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How to Write a Cover Letter in 2024: Steps, Examples, Tips, and a Quiz

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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, you should always submit a cover letter. 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?

When I was applying for roles, I always felt like cover letters were redundant. I’d already shown my skills and experience in my resume, so why did I need to reiterate them again? 

The purpose of a cover letter isn’t to repeat what’s on your resume, but rather to explain how what you put on your resume makes you a great fit for the role.

“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.”

How to Write a Cover Letter: 6 Steps

Convinced you should write a cover letter? Here’s the step-by-step process for writing one that hiring managers are looking for.

1. Include a Header With 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
  • Date
  • Name of the hiring manager and their professional title 
  • Name and city and state of the company you’re applying to

You can also add professional social media accounts, such as LinkedIn or your business Twitter account, and a link to your professional website or online portfolio.

You don’t need to include your full address, but rather opt for the city and state — even if it’s a remote job. Companies who hire for remote roles still need to know where you’re located for tax purposes.

Header example

Julia Bishop
[email protected]
Brooklyn, NY
May 10th, 2024

Greg Green
Company X
San Francisco, CA

2. Address the Hiring Manager

Next, you want to write a greeting to the hiring manager. If you can, it’s best to personalize this section; 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. 

>>MORE: Improve your LinkedIn searches by learning how to find and reach out to recruiters on 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,

3. Write an Introductory Paragraph

Next, it’s time to write an introductory paragraph that quickly and concisely grabs the attention of your reader. In this paragraph, you’ll want to state who you are, what role you’re applying for, and why.

You can lead with an impressive accomplishment featuring quantifiable results or a belief statement that matches the organization’s values and goals.

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.

Introductory Paragraph Example

I’m thrilled to submit my application for the junior software engineer role at Company X, a pioneering force in the tech industry that I’ve admired since the launch of the Sonic Games app in 2016. During my tenure studying computer science at University Y, I dedicated myself to refining my programming, web development, and app design skills. Additionally, I undertook various independent technical projects within the gaming domain. As a junior programmer with practical experience and an unwavering passion for Company X’s work, I am confident in my ability to contribute significantly to the next wave of innovations in the tech landscape at Company X.

4. Write a Main Paragraph(s)

The next paragraph of your cover letter should expand on the skills, experience, and passion you alluded to in the introductory paragraph. Give specific examples of when you applied those skills and what results you achieved from them.

Be sure to focus on how these examples apply to the company and the role you’re applying for. For example, if there are specific tools or requirements from the job description that you’ve used or done, be sure to mention them — and how your abilities can contribute to the company’s success.

“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.”

If you have multiple examples that might be better split into two paragraphs, it’s OK to do so here — just remember to keep your cover letter concise. 

Main Paragraph Example

I’ve taken on various hands-on projects to improve my programming and web development skills in the games industry. I developed a mobile game app using Python and JavaScript, and continued to iterate on the app through formal user testing. After completing the game, I shared it with the University Y community, leading to over 5,000 downloads in less than two months. I continued to iterate on the app based on feedback from the larger community, increasing the app speed by 50%. This project not only deepened my understanding of mobile app design, but fueled my passion to create interactive, visually engaging, and innovative games that people truly love.

5. Write a Closing Paragraph

The closing paragraph isn’t just a summary and thank you. It should further expand on everything you’ve said in the previous paragraph and truly solidify your passion and qualifications for the role.

Closing Paragraph Example

I believe my technical experience developing mobile apps and my passion for the gaming industry make me a perfect fit for the junior software engineer role. My experiences not only designing but also improving apps that people truly love have instilled in me values of creativity, adaptability, and pursuit of excellence — all of which I see in Company X’s innovative culture. I’d be eager to bring my programming and app design skills to help contribute to Company X’s next technological advancements. Thank you for your consideration. 

6. Sign Off

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:

  • Sincerely,
  • Kind regards,
  • Thank you,

Then, write your full name. 

>>RELATED: How to End an Email Professionally (With Examples)

Cover Letter 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. 

Expert Advice on Writing a Cover Letter

Before you hit submit, there are a few expert tips to make sure your cover letter is in tip-top shape.

Keep It Short

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.

Focus on the Company

It’s not you, it’s them. 

While your cover letter should demonstrate your skills, experience, and passion, remember that you need to show how those skills, experience, and passion will help the company succeed. Every company hires for roles because they’re looking for people who will contribute to them. Showing that you understand what problems they’re trying to solve and how you’re uniquely positioned to help find and build solutions will make you stand out.

Match the Tone

Research the company to understand what kind of tone it uses in job descriptions, marketing materials, social media posts, and the website. Is it more professional and straightforward? Do employees post fun TikToks of the office with more casual outfits and interviews? 

Match the company’s tone with the language you use in your cover letter. If the company is more professional, be sure to be to the point, clear, respectful, and concise. If the company is a little more laid-back, you can bring in more everyday language and a more upbeat tone.

Get Feedback

Don’t submit your cover letter without asking someone else to read it first! When my friends and I were all applying for our first jobs, we made a Google Drive to house all of our cover letters, and took turns reading one another’s work. It was a great way to get other eyes on my application and to see what other people were writing in their cover letters. 

You can also ask for advice from trusted mentors, professors, and your career center. If you’re in a rush and don’t have anyone around who can help, even AI tools can help! For example, you can use a tool like Grammarly to check your grammar, spelling, and syntax. You can also ask tools like ChatGPT or Bard to give you feedback on your work and suggest improvements.

>>MORE: We Asked ChatGPT to Write Cover Letters. Here’s What It Got Right and Wrong

Cover Letter Quiz: Are You All Set to Write Your Cover Letter?

Do you know everything you need to know about writing a cover letter? Take the quiz — you’ll need to sign-up to get your results, but you’ll see all of the right answers, explanations, and get an exclusive template.

1. True or false: A cover letter should copy the same experiences and skills as your resume.
2. When addressing the hiring manager in your cover letter, what's the preferred salutation to use?
3. What is the purpose of the opening paragraph in a cover letter?
4. What is the purpose of the second paragraph in a cover letter?
5. What is the purpose of the closing paragraph in a cover letter?
6. Which of the following is not an appropriate way to sign off a cover letter?
7. True or false: A cover letter should always be one page long.
8. What's the best tone to use for a cover letter?
9. True or false: It's essential to customize your cover letter for each job application.
10. A cover letter should always be submitted as a separate document, even if not explicitly requested.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

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

Zoe Kaplan is a Senior Writer at Forage. Prior to joining Forage, she wrote and edited career and workplace content for Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women.

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