Here's an example of the perfect cover letter, according to Harvard career experts (2024)

Found your dream job? Don't be so confident that you'll get hired: It's very likely that there are several other qualified candidates competing for that same position.

That's where the cover letter comes in. Including a cover letter to complement your resume can be an effective way to impress hiring managers: It displays your strong writing skills, sets you apart from other applicants and shows that you went the extra mile.

Linda Spencer, associate director and coordinator of career advising at Harvard Extension School, says that a solid cover letter answers two key questions:

  1. Why are you the right fit for the job?
  2. How will you add value to the organization?

"It takes the average employer about seven seconds to review these documents," says Spencer. "They're not reading, they're skimming. So you need to make it clear right off the bat how you can add value."

Here's an example of what a strong cover letter looks like, according to Harvard career experts (click here to enlarge):

Credit: Harvard University, Office of Career Services / Harvard Extension School, Career and Academic Resource Center

Don't know where to start? The career experts share tips on how to write a cover letter that stands out:

1. Address the letter to a specific person

"To whom it may concern" is one of the fastest ways to get your application deleted. Always try to address your letter to a specific person — usually the hiring manager or department head. Include their name, title, company and address at the very top below the date.

If you don't know who to address, LinkedIn is a great place to start. Simply enter the company name and some keywords into the search bar (e.g., "Google, hiring manager, sales") and a variety of related profiles will appear.

2. Clearly state the purpose of your letter

Your opening line doesn't need to be anything extravagant. In fact, it should be the complete opposite, according Harvard's career experts.

Keep it simple and straightforward: State why you're writing, the position you're applying for and, if applicable, how you found the job listing.

3. Don't rehash your entire resume

You're not writing a 1,000-word essay that summarizes your resume. The cover letter is your chance to explain why you're genuinely interested in the company and its mission.

No need to make it super formal, either. Use your own voice and add some personal flourishes to make the letter more interesting.

"If you have relevant school or work experience, be sure to point it out with one or two key examples," the career experts note. "Emphasize skills or abilities that relate to the job. Be sure to do this in a confident manner and keep in mind that the reader will also view your letter as an example of your writing skills."

4. Use action words and don't overuse the pronoun "I"

Instead of using flowery words and cliche claims like "fast thinker" and "highly creative," go for action words.

Here are a few examples of action verbs to use when highlighting specific skills:

  • To demonstrate leadership skills: Accomplished, contracted, assigned, directed, orchestrated, headed, delegated
  • To demonstrate communication skills: Addressed, translated, presented, negotiated, moderated, promoted, edited
  • To demonstrate research skills: Constructed, examined, critique, systematized, investigated, modeled, formulated
  • To demonstrate creative skills: Revitalized, redesigned, developed, integrated, conceptualized, fashioned, shaped

Avoid using too many "I" statements because it can come off as though you're mostly interested in what you can gain from the company. The focus should be on what the company can gain from you.

5. Reiterate your enthusiasm and thank the reader

The closing of your letter should:

  • Reiterate your interest in the position
  • Thank the reader for his or her consideration
  • State that you look forward hearing back from them
  • Include your signature at the very bottom

6. Be consistent in formatting

Visual consistency makes a big difference. Keep your letter to just one page and use the same font (and size) as you did for your resume. If you're converting the letter to a PDF, make sure the formatting is translated properly.

Dustin McKissen is the founder of McKissen + Company, a strategic communications firm in St. Charles, Missouri. He was also named one of LinkedIn's "Top Voices in Management and Corporate Culture." Follow him on LinkedIn here.

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What makes a good cover letter Harvard? ›

A good way to create a response-producing cover letter is to highlight your skills or experiences that are most applicable to the job or industry and to tailor the letter to the specific organization you are applying to. Some general rules about letters: Address your letters to a specific person if you can.

What is an example of a good covering letter? ›

I am a conscientious person who works hard and pays attention to detail. I'm flexible, quick to pick up new skills and eager to learn from others. I also have lots of ideas and enthusiasm. I'm keen to work for a company with a great reputation and high profile like [insert company name].

What is my perfect cover letter? ›

Wondering what to write in a cover letter? Generally, cover letters should tell employers why you're the best fit for your target job. Write about your background and how it fits the job, show your personality and explain precisely what you can do for the employer and how.

What are the 8 things experts say should be in a good cover letter? ›

What are you supposed to put in a cover letter?
  • Your contact information.
  • A professional salutation.
  • An introduction to the hiring manager.
  • Your most important qualifications.
  • A strong closing that motivates them to take action.
  • Your signature.
Feb 16, 2023

What makes you stand out in Harvard application? ›

Beyond academic achievements, Harvard seeks students who exhibit intellectual vitality and a genuine passion for learning. Admissions officers are keen on understanding an applicant's intellectual pursuits beyond the classroom, such as research projects, academic competitions, or independent study programs.

What does Harvard look for in college applicants? ›

While the heart of the matter will always lie in academic promise, we prize candidates with special talents and with outstanding personal qualities; we are interested in students who excel in one or more extracurricular activities; and we seek a distinctive and diverse national and international student body.

What is a good opening sentence for a cover letter? ›

Examples of Cover Letter Opening Sentences

I am writing to express my strong interest in the international marketing position open at WellCam, Inc. My colleague Janna Doling recommended that I contact you directly about this position, owing to the years I have spent developing successful campaigns for XYZ company.

What makes a strong cover letter? ›

Provide details about your accomplishments and impact. Connect how these experiences have prepared you for this role and why you are motivated to do this job. There is no need to apologize if you feel you lack experience; focus on the accomplishments that you have.

What are the 4 tips for a great cover letter? ›

4 Great Tips for an Effective Cover Letter
  • The Right Format.
  • Customize Your Cover Letters.
  • Build Upon Your Resume.
  • Let Your Personality Shine Through.
Jan 18, 2023

How do you write a clever cover letter? ›

How to write a creative cover letter
  1. Research the company. ...
  2. Write a unique opening paragraph. ...
  3. Tell them why you're interested in the company. ...
  4. Highlight what sets you apart. ...
  5. Proofread and personalize.
Jul 28, 2023

What are the top three things that should be in an impressive cover letter? ›

Beyond that, Siegel boils down the most important things to include in a cover letter to three points. “Show enthusiasm, show you've done research, and show you want to come in there and make a contribution,” he says.

What do recruiters look for in a cover letter? ›

Look for Personality, Promise, and Proof

Look for personality, promise, and proof. Any candidate that can break free of the “I am writing to apply for” mold, clearly articulate how they'd solve your problem, and provide evidence from their past that proves their abilities is well worth your time.

What are the four important sentences for the cover letter? ›

Your cover letter does this by touching on four points about your career: your yesterday, your today, your tomorrow, and your enthusiasm. One great sentence for each of these points is all you'll need. And it should invite response by making it very clear what you're looking to do next and why.

What are two things that should always be in a cover letter? ›

There are seven sections that every cover letter should include to fit employer expectations and highlight your best qualities:
  • Header. All cover letters start with a header that includes your contact information. ...
  • Greeting. ...
  • Introduction. ...
  • Qualifications. ...
  • Values and goals. ...
  • Call to action. ...
  • Signature.
Jul 31, 2023

What does Harvard look for the most? ›

Aim for a 1580 SAT and 36 ACT (the 75th percentile)

The middle 50% of Harvard's class of 2025 earned SAT scores of 1480-1580 and ACT scores of 33-36. Any score in the middle 50% is good, however, the higher in the range you score, the better your odds of admission are.

What does Harvard look for on a resume? ›

Your work experience will also include information regarding your skills and how you used them to achieve your accomplishments. The education section of your Harvard resume can also include your academic accomplishments. Don't limit yourself to GPA and honors; you can also include: Test scores.

What font is the Harvard cover letter? ›

Stick to a common font like Times New Roman or Ariel, and avoid text boxes, underlining, or shading. Font size should be between 10 and 12 point, and kept consistent throughout the document. Margins should be equal all the way around the page, and should be at least half an inch in size.

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