could benefit the employer.
- How Do I Address Employment Gaps?
Don’t share detailed information about the reasons for an employment gap, such as your health or the health of family members.
Do include any volunteering, professional activities, or academic work you engaged in while not working, especially if you have recent gaps in your employment.
- When Should I Bring Up Salary or Relocation Fees?
Don’t include your expected salary or request relocation fees in your cover letter.
Do postpone discussions on salary or relocation fees until later in the application process, after you’ve had the opportunity to show how you are a great fit for the position and, ideally, after you have a job offer.
- Should I Disclose a Disability?
Don’t disclose your disability without first considering the pros and cons of disclosing.
Do remember that the decision of whether to disclose a disability in a cover letter is a personal choice. Our typical recommendation is to avoid disclosing a disability in the cover letter. Instead, consider disclosing later in the hiring process, depending on your need for accommodations to perform the job. There may be exceptions, though, such as an application for a job as an advocate for people with disabilities. In this case, sharing information about the lived experience of having a disability may be a relevant qualification. Determine your own best strategy. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers guidance on how to disclose a disability and request accommodations.
Ready to start writing your cover letter? We have excellent resources on the Career Planning and Development website to help you craft impactful and engaging cover letters.
Read the blog article: Quick and Easy Steps to Building Your Cover Letter
View the webinar: Create a Custom Cover Letter
View the video: Marketing Yourself Through Resumes and Cover Letters
Explore cover letter samples: Custom Samples
Create an account in the SkillsFirst career management system to access custom cover letter templates (If you are a student, use your Walden email and password to create an account. If you are an alum, contact email@example.com for a code to create an account).
Written by Denise Pranke, Specialist, Department of Career Planning and Development