How To Write A Cover Letter
Cover letters and resumes are critical tools for finding work. They are your elevator pitch on paper for why you deserve the job. A quick, yet concise, snapshot of all you’ve done and all you have to offer. It’s also usually your first impression on a company and first impressions always count. Having a great resume and cover letter will help you get more interviews and land more jobs.
This article will focus on all you need to know to make the perfect cover letter. It’s the how-to and best practices I’ve learned from 15 years of crafting my own and others’ successful cover letters. Welcome to the ultimate guide for how to write a cover letter.
(Looking for my guide to writing resumes? CLICK HERE!)
What Your Cover Letter Is and Why It’s Important
The cover letter is essentially a letter of introduction. It is sent along with your job application and resume to introduce yourself to the employer and describe why you are applying to the job and how you are a good fit for the role. It’s an opportunity to go a step beyond what typically is listed on a resume and really draw attention to the things you want the employer to know the most. It’s your chance to market yourself by highlighting your most relevant strengths and making the connection between your qualities and the position you’ve applied to.
In this regard, the cover letter is an extremely important part of the job-hunting process. It’s a very important tool you can use to give yourself the edge over other similarly qualified candidates. For example, many job candidates can potentially all hold the same degree, have a similar amount of experience, and all possess the proficiencies needed for a role. It’s hard to stand out from others with resumes alone. The cover letter though is the opportunity to present all the unique qualities you have that set you above the others. This is truly the elevator pitch on paper for why YOU are the best person for the job.
Is A Cover Letter Necessary?
There is some debate over whether a cover letter is actually necessary or not when applying for jobs. This is supported by the fact that cover letters are not often “required” when submitting a job application, they are usually an optional submission. Considering the additional time and effort it takes to write a cover letter (especially a well-crafted one!), it can be tempting to just submit your resume and hope for the best.
That being said, my opinion is that you should NOT skip over the opportunity to submit a cover letter. The job market is extremely competitive and we need to give ourselves every edge and advantage we can get. Writing a cover letter gives you the best chance of getting the job. Why would you want to settle for any less?
But writing a well-crafted cover letter isn’t always the easiest. If you’re writing a cover letter just for the sake of writing a cover letter, you’re doing it wrong. It will turn out generic and poorly phrased and employers will not be impressed. That’s why I’m writing this guide. I want to share with you the knowledge that will help you write effective cover letters that always catch the positive attention of employers and help get you the job. Let’s jump right into it!
Important Considerations for Writing a Cover Letter
This is the Chance to Shine!
The cover letter is your chance to stand out as the best candidate during the initial screening in the hiring process. This is your elevator pitch. It’s the opportunity to go into some of the exact details and situations for why you’re the perfect fit for this role and why they should hire you above anyone else.
This is the true purpose of the cover letter. To state not only why you want this job, but also the reasons why you’ll be the best one for it. Always keep this principle in mind when drafting your cover letters. Its purpose is to sell you for the role.
Keep Your Cover Letter to One Page
A cover letter should never be more than one page. 3-5 paragraphs are always enough. If you have more than one page, you’ve probably written too much or provided information that is redundant or unnecessary. It’s important to remember that employers do not like to spend much time during this initial screening process and you want to get your point across as quickly as possible. The art of being succinct is one that is highly valued in all aspects of work and the cover letter is a great opportunity to hone and demonstrate that ability.
Do Not Repeat the Information on Your Resume
Cover letters often come across as generic or redundant and this is the leading cause why. A common mistake. Many folks think a good cover letter means they just take their resume and put it into narrative form. That is not the purpose of the cover letter, and it’s a bad mistake to make. DO NOT repeat things verbatim from your resume.
Instead, what you want to do is EXPAND upon the information from your resume, or provide details of other personal experiences not included on a resume that strengthen your position for the job. You want to select the key qualifications and experiences from your resume or life that are most relevant to the job and really hone in on telling the story behind them, keeping in mind the goal of using them to sell yourself as the best person for the job.
Use the Same Formatting As Your Resume
A good resume uses clean and intentional formatting and styling. This is everything from the layout of the different sections of your resume to font sizes and emphasis (bold, italics, etc). Because cover letters and resumes are sent at the same time when applying to jobs, I’ve found it helpful to focus on consistency between these documents in the way they are formatted.
Therefore, an important element of a successful cover letter is using the same format and styling that you used for your resume. If you had a certain header and footer layout for your resume, use the same in your cover letter. Stick to the same font type and sizings. I find that this consistency between the resume and cover letter tends to demonstrate a bit of forward-thinking and mindfulness on the candidate’s part to keep things organized and presentable and that goes a long way in impressing an employer.
Good Grammar Matters!
Good grammar and punctuation ALWAYS matter. Your cover letter is a document that you’re using to present yourself as the person best suited for the job. Do you really want that to be littered with typos or other errors? Sometimes a missing word or misspelling can even dramatically change the meaning of a sentence and that can be a very bad thing.
This is especially significant considering your cover letter is a prepared document and not just an ad-hoc report or quick email you’re sending off. If you make mistakes on something you’ve had time to prepare, that does not bode well for you for other situations going forward.
Now, it is possible that proper grammar and punctuation may be less important for certain positions, but good grammar and punctuation will never hurt regardless of the position. That is why you should always strive to spell check, double-check, and really scan your cover letter over for any typos or grammar errors whatsoever. There are so many free tools now like Grammarly (and many similar grammar tools out there) that make this review process a breeze. It can also be helpful printing out your cover letter or reading it out loud line by line as you may often catch errors that are less obvious while viewing it on the computer.
A Cover Letter Should Be Customized For Each Job
The idea of a “blanket cover letter” is not going to help you much in your job hunt. The main purpose of your cover letter is to provide a unique take on your skills, qualifications, and experiences that provide specific details for why you’re the best person for the job. If you’re sending the same cover letter to every job you apply for, how unique or special can it actually be? It’s very possible your “blanket cover letter” is actually the “very generic” cover letter.
In very rare cases, you MIGHT get away with this if you’re applying for jobs that are extremely similar in nature. Even then, however, you can benefit from changing elements of the cover letter in smaller ways. This may include focusing on the connection with the company themselves or providing smaller personal details that relate to the specific job or role.
I just don’t see value in using the same cover letter for multiple positions. There should always be something unique you can focus on to make each and every cover letter you write special. Best of all, this ensures you’re giving yourself the best chance of getting the role by personalizing your cover letter specifically for the job you applied to.
How To Write A Cover Letter – Putting It All Together
The Structure of a Great Cover Letter
Now it’s time to jump right into writing the cover letter. One page, writing all you can to sell yourself for the job as strongly as possible. Fortunately, writing a great cover letter doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, I would say there are really only a few parts that you need. Your top-of-the-page information (name, contact info, date, subject line, etc), then three to five paragraphs of written content, broken down to an introduction paragraph, body paragraphs, and conclusion/wrap-up paragraph. Include these and you’re definitely on the path to writing a great cover letter.
But it’s ultimately what you write in each paragraph that matters, so lets dive into deeper detail of how best to approach each section.
The Basics (Name, Contact Info, Date, Subject Line, etc)
This is information you’ll want to include either in the Header of your cover letter or at the top of your page. I often recommend using the same formatting as your resume, so in many cases, you can just pull this information directly from your resume. Either way, you’ll want to follow some basic guidelines to ensure your cover letter is in the best possible shape.
First and foremost, your name should be large enough to capture attention. You generally do want this to stand out (just like you do on your resume). Your location and contact info (email/phone number) are also typical must-haves you’ll want to include in your header.
There are just a couple more things than you’ll want to include before jumping into writing the actual cover letter. At the bare minimum, you should include the date you’re writing the letter and the subject for why you’re writing. You usually will place this after the header and immediately before the main content of your cover letter. It can look something like this:
*Cover Letter Header Info Here*
July 20th, 2019
RE: Marketing Associate Position
That’s it. This really helps your cover letter look more legitimate and professional. I’ve also seen some cover letter use a formal business memo format where they include the company’s info as well in this top section, but through my experience, I find that just the date and subject is plenty.
Now we can get into actually writing the cover letter.
This is the first paragraph of your cover letter. It should always start by addressing someone at the company as in “Dear ______” , “Hello ______”, or “To ______”. It’s very beneficial if you can find out a point of contact for the job or the hiring manager’s name to address this person directly in the cover letter, but that’s not always possible. In those cases, you can simply address the letter to the company more generically, such as “To the Hiring Managers at COMPANY X” .
With that part of it out of the way, it’s time to start writing. This first paragraph is used to introduce yourself, explain how you found the job and why you’re applying to the job, and then write a hook for why this is the right job for you. It’s similar to if you were meeting someone professionally for the first time in person. Introductions and brief backgrounds are shared. It’s also great to mention how you found the job, especially if referred by a current employer. This can score you some big points for getting the job since many companies love referred candidates.
Writing the Hook
This all leads to the “hook” you will include in this first paragraph and this “hook” is extremely important. The hook is essentially the sentence or two you write that starts to describe why you are the best person for the job. You’re not going into all the details yet, but you’re trying to turn heads here and capture the employer’s attention so they want to keep reading. If your cover letter’s first paragraph isn’t captivating enough, an employer may not take the time to read the rest.
An example of a good “hook” can be something like: “I am a _____ professional with over 10 years of experience, a history of successfully completed projects, and a drive to always be a leader and innovator in my field. I feel that these qualities match up very well to the qualifications you are looking for in this position.”
Overall, it’s very important to make this first paragraph count. You need to be succinct, yet also write well enough that you’re capturing the attention of those reading it and leaving them wanting to read more. This can very much be a make or break it paragraph so definitely take your time with it and make sure you feel confident with what you’ve written here.
Next up is the body of your cover letter. This usually consists of one to three paragraphs of content. This is where you’ll really begin to provide details about specific experiences and qualifications that best sell you for the job. It’s the chance to make your pitch or tell your story for why you’re the best person for the role. You’ve hopefully captured the interest of the employer with the “hook” from your introduction, now is the time to really impress them.
One starting point can be expanding on achievements and experiences listed on your resume. Take some of the most relevant or key experiences/qualifications from your resume and dig into the story behind them. Talk about how they make you qualified for this role. For example, this might mean talking about a project you did in a past role that required many of the qualities the employer is looking for in this job. Be specific, yet concise. Use this as an opportunity to build confidence in the employer to hire you.
Another important element you’ll want to include in the body of your cover letter is content that help makes the connection with the company or their brand and why that’s important to you. If you highly respect a company for their business practices, talk about that – why it’s important to you, and how you aspire to similar ideals. Perhaps you’re passionate or fulfilled by a certain type of position, talk about your passion for the role. If you’re a big fan of a company’s products or services and they’ve had a meaningful impact on your life, talk about that in a context of how you’re truly a brand supporter and would love the opportunity to contribute more to the company.
Whether the connection you make is personal or professional, you want to establish a reason “why”. “Why” are you applying for this job? What does it mean to you? Why should the employer hire you? These are the things you want to convey in the body of your cover letter. Try to put yourself in the employer’s shoes and imagine you were reading your own cover letter. Is the content written in the cover letter convincing enough to make you want to hire this person? You have one to three paragraphs, pick the most meaningful content relevant to the role and make it count!
This is it, the last paragraph. A fairly simple one to write, too! The ending paragraph of your cover letter should typically contain a few main parts:
- A brief summary of the content from the earlier parts of your cover letter.
- A thank you to the employer for taking the time to review your application materials.
- A call to action for the employer to contact you regarding the next steps in the hiring process.
- Your contact information and preferences (when applicable).
- Sign your name (either digital or actual signature).
The first part is simple enough. Summarize all the content you’ve written about in your cover letter in a few sentences. This is basically a reaffirmation of your interest in the role and why you are a great fit for it.
Next up is giving your thanks. You should NEVER forget this! A simple “Thank you very much for reviewing my application materials for this role. I appreciate your time and consideration.” will do the trick. This is a courtesy that goes a long way in impressing employers.
The call to action is the most important piece of your ending paragraph in my opinion. Use this sentence to express your desire to move forward in the hiring process by requesting to set up an interview or be provided with the next steps in the hiring process. I’ve personally found it helpful to use confident and assertive phrasing here. You might write something like “Let’s set up a time soon to discuss this position in more detail. I am looking forward to speaking with you!”. You can also take the more cordial approach of “I would love to set set up a time to interview with you further for this role” if this is more in your comfort zone. In short, this call to action helps entice the employer to reach out to you one way or another regarding the role.
Last but not least, you’ll want to provide your contact information and preferences. Even though this information is often in the header of the cover letter, it doesn’t hurt to briefly mention it again in the ending paragraph. I also recommend including contact preferences or the best times to be contacted to help ensure employers have the best chance of reaching you. For example, you might briefly write that email is your preferred contact method because you currently work full-time and are often unable to take phone calls throughout the day.
All that’s left to do is sign your cover letter with your name. This is a “letter” after all and should be signed as such. A digital signature works great (either computer-generated or scanned), but if you’re printing your cover letter to submit with a paper-based job application, I recommend actually just signing it for real. It’s a nice personal touch to add.
And there you have it – you’ve successfully written your cover letter! Just a few last steps now to make sure it’s good to go.
Wrapping It Up
The cover letter is now written! Just a few more things before you go and send it off with your job application.
First, review the heck out of it. Proofread it, check for typos or grammatical errors, read it out loud to see how the phrasing you used actually flows. Grammar matters and you want to make sure you’re sending out an error-free cover letter because once you send it out… there’s no going back then!
Once you’ve reviewed it and feel confident there are no errors, it’s time to save the file. I always recommend using a .pdf file, but some employers may request a Microsoft word document. If you’re applying the old school way via a paper application, print it out on some nice paper and include it with your job application. You can even truly make it a “cover letter” in this case by putting it on top of your job application packet.
Either way, digital or print, it’s now ready to send in with your job application and resume when you apply, giving you the best chances of getting the job.
A Few More Pro-Tips for Cover Letters
Save a Copy of Every Cover Letter You Write
I highly recommend saving every cover letter you ever write. I usually make a file folder on my computer for resume/cover letters and put all the resumes and cover letters I write into these folders with whatever level of organization you feel comfortable with. It will take minimal time to do this, it won’t take up a lot of space on your computer, and you just never know when you may want to go back and reference an old cover letter. These old cover letters can serve as great sources of inspiration when you might need it the most. Better to have them saved than not, it doesn’t hurt anything by having them.
Make a Cover Letter Template
Since cover letters really should be customized for each and every job you apply to, you’re likely going to be writing a lot of them when job hunting. It really helps to have a template prepared to make the process easier where possible. Set up your template with the formatting and styling you like, the appropriate elements included (header, footers, etc.) and the static information that doesn’t change like your name, contact info, etc.
It can also be extremely beneficial to include a guide for how to write your cover letter IN the template. Perhaps you can include a link to your favorite web resources for easy reference. You can also write instructions for yourself. The method I used was having three paragraphs in my template and each provided instructions to me for how to draft the different sections of the cover letter. The first paragraph summarized how to write the introduction paragraph and key information to cover. The next covered the body and the last covered the conclusion. In short, a “here’s how to write this section and make sure to focus on these things!” type of guide.
There’s a lot of ways to approach this but I found this practice to be very helpful and I think you will too. Pick a template method that makes it easiest for you to write customized cover letters with ease. Just don’t forget to delete any resources you’ve included for yourself in the final version of your cover letter!
Print Out Your Cover Letter for Review and Read It Out Loud
This all falls within the category of thoroughly reviewing your cover letter before you send it out. Most mistakes can be caught during a normal editing review on the computer, but I’ve always found it extremely beneficial to actually print out your resume and read it out loud as well. There’s something about both seeing your letter in hand on paper and reading it out loud that catches errors you often miss when editing on the computer. Misspelling and punctuation errors suddenly stand out clear as day and you may catch a lot of phrasing issues when you actually begin to read the paper out loud to yourself. This practice helps ensure your cover letter will be in tip-top shape before you send it out.
Ask Other People to Read your Cover Letter
When possible, ask others to review your cover letter. Friends, family, acquaintances, and anyone that would be willing to offer you some help. They may not be experts in cover letters or job hunting, but what they can give you is their honest feedback and interpretation of your cover letter. This may include feedback that they feel your cover letter is generic, or arrogant sounding, or poorly phrased. They may catch grammar and punctuation errors. They may wonder why you wrote about something in the third paragraph when it seems like you should have mentioned it in the first paragraph.
The various feedback you can get, good and bad, is invaluable for crafting the best cover letter you can. All these opinions and insights can also help give you a better idea for how someone may interpret your cover letter, important because the employer that reviews your cover letter is going to be one of those “someones”. If several people told you your cover letter sounded generic, an employer will probably think the same. You can use this feedback from others to help increase the odds that your cover letter is interpreted in the way you’re hoping for and does an effective job in selling you as the best person for the job.
Next Up – Don’t Forget About Your Resume!
I hope this guide helps you the next time you’re writing a cover letter so you can craft one that gives you confidence it will help get you the job. If you liked this post, be sure to check out my guide for how to write the perfect resume, too! If you have any questions about cover letters not covered in this guide, feel free to reach out or leave a comment!