Writing a cover letter is a key part of the job application process.
A great cover letter will impress potential employers, set you apart from other applicants, and get you more interviews. A poorly written cover letter will hurt your chances of landing any work at all.
Don’t write a bad one. Learn how to write a cover letter for a job, so you can create a complete application that resonates with hiring managers everywhere. Follow these simple instructions, and you’ll be able to assemble the best cover letter possible.
Table of Contents
- What is a Cover Letter?
- What to Include in a Cover Letter
- Writing a Good Cover Letter
- Formatting Cover Letters: Layout & Structure
- Other Cover Letter Writing Resources
1. What is a Cover Letter?
In short, a cover letter (sometimes called a covering letter) is a one-page document written to express why you’re the best candidate for a particular job. It is always paired with a resume, and should:
- Highlight your relevant experience
- Showcase your familiarity with the company and their goals
- Convey a bit of personality
A strong cover letter is also an essential part of a job application. A well-written cover letter can get you interviews even if your resume is lacking. A bad one, however, can make you look unprofessional and hurt your job prospects.
What is the Purpose of a Cover Letter?
Although a cover letter is brief, a good one packs a punch. If you write yours well, it can:
- Successfully introduce you to the hiring manager
- Make a strong case why you’d be a good fit for the job
- Prove your desire to work at the company
- Fill in any missing data that couldn’t be included on your resume
- Give the hiring manager a call to action
Check off these five boxes, and your covering letter will be a compelling, powerful companion to your resume.
2. What to Include in a Cover Letter
If you’re curious what to include in a cover letter, this handy chart breaks things down nicely:
Contact Information: Basic cover letter for a job info includes your details + those of the target company.
Salutation: How to address a cover letter like a professional. Do not write “To whom it may concern.”
The “Intro” Paragraph: Your cover letter introduction should grab the reader’s attention (in a good way).
The “Body” Paragraphs: A good cover letter has body paragraphs that showcase your abilities & how you fit into the company’s future.
Call-to-Action: The best cover letter CTA lets the hiring manager know when you’re available to interview, and that you will follow up if necessary.
The Sign-off: A cover letter closing should consist of “Sincerely,” “Regards,” or “Best Regards,” + your name.
3. Writing a Good Cover Letter
Not sure what to write in a cover letter? This simply written cover letter guide will help you land more interviews.
Appropriately Address Your Cover Letter
First, you must know how to address a cover letter.
Start by including the employer’s contact information as well as your own. Be careful here – a small slip-up could send your application to the wrong place. Needless to say, this diminishes your chances of getting called in for an interview.
While this example demonstrates the information you need to include in the section, there are various ways to format it. Just make sure the information is complete and correct.
Use an Appropriate Cover Letter Greeting
Next, find out to whom you’re writing.
Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. Would you rather be addressed as “To whom it may concern” or by your actual name?
Even worse, writing “Dear Sir or Madam” makes it sound like you’ve just popped out of a time machine from Victorian England.
Writing a good cover letter greeting sometimes takes a bit of research. So do it. Look through the company’s website, scour LinkedIn, and make a call to ask for the hiring manager’s name if it’s not readily apparent. Even if you end up addressing your cover letter to the wrong manager, it still looks like you’ve made an effort.
Start Your Cover Letter With a Strong Opening
You want your cover letter introduction to stick out for the right reasons, and to reflect your application in the best possible light. It all starts with your first sentence.
There’s no need to get fancy here. The first sentence of even the best cover letter should simply include,
- a personal introduction
- an explanation of how the job opening was discovered
Your opening line is like a firm handshake — a formality, but an important one nonetheless. You’ll have time to elaborate on what you bring to the table later.
|Dear [Mr./Mrs./Ms.] [Manager’s Name],
My name is Marcus Winfield, and I found your customer service position listed on Indeed.com two days ago. I have been working as a Customer Care Specialist at Satellite TV Co. for more than 2 years now, and during that time I’ve developed impeccable phone manners and an ability to politely deal with disgruntled customers. I am also accustomed to working on multiple projects simultaneously.
The rest of your first paragraph should concisely present your background. Information like your degree, area of study/expertise, career goals, and relevant experience can be touched upon, particularly in terms of how they align with the goals of the company.
Don’t be afraid to let a little personality shine in this paragraph, either. Just remember that serious companies might not share your sense of humor, and that a good cover letter should always keep things appropriate.
The Body paragraphs (2 & 3)
|Your job posting mentions a need for someone who is comfortable handling telephone sales, which happens to be an area in which I excel. Duties at my previous company included making 60 cold calls a day to businesses and private individuals in order to solicit sales for goods and services. During my tenure, I implemented a new mobile strategy, reducing training expenses by 90% and increasing the close ratio by 10% on telephone sales within 3 months.|
The second paragraph should directly respond to the job description posted by the company. Use this space to explain how your previous work experience, skills, and abilities will allow you to meet their various needs.
To make sure this section resonates with the hiring manager, you can (and should) literally include words and phrases from the job description.
The second paragraph is the “what you bring to the table” portion of your cover letter, so be sure to take your time and make it great.
|My experience at Satellite TV Co. has helped me improve my leadership skills, hone my organizational skills, and has provided me with extensive knowledge of how to upsell services and goods to potential clients. It seems that [TARGET COMPANY] is looking for someone who can come in and make an immediate, positive impact on their telephone marketing, and my proven track record plus aptitude for making cold calls would make me an instant contributor to your sales team.|
In your third paragraph, explain how you personally fit into the company’s future. Paint a clear picture of the ways you can help push the company forward and achieve any goals you suspect they have.
You’ve already proven that you’re a capable candidate in the second paragraph. Use the third one to illustrate ways you’ll take those capabilities and help the company grow and reach new heights.
The Closing Paragraph
|I’m looking forward to discussing the position and my qualifications with you in more detail soon. Please contact me at (530) 137-2467, or firstname.lastname@example.org anytime — I’m most available on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I can open my schedule if given a week’s notice. I’ll be in touch next week to follow-up in the event I don’t hear back from you, just to make sure you’ve received my application. Thank you for your time and consideration.|
Your cover letter closing should set things in motion, and push the hiring manager toward contacting you. This is best achieved by including a “call to action” (CTA).
In your CTA, inform the employer that you’d love to come in for an interview. Tell them that you’ll touch bases within a week if you don’t hear back. Thank them for taking the time to read your cover letter, and for the potential interview opportunity.
It’s important to not come off as too pushy, but you want to have conviction as well. A good cover letter sign-off will stick in the mind of the reader, so make sure yours has the tone you’re trying to convey.
Writing a Cover Letter for Unique Situations
If you’re worried about your background when writing your cover letter, understand that you aren’t the only one. Many job seekers have particular situations that may seemingly hurt their chances of landing work.
Thankfully, there are ways to downplay these situations with a good cover letter (although you might still need to address such issues during an interview). For example, if you want to transition to another industry, you’ll need a career change cover letter.
Here are several examples of scenarios that might cause a hiring manager to second guess your cover letter. If one applies to you, click on the corresponding link to learn more about ways you can handle it. Don’t let your particular situation become a roadblock in your efforts to secure a great job.
- I want to change careers/I’ve job hopped in the past
- I need a cover letter for relocation
- I have employment gaps on my resume
- I was terminated from a previous job
- I’ve been laid off in the past
- I was previously self-employed
- I have a medical issue/disability
- I need a cover letter to explain my criminal record
Connect Your Resume and Cover Letter
Tying the content (and look) of your resume into your cover letter is a great way to put a cherry on top of your application.
First, you can cover resume content in the body of your letter (a strategy that may have led to the misnomer ‘cover resume letter’).
To do this, elaborate on one of your more impressive work feats, or touch upon a relevant achievement that you had no space to explore on your resume. Just be sure to keep things consistent between your resume and cover letter, or it might get confusing for the hiring manager.
You can also make your resume match your cover letter in terms of aesthetics. Here’s an example of how it’s done:
Although the content of your application holds the most weight, it doesn’t hurt to catch the eye of whoever is vetting your resume cover letter combo. Visual elements can make your application more memorable, and end up being just the push you need to surpass an equally qualified candidate.
4. Formatting Cover Letters: Layout & Structure
Other than the on-page content, your cover letter format plays the most important role in the success of your letter. Elements such as margins, font size and style, and alignment all factor into the hiring manager’s overall impression of you.
Here are a few quick tips when styling your own:
- 1” – 1.5” margins are always a safe bet. If you are having trouble fitting everything on one page, there is some wiggle room, but be careful not to make the content look crammed together.
- Don’t go below a 12-point font unless absolutely necessary. Anything below 12 can strain the eyes.
- Font style is a matter of preference. Try to choose one that looks professional or that matches what the employer uses on their website. Keep in mind that different styles will change the size of the font.
- Maintain a uniform alignment. We suggest keeping all paragraphs left-aligned.
How Long is the Ideal Cover Letter?
Many people aren’t sure how long a cover letter should be, and get caught up in minor details like word count and paragraph length. While these points are important, remember to prioritize the content and tone.
With that said, the purpose of your cover letter is to market yourself to a busy hiring manager. Too much text will most likely hurt your chances, and too little text will make you appear as if you don’t care much for the position.
So an effective cover letter length to go with (if you’re using a word counter) is 200-300 words. It should also be three to four paragraphs, and NOT exceed one page. This gives you time to introduce yourself, hit upon your main selling points, and inform a hiring manager of your interest in the position.
5. Other Cover Letter Writing Resources
Key Resource Pages
- Cover letter examples
- Cover letter templates
- Cover letter format
- Best cover letters of 2019
- Cover letter tips
- Google Docs cover letter templates
- How to address a cover letter
- How to start a cover letter
- How to end a cover letter
- How to write a career change cover letter
- How to write a short cover letter
- How long should a cover letter be?
- How to write a letter of interest
Types of Cover Letters
- Email cover letter
- General cover letter
- Relocation cover letter
- Entry-level cover letter
- Cover letter for an internal position
You’ve made it this far, which shows you’re dedicated to creating the most professional cover letter possible. More interviews and better jobs await you.
Resumes, cover letters, interviews — they’re all a small part of the bigger picture. The big part is getting paid. So get paid.
Did we miss anything? Leave a comment (or several) below, and our team of career experts will get back to you soon. In the meantime, you should check out our new and improved cover letter builder and see how it compares to other examples out there. We’re pretty sure you’ll be impressed!