Six Elements That Form a Quality Cover Letter

By Dr. Howard Gauthier

A quality cover letter is a key marketing tool that helps to sell you in the application process.  Each cover letter you write will need to be specific to the organization where you are applying for a job. The purpose of the cover letter is to introduce you and your resume to the search committee (or hiring manager).  It should tell them who you are, how you meet the qualifications of the job, any applicable accomplishments you have, and why you are a good fit for the position.

The format of the cover letter should consist of the following six elements:

  • Heading – The format of the cover letter will begin with you typing your address at least one inch down from the top of the page.  This is followed by the current date.  Space four times and type the name of the person whom you are sending the letter to (include their title: Dr., Ms., Mr.), the title of their position, the name of the employer, and the address of the employer.  This is the heading of your letter and it will be followed by the salutation.
  • Salutation – The salutation is the proper introduction to the letter.  It should include “Dear” and then the person’s title and their last name.  Always attempt to address the letter to the appropriate person and not “To Whom it May Concern”.   Also, always address the person with their proper title (Mr., Ms., Dr.) and their last name. 
  • Opening Paragraph – The letter itself will be a minimum of three paragraphs and a maximum of five.  The first paragraph is an introduction, and it tells the search committee which job you are applying for (e.g. “I am applying for the position of . . .”), and what actions you are taking to make application (e.g. “Enclosed are my resume and a list of references”). 
  • Body – The body of the letter follows the introduction and it needs to sell you. The body will range between one and three paragraphs.  It is designed to show how you meet the qualifications of the position (education and experience); what strengths, abilities, and traits you would bring to the organization; and what accomplishments you have achieved in a similar type position.  The body is followed by the closing paragraph.
  • Closing Paragraph – The closing paragraph is a summary of your interest in the job and it explains why you are a good fit for the position.  This is followed by the complimentary close.
  • The Complimentary Close – After the closing paragraph, double space and type your complimentary close (e.g. Sincerely) followed by a comma.  Space four times and type your name.  The space between the close and your name is where you are to sign the letter.  Always remember to sign the letter with a black or navy ballpoint pen.  Too many times people are eliminated because they forget to sign the letter.  If you are sending your materials via e-mail, type your name in the signature space, change the font to a handwriting style (e.g. Handwriting – Dakota), and increase the font size to make it look as if you signed your name.

A well-crafted cover letter is necessary in selling you as an applicant.  It will prompt the reader to want to take a closer look at you and your resume.  However, a poorly written letter can eliminate you from consideration.  If you are going to take the time to apply for a job, do it right by writing an outstanding cover letter that really sells you.

Remember, ultimately the job will go to the candidate who is best prepared and who effectively executes the basics of the job search process.  This includes writing a quality cover letter that really sells you.  In all you do, you will want to EXECUTE FOR SUCCESS!


Howard Gauthier is an Associate Professor of Athletic Administration at Idaho State University.  He is a former collegiate athletic director and collegiate basketball coach.  He is also an author of 9 books.  Check out his book, Getting Hired In College Sports – 2nd Edition at or his newest book Execute for Success at


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Director of Athletics
Sonoma State University


4 thoughts on “Six Elements That Form a Quality Cover Letter

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