Cover letters are necessary if you want to give yourself the best chance of landing work. We’ve updated both our cover letter tips and resume writing tips for 2021 job seekers, to help anyone land fulfilling work in the shifting job market of today.
Tips for Writing a Cover Letter
- Basic cover letter tips
- Writing a cover letter introduction
- Writing the body paragraph(s)
- Ending your cover letter
- Submitting your cover letter
Basic cover letter tips
Here are the fundamentals when it comes to creating a cover letter:
1. Make it easy to read (and match it with your resume)
Here’s how to make sure your cover letter is both readable and attractive.
- Font: Choose one of our recommended cover letter fonts, like Helvetica or Arial. Set the font size between 10.5 and 12 points. Remember, business letters should look conservative in general.
- Margins: Set your cover letter margins between 1″ and 1.5″. Depending on the length of your letter, you can adjust the margins. Make sure your cover letter looks full but not overly stuffed with words.
Your font style, size, and color should also match what you use on your resume to make your application feel consistent. To simplify things, try downloading a cover letter template and pairing it with a matching resume template.
2. Keep your writing to a single page
Hiring managers don’t want to read a multi-page cover letter. Anything more than one page comes off as rambling at best, and bragging at worst.
Keep your cover letter between 250-450 words, or 3-4 paragraphs. The example below shows you roughly how long your cover letter should be.
3. Write unique cover letters for each company
Every company faces distinct challenges. For each cover letter you send out, adjust your writing to address those challenges, and how you can help overcome them.
And don’t just claim you can do the job — explain how your ability to do the job fits into the company’s long-term goals. Customizing your cover letter in this way is more compelling, and portrays you as a thoughtful and engaging candidate.
Tips for writing a cover letter introduction
Here’s how to start a cover letter in a way that grabs the hiring manager’s attention and keep them reading to the end:
4. Directly address the hiring manager by name
Instead, try to find out the hiring manager’s name, and address your cover letter to them directly. If their name isn’t in the job posting, explore the company’s website or Linkedin.
And if you still have trouble tracking down the hiring manager’s name, “Dear [Department Name] Director” is a professional way to address the reader.
5. Quickly establish yourself as a qualified applicant
Many hiring managers won’t read beyond your first couple of sentences unless it’s clear you’re worth their time. So show them you are.
Make it clear to the reader that you’re qualified for the job from the beginning by highlighting your years of relevant experience and greatest professional skills. Then take it a step further by explaining how that experience and skill-set makes you the right fit for the position.
Here’s a quick example of how you show you’re ready to come in on day one and make an impact at a new company:
As a veteran English teacher of 7 years in the Washoe County School District, I’m excited to be applying for the open English teacher role at Hartford Academy in Douglas County. I recently read an article in the Douglas Herald about your successes implementing comprehensive support and training for underperforming students and teachers. I’d be honored to apply my experience working in a similar environment, and begin to immediately contribute as a teacher at Hartford Academy to help empower both instructors and the students they teach.
6. Use the writing tone most appropriate for the job you want
Your writing tone should reflect the level of job you’re applying for, as well as what’s expected in your industry.
For instance, if you’re writing a cover letter for an entry-level position at a start-up and you lack relevant work experience, your tone should express your enthusiasm, adaptability, and highlight a bit of your personality.
Here’s a good example taken from a college student’s cover letter:
My name is Clay Atkinson, and I’m excited to be applying for the position of Social Media Strategist at WizKids.io. I was ecstatic to find this opening on Indeed.com earlier this week, and feel that my familiarity with every major social media platform as well as my educational background (BA in Marketing from Illinois State University) make me a perfect fit for this particular role.
And if you’re applying for a senior management position at a Fortune 500 company, your tone should be professional and your writing should express how you’re distinctly qualified for the role. Your qualifications as an aspiring corporate professional are more critical than your enthusiasm because they prove you can actually do the job.
Here’s how a candidate for a high-powered managerial position might start their cover letter:
My name is Theo Tinsworth, the current Director of Finance at Altogen Chemicals in Austin, Texas. Over the past 14 years I’ve worked my way up as a financial expert at three different companies, and I’m now ready to take my final professional step forward and join Capital Industries as its next CFO.
7. Explain how you discovered the job opening
If you have a reference at the company you want to work at, your cover letter introduction is the place to mention that reference. Employee referrals are considered one of the best sources of good hires by employers, so why not start off by using this proven strategy?
Even if you don’t know anyone at the company, still let the employer know where you discovered the job listing. Hiring people takes energy, and hiring managers appreciate you letting them know which avenues led you to apply at their company.
Tips for writing the body paragraph(s) of a cover letter
This is where you’ll convince the hiring manager that you’re the perfect candidate for the job.
8. Expand on your resume, but don’t repeat it
Your resume neatly lays out your career (experience, skills, education, accomplishments) in organized sections and bullet points. Your cover letter then expands on your resume by explaining how your experience is relevant to the target company, and why hiring you is a good idea.
In other words, if your cover letter only rehashes the content of your resume, you’re missing the purpose of a cover letter. Your cover letter will lack the compelling pitch necessary to make a strong impression, and your application will likely be overlooked.
Try expanding on your past experience in your cover letter with these strategies:
- Go into more detail about one (or more) of your accomplishments
- Explain how your experience is relevant to solving the company’s problems
- Discuss (competently) current issues in your industry to demonstrate expertise
9. Include numbers in your accomplishments whenever possible
Both your resume and cover letter should contain hard evidence of your accomplishments, which means numbers. Instead of just saying that you “increased sales”, you ideally want to write “increased sales by 20%+.”
Without quantifying your accomplishments, your cover letter (and resume) will make less of an impression because there won’t be any context to your experience.
There are several ways you can quantify your accomplishments:
- Company goals: Looking at analytics or reports generated by your department, and assessing your contribution (whether they’re sales, production, expense saving, or customer service satisfaction targets)
- Management: Numbering how many people you’ve managed, trained, or onboarded
- Miscellaneous: Numbering customers handled per day, size of budgets managed, or KPIs achieved
As part of my duties, I handled clients’ bids, filed their taxes, and found tenants for their properties.
My clients appreciate my services. I’ve accomplished the following for them:
- Analyzed bids from contractors, leading to a 2.1% yearly decrease in expenses
- Filed taxes competently for a 47% lower incidence of tax-related penalties
- Converted approximately 65% of potential tenants into actual tenants
10. Demonstrate that you’re a cultural fit
If you seem like a good culture fit to a hiring manager, you’re immediately much closer to getting a job offer.
To learn about a company’s culture (and whether it’s a good fit for you as an individual), check the company’s website and social media profiles.
- On the company’s website: look for “About” or “Hiring” pages. These pages usually have a mission statement, communicate core values, and explain exactly the types of people it’s hoping to hire.
- On the company’s blog and social media: gauge its public-facing voice, image, and culture. Is it fun and quirky? Or is it serious and business-like — or a mix of both?
Tailor your cover letter’s tone and language to reflect the values, principles, beliefs, and attitudes that the company conveys in its materials. Think about reflecting visual cues, too — if its website is minimally designed, consider using a simple cover letter template.
11. Avoid clichés in your writing
Are you a “self-motivated go-getter” who “thinks outside the box” and loves “synergy”? Do you think of yourself as “dynamic” and a “problem solver”?
These are common clichés that will, at best, elicit eye-rolls from a hiring manager (and at worst, lead to your disqualification). Instead of these overused phrases, describe your work experience in concrete terms, and focus on your actual achievements.
12. Use strong action verbs to describe your experience
One way to avoid clichés is to use strong action verbs that accurately describe your contributions at past companies. The best action verbs effectively convey your leadership, talent, initiative, and highlight the way you actually performed your duties.
Compare the following examples:
“Met with representatives of other companies to improve relationships.”
“Cultivated relationships with representatives of other companies.”
In this context, “cultivated” better illustrates your active role in forming and maintaining business relationships. “Met” simply implies that you were present during meetings, and leaves your contributions unclear.
13. Avoid abbreviations, acronyms, and jargon
Spell out abbreviations and acronyms in your cover letter at least the first time you use them.
While part of becoming a professional means learning the acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon in your industry, assume your reader is a layperson, because they often are. For instance, most applications get vetted by either recruiters or HR departments before they’re read by a relevant professional.
Additionally, spelling out acronyms and abbreviations ensures you’re hitting relevant keywords being picked up by a company’s applicant tracking system (ATS). Unless the acronym is known by most people, spell it out.
“I used GA and GSC to analyze our content’s performance, ensuring that our BR and ToS weren’t at suboptimal levels.”
“I managed to drive 20% more traffic to my website by studying data from Google Analytics (GA) and Google Search Console (GSC). The GA and data showed that our bounce rate was significantly higher than average, and GSC revealed that people weren’t engaging with our titles. Fixing those problems saved our business.”
14. Show some personality (but not too much)
Employers don’t want to just hire a robot, they want to hire someone they feel they’d enjoy working with. And unlike your resume, your cover letter is where you provide a glimpse of what you’re like in a professional setting.
So make sure you create a good first impression to give yourself the best chance of earning an interview.
Begin by avoiding unnatural, overly formal language like “I would like to express my sincerest interest in this stimulating position.” You’re not a robot, so don’t come off as one.
Additionally, explain why you’re personally interested in the job, whether it’s the company culture or the work itself. If you can showcase why you’d be a good fit at the company, you’re already much closer to getting a job offer than before.
15. Demonstrate your ability to work remotely
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more businesses have moved their workforce online.
If you have experience working remotely, your cover letter is a great place to show employers you can deliver results whether in-person or fully online. Simply mention something you accomplished at work despite having to move fully remote in your cover letter.
“One of my proudest professional achievements came after my company switched to full-remote work in March 2020. Within a month of working fully remote, I helped get my team set up on the interactive Gather Town platform, which notably increased employee engagement, happiness, and productivity according to a mid-year HR poll.”
Tips for ending your cover letter
Out of all the cover letter tips listed on this page, the biggest one is to end your cover letter strong. We’ll show you what that means, and how to do so.
16. Finish your cover letter with enthusiasm
Don’t be shy about making a request for an interview. In your cover letter closing, provide the hiring manager with your contact information (email and phone number), and state that you look forward to an interview (preferably in-person).
You can also note how you’ll reach out in a week if you haven’t heard back from them. While considered aggressive in the UK, in the US hiring managers like to see such conviction, and often respond well to it.
17. Use a standard sign-off like “Best” or “Sincerely”
Finish your cover letter with any of the following salutations:
- Thank you
- Kind regards
- Best regards
These closings are polite and professional, so choose your favorite.
18. E-sign your cover letter
To add some professional flair to your cover letter, leave space below your sign-off to add a handwritten signature. Here are two ways to sign your document without too much trouble:
- Print out your cover letter. In the blank space at the bottom, sign your name in black or blue pen. Then scan your signed cover letter onto your computer.
- E-sign your cover letter with a tool like DocuSign.
Tips for submitting a cover letter
Don’t hurt your chances of earning interviews by sending out cover letters with minor mistakes, or simply failing to follow submission requirements.
19. Proofread your cover letter before you submit it
Don’t submit your cover letter until you’ve given it a thorough review. Run a spell check, read it over at least three times (and once out loud), and even put it into a different font before reading it again.
You can also try running it through a free tool like Grammarly to catch mistakes you may have missed.
20. Get a second opinion
Find a trusted friend or family member to read through your cover letter. They can help you assess its clarity, effectiveness, and readability. They should also notice grammar errors or typos that slipped by you.
Your cover letter is a huge opportunity to impress a hiring manager and get them excited about the idea of working with you. Don’t let that opportunity pass you by because of a minor error.
Imagine what the hiring manager will think if you claim to have “strong attention to detail”, but managed to leave a mistake in your cover letter!
21. Double check that your application fulfills the company’s submission requirements
Read through all the requirements in the job description, and follow the instructions as close as possible. Missing details at this point will make your application come off as sloppy and unserious.
Keep an eye out for instructions regarding the following application-related details in the job description:
- Subject lines: Is there a required format for the email subject line? e.g., [Name — Position]
- Required attachments: Have you included all necessary attachments, such as your resume, cover letter, and portfolio?
- File names: Did you include your name in the filenames for all attachments? e.g., “Naomi-Smalls-Cover-Letter.pdf” Even the spelling of the word “resume” is important — if the instructions call it a “résumé,” you should use accents too.
- Additional instructions: Did you follow all of the other instructions? Some companies will include odd notes — like “Type the word “Banana” in the Subject Line of your email” — to see if you’re paying attention. If you miss such a detail, your application is going to fall short, even if it’s otherwise well-written.
Cover letter tips: the checklist
Want to make sure you hit all of the tips for a cover letter we’ve outlined in this article? You can use our cover letter checklist directly on the page, or make a copy of our checklist in Google Docs and use it at your leisure.
Is your cover letter easy to read?
Is it on a single page?
Did you write your cover letter for a specific company?
Did you address the hiring manager by their full name?
Do you establish yourself as qualified in the first paragraph?
Is your writing tone appropriate for the job you want?
Did you explain how you discovered the job?
Do you expand (not repeat) on the content of your resume?
Did you include numbers in your cover letter to provide context?
Did you demonstrate how you’re a culture fit?
Is your writing free of cliches?
Did you use action verbs to describe your experience?
Were you careful to avoid using too much jargon and too many abbreviations?
Did you show some personality (but not too much)?
Do you highlight your ability to work remotely?
Does your cover letter end with sincere enthusiasm?
Did you sign off with “Best,” or “Sincerely,” and your full name?
Did you e-sign your cover letter?
Did you proofread your writing?
Did you get a second opinion on your cover letter?
Are you 100% sure your application meets the company’s submission requirements?