Applying for a job can feel like a long, drawn-out process. You attach your resume. You copy all the information it contains into the application form on an employer’s website for the umpteenth time. Can you at least skip a cover letter?
Not necessarily. While there’s still debate on whether you should submit a cover letter, our general answer is yes — even if an employer doesn’t require a cover letter, if there’s an opportunity to write one, take it. It’s an extra chance to show the hiring manager why you’re right for the role. Plus, it can actually help your prospects of getting an interview, so don’t panic! Ready to get started? Here’s how to write a cover letter.
What Is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter is a letter you submit alongside your resume. Typically, it includes a few paragraphs that explain why you’re applying for the role and why your experience, skill set, and passion make you the best candidate.
Often, it’s one of the first things a recruiter will read. Cover letters offer a chance to make a memorable first impression.
What Is the Purpose of a Cover Letter?
The purpose of a cover letter is to explain why you’re right for the role. An effective cover letter allows a hiring manager to get to know you as a professional. It also provides you an opportunity to say what sets you apart from other applicants. Plus, a cover letter adds a personal touch that a resume can’t deliver.
“The resume says, ‘This is why I’m great,’” says Shel Horowitz, director of Accurate Writing & More with 30 years of experience in professional resume writing. “The cover letter says, ‘This is why I’m perfect for the opening you have.’ It’s targeted to the specific position. It’s a chance to amplify your best qualifications for that exact job, whether or not they are mentioned on the resume.”
When competing for a competitive position, a well-written cover letter can make or break your chances of getting a call back from a recruiter.
“A strong cover letter is a marketing tool, and it should generally follow a marketing formula known as AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire and Action,” explains Dan Shortridge, a resume writer and founder of Results Resumes. “It should grab the attention of the hiring manager or recruiter; spark their interest further; make them desire to speak with the candidate… and convince them to take prompt action, by setting up an interview.”
What to Include in a Cover Letter
Now that you know why cover letters are so important, how do you actually write one? Here’s what to include in a cover letter to help you stand out and increase your chances of making it to the next round.
Header With Date and Contact Information
Before you share anything about your experience, you’ll need to share a little logistical information about yourself. A letter header is the first step. Here, you want to include:
- Your first and last name
- Phone number
- Professional email address
- Name of the hiring manager and their professional title
- Name and address of the company you’re applying to
Salutation or Greeting
The hiring manager will be reading your cover letter and resume, so doing a little research into who that person is will go a long way in making your cover letter stand out.
“If you don’t see the name in the posting, do a little homework,” Horowitz suggests.
Start by looking at the job description to see if there’s any indication on who the hiring manager might be. You’ll want to look for specific verbiage like, “This role reports to the editorial director.” That way, you can get crafty with searches on the company website or LinkedIn. LinkedIn also has a “meet the hiring team” feature companies can add to their job postings, which can make finding the hiring manager’s name much easier! Searching for manager positions in the department you’re applying to might also lead you to the right person.
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If your search proves fruitless, here are some helpful alternatives you could use instead:
- Dear Hiring Manager,
- Dear [Department Name] Manager,
- Dear [Company Name] Team,
Your cover letter is for selling yourself and your skills. (See what hard and soft skills employers are looking for.) You can lead with an impressive accomplishment featuring quantifiable results or a belief statement that matches the organization’s values and goals.
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Another good way to create an effective opening is by conveying your passion and enthusiasm. If you’re a genuine fan of the company, let it show. Or use your passion for your craft to market yourself as a driven candidate.
You’ve grabbed the recruiter’s attention. Now you can show them why you’re the best fit for the job.
According to Horowitz, many job applicants make the mistake of making themselves the main focus of a cover letter.
“It should be about the employer’s needs: ‘The special assignment that I brought in under budget and ahead of schedule at XYZ is directly relevant to your…'”, Horowitz suggests as an example. “It should be written in an informal tone and convey why you’re a terrific candidate without sounding like bragging.”
The hiring manager will also want to determine whether you’re a cultural fit. They’re looking for people with beliefs that fit with the company’s values. This alignment helps them determine who may stick around long term.
Researching the company’s business model and core beliefs are good ways to find what you like about it. If a company’s beliefs match yours, let them know in your cover letter.
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In the closing paragraph, thank the hiring manager for their consideration. It takes time to read a cover letter, so you’ll want to express your gratitude.
The last paragraph also presents an opportunity to briefly reiterate your value and what you can bring to the table. Here, make sure to include a final call to action. For example, you can express enthusiasm about learning more about the opportunity.
Letter Ending and Signature
Once you’ve completed your closing paragraph, all that’s left is to add a professional closing salutation. You can keep it simple with these examples:
- Kind regards,
- Thank you,
After that, you’re almost done, but make sure to proofread your cover letter before sending it!
What Does a Cover Letter Look Like? Example
A header, salutation, opening paragraph, main section, closing paragraph, and signature: you know what you need to include in your cover letter. What does that actually look like? Here’s an example of a cover letter from a student trying to land a UX design internship.
How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?
Successful cover letters stand out and leave a lasting impression. If it’s too long, you risk boring your reader. If it’s too short, you may not be conveying all the vital information. Keep your cover letter under one print page, or about 400-500 words, Shortridge suggests.
“Just like on your resume, each word should be carefully chosen for maximum impact,” Shortridge says. “Remember that it shouldn’t repeat the information from your resume, but highlight important accomplishments and attributes that make you a compelling candidate.”
>>MORE: Learn how long a resume should be.
The Bottom Line
Cover letters are a hiring manager’s first impression of you. Make sure they know precisely why you want the position and what you’ll bring to the company. Be clear and concise, and customize each cover letter for the specific job and employer.
If the employer doesn’t require a cover letter, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth writing. Understandably, you may not want to put in the work for no guaranteed result, but a cover letter can give you an edge when you’re new to the industry or applying for a position with a top employer.
Looking for more ways to increase your chances of landing a new role? Check out Forage’s free job simulations — completing one can 4x your chances of getting the job.
Image credit: Good Faces