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How to write an effective cover letter
If you really want to make a good and lasting impression on a hiring manager, a cover letter may be the determining factor. Whether you are writing your very first cover letter or just want to refine your cover letter, this page will provide you with:
- Professional tips on how to write a cover letter to land your dream job
- Example cover letters to use for inspiration
- Additional career resources and articles
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is submitted alongside your resume when you apply for a job. It is written in a much more conversational tone than your resume and gives you a chance to present a full introduction of yourself to the company you’re interested in working with. A successful cover letter gives potential employers a glimpse into who you are as a person, what you can do and why you would be a good fit for the job.
A hiring manager or recruiter needs to know more about you than what is listed on your resume. A resume cover letter can explain how your personality, work ethic and experience will fit in with the company’s environment.
Why do I need a cover letter?
While your resume provides a listed overview of your career, including your education, work history and skills, it’s not meant to give detailed information about your achievements and personality. A well-written cover letter provides a more thoughtful, detailed introduction to what motivates you, your best qualities and how your qualifications, skills and passion match the industry and job you want.
Here are some advantages of submitting a cover letter when answering a job ad:
- You can expand on your best skills and experiences in more detail than can be communicated with a few qualifications on your resume.
- You can explain any gaps in your employment history or the reason for a career change.
- You have the perfect opportunity to explain further how you can specifically contribute to the company and fit the job requirements.
- You provide prospective employers with insights into your personality and background.
Keep in mind that even if the job listing doesn’t require a cover letter, you should still take the time to write one, and submit it along with your resume and job application. A hiring manager or recruiter will appreciate that you put in the extra effort to prepare a thoughtful cover letter.
How to write a cover letter
The structure of a good cover letter is simple and allows you to get across all the important information you need to make your case as the right choice for a job. Here are the four things you need to include in your cover letter.
1. Contact and personal information
First, you need to include your contact information, which is typically placed as a header that sits at the top of the cover letter:
- Full name
- Phone number
- Physical address — city and state (this can be optional)
- Email address
- Any relevant links, such as a link to your LinkedIn profile
Below your contact information, you should include the hiring manager’s details, such as:
- Their name
- Their job position
- Company address
The greeting for your cover letter is more important than you might realize. This is partly because the greeting can tell a hiring manager how much work you’ve put into the cover letter and whether you may have just copied and pasted it to every job application you’ve submitted. Try to avoid an extremely generic salutation, such as:
- To Whom It May Concern
- Dear Sir or Madam
- Dear Hiring Manager
These phrases make it seem as though you’ve sent the same letter to many managers or that you didn’t do any research on your potential employer before you applied to the job posting.
Instead, you should address the letter to a specific person (e.g., the hiring manager or someone from human resources). The job description should give you the hiring manager’s name but you may have to do some research on your own to find the hiring manager’s name. A customized cover letter always has a better chance of getting read over a generic one.
- Dear Mr. Smith
- Dear Ms. Smith
- Dear Dr. Smith
3. Opening paragraph
Your first paragraph is your chance to make a good first impression and grab the hiring manager’s attention. Here’s how to do it:
- Speak directly to the hiring manager: Tell the hiring manager your name and why you are writing. If you are responding to a job advertisement, mention where you saw the advertisement and the specific position you’re applying for. If you are applying for a job through a contact, mention the person who referred you.
- Tell the hiring manager what to expect next: If you submit your credentials for the hiring manager to consider, that is what you say in the second sentence of your letter. If your letter has a different intent (i.e., requesting a reference letter), the second sentence in the opening is when you identify that purpose.
In short, your introductory paragraph informs the reader of your interest in the position.
4. Second paragraph
After this, you’ll move on to the body, which may be one or two paragraphs long. Here you’ll dig deeper into the details a hiring manager wants to see. Tie your relevant skills into how you can benefit the company by describing specific work or a relevant accomplishment from your previous role and how you can contribute to the company’s success. Make sure you make this section concise and easy to read. Bullet points may be a good option to point out specific pieces of information.
Avoid repeating what’s in your resume. Instead, discuss one or two projects the hiring managers might find relevant. These should be projects that showed measurable results — i.e., you helped cut costs or initiated a new computer system.
5. Cover letter ending
Your final paragraph should wrap up the letter with a formal closing. Reemphasize your interest in the position and thank the recruiter or hiring manager for considering you. Finish the closing paragraph by stating that you look forward to discussing important details with the hiring manager and inviting them to contact you for an interview.
4 pointers for your opening paragraph
1. Get their attention
Many experts believe that the first sentence of your cover letter is the most important. See it as your elevator pitch. Hiring managers and recruiters see dozens — if not hundreds — of applications a day, so you want to get straight to the point and start your cover letter in a way that captures their attention. For example:
- Instead of: “I’m writing to inform you of my interest in…”
- Go for: “Your story on the energy issue our community faces inspired me to begin a career as an investigative journalist six years ago.”
2. Make it snappy
You only have a few sentences to pack in the most important information about yourself before you launch into your other cover letter sections. Don’t include anything that is not absolutely essential. There’s really no need to tell the reader where you saw their job ad or mention what you’re hoping for in a job. Do include a few highlights about your experience, what you have to offer and past major accomplishments. For example:
“Your story on the energy issue our community faces inspired me to begin a career as an investigative journalist six years ago. Over the years, I have dedicated myself to writing stories where truth is at the center, using my skills in journalism and research, and my passion for creating short documentaries and award-winning articles.”
3. Convey enthusiasm
While it’s true that you want to offer important facts in your letter, a cover letter opening statement shouldn’t be read like a boring laundry list. Work to sell yourself. Use an active voice, rather than a passive one. Be direct. Don’t be too humble. This is the time to brag a bit, as the example above shows, though you don’t want to sound cocky.
4. Consider the audience
In order to write the best cover letter opening statement, you have to think like a hiring manager. Address the points you would want to see if you were hiring. Always think more about what you can offer the company than what you seek in a job.
5 key cover letter writing tips
How to write a cover letter involves more than just including your career history. Here are some tips for writing an impressive, interesting and well-thought-out letter to stand out from the competition.
1. Research the job opportunity and company’s culture
In addition to reading the job posting carefully to ensure you match the requirements, select some necessary skills for the role and tailor your cover letter to match those skills. Also, learn more about the company culture and its mission statement by reading through the company website.
Remember, a cover letter should constantly “evolve” with each specific job you apply to. After you send your resume and cover letter to an employer, keep editing and rewriting your letter for future employers. That way, your application will be strong for each submission.
You recently read about an award the company received for humanitarian efforts. Mention that accomplishment in your cover letter and how that ties in with your own ideals.
You misspell the company name or feature the wrong job title in your cover letter.
2. Think of your cover letter as a story
Tell your career story to the hiring manager or recruiter reading your cover letter. Explain why the role you are applying for is a great opportunity for you and a win for the company that hires you, and be positive in your approach.
You tell an emotional story about spending a week in the hospital as a child, leading to your passion for the health care industry.
You negatively talk about how you received bad service from a server at a local restaurant, leading you to believe you can do a better job.
3. Focus on the future
Don’t just talk about your past and current experience, specifically mention what you can offer the prospective employer and how you can add value to the company. Focus on what you have to offer that others don’t.
4. Keep it short and sweet
Typically, a cover letter is three-quarters of a page and only a few paragraphs long. It should be easy to read, with some bullet points to allow a busy job recruiter or hiring manager to scan through it quickly.
You summarize your career history and accomplishments within ¾ of a cover letter page, just enough for the hiring manager to see that you are highly qualified for the position.
You write a page and a half of career information, and additional filler irrelevant to the job. The hiring manager reads one cover letter paragraph and tosses your cover letter to the side.
5. Proofread before you submit
An error on a cover letter will not show you in the best light. You must reread your cover letter numerous times to ensure you have not made silly typos or grammatical mistakes. If you’re uncertain about your letter, see if you can get a trusted contact to read it.
Sometimes when you’re alone with a piece of writing, you can get so absorbed that you lose perspective. Break out of the bubble, reach out to someone else and benefit from a fresh pair of eyes.
Cover letter examples
An example cover letter can be a great way to jump-start writing your own cover letter. ResumeHelp experts have gathered a sample cover letter for almost every industry and job title to show you how to create a cover letter. Check out these great examples and other cover letter examples for various professions.
Create a strong resume to pair with your cover letter
Now that you are ready to write your cover letter, be sure to put in the same effort to create the most effective resume to submit with your cover letter and job application. Just as our Cover Letter Builder easily guides you through the cover letter process, so does our highly popular Resume Builder.
The resume builder is your ticket to a fast, professional and effective resume. Instead of creating a resume from scratch, our builder gives you an immediate jump start. You follow the builder process, taking one step at a time, with expert guidance to build a job-winning resume. Here’s why you should consider using our Resume Builder:
- Get resume designs that complement our cover letter templates
- Choose from professional layouts that work best for your industry
- Ease of writing with expert job-specific resume wording suggestions
More cover letter help
- Cover Letter Builder: Take a generic cover letter to the next level with our step-by-step guidance and writing advice.
- Cover Letter Templates: ResumeHelp’s templates give you a fast start to writing a cover letter.
- Cover Letter Format: Our experts will provide you with everything you need to know about formats and help you create an organized layout for your letter.
- How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?: Learn the perfect cover letter length so you don’t make it too short or too long.
- What to Include in a Cover Letter: Following expert tips from ResumeHelp, you will know exactly what to include in your professional cover letter.
- Cover Letter Heading: Learn what information is critical to include in your heading and stand out from other applicants.
- Cover Letter Layout: Following the right layout will ensure that a hiring manager can easily read your letter.
- Email Cover Letter: Did you know there are different rules to follow when emailing your resume and cover letter?
Cover letter tips to grab the recruiter’s attention
If you really want to make sure the hiring manager is paying attention to your cover letter, there are a few things you can do to make it really stand out.
- Always use spell check. Typos in your cover letter will immediately stand out and they’re one of the quickest ways to get rejected.
- Don’t just rehash your resume. Think of your letter as your chance to elaborate on the major skills and experiences that match up with what the company is looking for.
- Look at sample cover letters for similar jobs and industries before you write yours. Cover letter examples help you understand what employers are looking for.
- Start with a cover letter rough draft, then edit it to fit if needed. Remember, you want to be to the point and concise, no more than one page long.
- Make sure you’re sending your cover letter to the right person. There’s nothing like accidentally sending your letter to a person who isn’t even responsible for deciding whether or not to hire you.
FAQ: Cover letters
Q: What is a cover letter for a job?
A cover letter is an important part of a job application. Employers who request a cover letter want to see an introduction to your background and strengths as a candidate and give insight into your motivations, interests and personality. A good cover letter gives a hiring manager an idea of the person behind your resume and explains why you’re the right fit for a role.
Q: What should I write in a cover letter?
Summarize the detailed career highlights featured in your resume. Tell your career story, including your most impressive achievements, soft skills, hard skills and transferable skills. Explain exactly how those accomplishments and skills will be easily applied to the position that you are applying for. Describe your passion and excitement for the opportunity to join that specific company and industry.
Your cover letter must match the qualifications and responsibilities in the job description so the employer sees that you are a good fit for the role. This rule applies whether you’re writing a career change cover letter or an entry-level letter.
Q: How do I write a simple cover letter for a job?
Only include information relevant to the job you are applying for. A simple cover letter can still make a good and lasting impression on the prospective employer if you show that your qualifications match those of the job position. Show how your skills, enthusiasm and knowledge of the company make you a worthy job candidate to interview.
Keeping it simple will give the hiring manager enough information to be interested in hearing more about you during the interview.
Q: What are the 5 parts of a cover letter?
A great cover letter format typically includes the following cover letter sections:
- Header: Be sure your contact information is up-to-date in the cover letter heading.
- Salutation: Address your cover letter to the hiring manager or human resources professional. Avoid using something generic like “Dear Hiring Manager” or “To Whom It May Concern.”
- Opening paragraph: Introduce yourself to make a memorable impression. Adjust your tone to the company’s brand voice.
- Second paragraph: Match your experience to the qualifications in the job description. Speak about the company culture and what attracts you to them.
- Closing paragraph: Give a formal closure by thanking the reader and including a call to action like requesting an interview.
Q: How do you write a cover letter with no experience?
If you’re applying for an entry-level job or changing careers, you may not have yet acquired ample work experience. However, you may have some other experience that can be transferable to the role. Perhaps you spent time volunteering for local or community organizations. Maybe you attended a class or seminar related to the industry you are applying for.
Whatever the case, include any relevant experience such as internships, training, volunteer work and other academic experience.
For more ideas, explore our library of cover letter examples. You’ll find the inspiration to write a cover letter that catches the hiring manager’s attention.
Q: Do I really need a cover letter?
Yes, you do really need a cover letter. Even if the job listing doesn’t state that you must include a cover letter, you still need one. In today’s job market, plan on writing one unless the employer specifically states you don’t need a cover letter.
A cover letter gives hiring managers an idea of what you can do for the company.
Remember, as a potential employee, you’re trying to present yourself as the candidate the company seeks. The hiring manager is also trying to select the best option from a pool of applicants. You want to rise to the top of the pool by differentiating yourself and a cover letter is one means of doing so.
Q: Do I need to write a new cover letter for every job application?
Every cover letter you submit for a job application should be unique. Although it can feel time-consuming to write a new cover letter for every job application, this will ensure that you present yourself to your best advantage to every potential employer. Plus, it’s important to tailor your letter to the specifics of a job description.
In fact, if you’re applying for similar jobs or jobs in the same field, you don’t have to rewrite the cover letter from scratch every time. Use your first cover letter as a template, adjusting and changing anything you need to match job opportunities at other locations. This way, you get a unique cover letter for every job application while saving time on the letter-writing process.
Q: Is it a good idea to use a cover letter template?
A good cover letter template can make a huge difference when it comes to writing your cover letter. Not only can the template help you avoid creating from scratch but it’s also a great way to see the best option for different industries and jobs. A cover letter template is a great tool to have in your pocket for this exact reason.
Remember to look for cover letter templates specific to the industry and even the job you’re applying for. Your cover letter is going to look much different if you’re a cosmetologist versus if you’re an IT professional.
Q: What makes an effective cover letter?
An effective cover letter compels a potential employer to call you for an interview. In general, your cover letter will be more effective if it’s highly professional, effectively showcases your skills and gives hiring managers a good idea of your personality, and how you will approach work. This can be the difference in getting favored over other job seekers.
Cover letters will vary depending on the job and your skills, but if you follow these steps, you’ll be more likely to get a callback from the jobs you apply to, making your job search more fruitful. Are you still wondering how to stand out from the competition? To go the extra mile, use ResumeHelp’s Cover Letter Builder and examples to create a cover letter that looks amazing and professional.
Q: How long should a cover letter be?
A cover letter is a one-page document. For many hiring managers, the shorter the better. Shoot for around 300-400 words. There may be unique circumstances where this rule could be broken, but it’s best to stick to one page unless you’re applying for a senior position.