Cover Letter Advice & Guidelines
Your cover letter matters, and yes, you need to include one in your job application. So we’ve revamped our cover letter and resume writing tips for 2021 to help you get a job in today’s challenging job market. Our must-follow advice will help you learn how to write a cover letter that earns you more interviews.
Pair these tips with a thorough review of cover letter examples in your industry to help you write a cover letter that will land you a new job.
Table of Contents
- 3 Key Tips for Writing Perfect Cover Letter
- Cover Letter Introduction Tips
- Cover Letter Body Tips
- Cover Letter Ending Tips
- 3 Tips for Submitting a Cover Letter
3 Tips for Writing a Perfect Cover Letter
1. Make it easy to read (and match it with your resume)
No matter how beautifully you write, no matter how compelling your story is, an ugly-looking cover letter will never get attention. Here’s how to make sure yours is readable and attractive.
- Font: Choose one of our recommended resume fonts. Don’t set the font size below 12 points. Remember, business letters should look conservative in general.
- Margins: Set your cover letter’s margins to 1″ or 1½”. Depending on how long or short your cover letter is, you should play with the margins. Make sure your cover letter looks filled out, but also not overly stuffed with words.
Your font style, sizes, and colors should match the ones you pick for your resume, or your application is at risk of looking unprofessional. Fortunately, we make it easy for you by providing downloadable resume templates and matching cover letter templates.
2. Keep it to a single page
Hiring managers are pressed for time. They won’t read a multi-page cover letter — its very length would indicate that you’re a rambling, imprecise, and therefore unappealing candidate anyway.
Keep yours to one page, but don’t fill it up completely. The example on the left shows how long your cover letter should be (which is about 300–500 words). Check out our short cover letter examples if you need some help keeping your cover letter brief.
3. Write unique cover letters for each company
Every company has a unique problem they’re trying to solve through hiring. Even if you’re sending out several applications for the same position, tailor your cover letters to individually address each company’s problems.
Don’t just explain that you’re competent at your job — demonstrate your awareness of the company’s goals, and how you can help achieve them. By doing so, your cover letter will be far more compelling, and frame you as a thoughtful and engaging candidate.
4 Tips for Your Cover Letter’s Introduction
Here’s how to start a cover letter in a way that will grab the hiring manager’s attention, and keep them reading to the end:
1. Avoid Using “To Whom It May Concern” and
“Dear Sir or Madam”
When addressing your cover letter, don’t choose the lazy salutations “To Whom It May Concern,” “Dear Sir/Madam,” or “Dear Hiring Manager” — unless your goal is to blend in with other boring job seekers.
Find out the hiring manager’s name, and address your letter to them. If it’s not specified in the job posting, check the company’s website or Linkedin. You should even call or email the company’s human resources department to ask for the right name if necessary.
Even if you get the name wrong, addressing your letter to a real person is always better than not doing so.
2. Don’t write “I’m writing to apply for [Position Name]”
Don’t open your cover letter with this overused and clichéd sentence. While it’s direct, it’s also boring. Using it robs you of an opportunity to be interesting and hook the hiring manager’s attention — and ultimately land a job interview.
There are several interesting ways to start a cover letter. For instance, you can choose to be creative, funny, passionate, or accomplishment-focused. Here’s a great cover letter intro:
“I’m excited to be applying for the open English teacher role at Hartford Academy. I recently read an article in the Springfield Herald about your successes implementing comprehensive support and training for underperforming students and teachers. I’d be honored to become part of a school that has a clear and strong mission, and help push it forward.”
Why is this good? It shows that the applicant cares about their local community, and has taken an interest in the school’s success. This type of introduction goes beyond what hiring managers are used to seeing from applicants, and will likely help this candidate land an interview.
3. Start with confidence — but don’t be arrogant
The biggest mistakes you can make when starting a cover letter are coming off as apologetic, or coming off as arrogant. Never apologize for anything, whether it’s a lack of experience, or a work gap that’s hard to explain. Never brag or make wild, unprovable claims about your skills and abilities.
Your approach should be bold, but measured. You’re here to apply for a job because you can prove you have the necessary skills and accomplishments to get the job done. Write your cover letter with that attitude.
“Despite my 2 year work gap, I have all of the skills needed to perform well in your office manager position.”
“Managers and employees alike love my outgoing attitude and insanely strong work ethic. My boss told me I’m literally the best employee she’s ever had.”
4. Mention your connection to the company
If you know anyone who works for the company and recommended you apply, your cover letter introduction is the place to mention it.
This is one of the quickest ways to build rapport with a hiring manager and get them to notice your application. Seeing that a current employee considers you to be capable and a good culture fit immediately makes employers more willing to give you a chance.
8 Tips for Your Cover Letter’s Body
This is where you’ll convince the hiring manager that you’re the perfect candidate for the job.
1. Expand on your resume — don’t repeat it
Your resume neatly lays out your work history, skills, and accomplishments in organized bullet points. Your cover letter should expand on your resume, explaining how your experience is relevant to the target company, and why hiring you is a good idea.
In other words, if you simply repeat what’s in your resume on your cover letter, you’re only doing half of the job. 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
2. Quantify your accomplishments
Both your resume and cover letter should show hard evidence of your accomplishments (with numbers). For instance, instead of just saying that you “increased sales”, you’d say that you “increased sales by 10%.”
Without quantifying your accomplishments, your cover letter (and resume) will make a weak impression. An employee who simply does rote tasks, without apparently accomplishing anything, won’t make a strong job candidate.
There are a number of 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”
3. Demonstrate that you’re a cultural fit
Companies increasingly prefer to hire people who fit into their corporate culture. Job seekers also care more about the values and principles that companies believe in before applying.
To ensure that you’re a good match for a company’s culture — and that your cover letter reflects it — check their 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 they’re 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 attitude that the company conveys in its materials. Think about reflecting visual cues, too — if their website is minimally designed, consider using a simple cover letter template.
4. Avoid clichés
Are you a “self-motivated” “go-getter” who “thinks outside the box” and works “synergistically” in teams. Do you think of yourself as “dynamic” and a “problem solver”?
These are common clichés that ruin cover letters, draining them of life and meaning. Don’t use them. Instead, describe your work experience in concrete terms, and provide hard evidence of your achievements.
“I’m a self-motivated college student who thinks outside the box. In my current internship, I’m well known for being a problem solver who frequently comes up with dynamic solutions for complex problems.”
5. Choose strong action verbs to describe your experience
One way to avoid using clichés is to use strong action verbs that accurately describe your work experience and performance. The best action verbs can convey your leadership, talent, and initiative in the way you performed your duties at previous companies.
Compare the following examples:
“Met with representatives of other companies to improve relationships.”
“Cultivated relationships with representatives of other companies.”
“Cultivated” is a better choice than “met” because it shows you had a much more active role in forming and maintaining relationships with other businesses. “Met” simply implies that you were present in meetings but doesn’t reveal how you accomplished anything.
6. Clarify your abbreviations and acronyms — use jargon sparingly
You should spell out abbreviations and acronyms on their first use for two reasons.
First, it makes your cover letter easier to read. While part of becoming a professional means learning acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon associated with your industry, you should still assume your reader is a layman. Including them in your cover letter will make you seem knowledgeable — but do so sparingly.
Second, your resume and cover letter may first go through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). This software scans your application for industry-relevant keywords and phrases to automatically detect if you’re a good candidate or not.
Spelling out acronyms and abbreviations will ensure that you’re hitting relevant keywords. But don’t overreact and stuff your application full of jargon and lingo. The software will detect keyword stuffing anyway (and then reject your application).
“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.”
7. Show a little personality
Employers don’t want to just hire a list of qualifications, they want to hire an actual person they can trust and enjoy working with. Your cover letter is the place to elaborate on what makes you interested in the position, and gives employers a glimpse at what kind of employee you are.
While you should always keep your cover letter professional, avoid using unnatural language like “I would like to express my sincerest interest in this stimulating position.” Instead, write in formal but concise language.
Additionally, explain why you’re personally interested in the job, whether it’s the company culture or the work itself.
8. Demonstrate your remote experience
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 that you’re capable of delivering results whether in-person or fully online. Simply mention something you accomplished at work despite having to move fully remote.
3 Tips for Your Cover Letter’s Ending
Don’t skip any steps here — ensure that your cover letter closes professionally and convincingly.
1. Directly tell the hiring manager to contact you
Don’t be shy about making a demand 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).
2. Finish with a common sign-off, and add a real signature
Sign-off: No need to get fancy here. Finish your cover letter with any of the following:
- Thank you
- Kind regards
- Best regards
Signature: To add some professional flair, leave enough space below your sign-off and your typed full name to add a handwritten signature. Here’s how to do that:
- Option 1: Print out your cover letter, and in that space, sign your name in black or blue pen. Scan your signed cover letter onto your computer.
- Option 2: Sign your name on a piece of paper, scan it into your computer, and make your signature into an image (saved as a .png). Simply insert this signature image into every version of your cover letter.
When you’re done, it should look like the example on the left.
3. (Optional) Use an eye-catching postscript (P.S.)
Over 90% of readers read the P.S. before the letter because it’s short and digestible. If you can do so tactfully, use this fact to your advantage and include a P.S. that will make you stand out even more.
Don’t jam one in for no good reason, though. Career experts recommend only doing this if you have a message that just doesn’t fit anywhere else on your cover letter, like a personal connection or common interest you want to give a shoutout to.
Here are two good cover letter P.S. examples:
“P.S.: I saw on your company’s blog that you attended the Content Marketing World conference last year. I attended as well — I’d love to get your takes on the speakers if we have time during the interview.”
“P.S.: I couldn’t help but notice from your Twitter profile that you’re a hardcore Dolphins fan. I respect your grit and determination in these hard times ;)”
3 Tips for Submitting a Cover Letter
Don’t waste your hard effort by sending a cover letter with small mistakes, or failing to follow submission requirements. Do the following:
1. Proofread it first
Don’t even think about submitting 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.
2. Get a second opinion
Ask someone you trust to read your cover letter. They can help you assess its clarity, effectiveness, and readability. They’ll likely pick up on any missed grammar errors or typos, too.
3. Study the job listing’s submission requirements
Read through all the requirements in the job description, and follow the instructions perfectly. Don’t miss any small details and risk looking sloppy (or having your application rejected immediately). Keep an eye out for instructions regarding:
- 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? Don’t forget the spelling of “resume” is important. If the instructions call it a “résumé,” you should use accents too.
- Attachment naming conventions: Did you include your name in the filenames for all attachments? e.g., “Naomi Smalls — Cover Letter.pdf”
- Other: Did you follow all other instructions? Some companies will include odd instructions that you must follow to see if you’re paying attention — like including a specific keyword on your cover letter.
Don’t Ignore Cover Letter Advice
Writing cover letters isn’t particularly exciting, but it’s important to spend time and energy presenting yourself as a consummate professional. Don’t give recruiters any excuse to think that you’re not a clear thinker, a strong writer, and a detail-oriented person. A sloppy cover letter will do the opposite — so follow our tips, and land the job that you deserve.
Good luck on the job search!