On the long list of hard things we all have to do (hi, paying rent and scheduling doctor appointments), writing a cover letter is definitely one of them. But it’s a necessary part of the job search, because 87% of recruiters still read them, according to a 2020 survey.
And that could be a good thing. Because while what you put on your resume is important, it’s limited, and a cover letter can cover for that.
Back up. What is a cover letter?
Think of it as an expansion on your resume, where you explain the most important things you want the hiring manager to know.
Your cover letter should:
Introduce you to the hiring manager.
Explain and clarify your skills and experience in more detail.
Talk about why you would be perfect for this role.
Set you apart from other candidates. If you’re shortlisted to a pile of two resumes for a position, your cover letter could be the thing that gives you the edge — and gets you to the interview stage.
Got it. So what does a cover letter look like?
Here are five sections you should include in your cover letter:
Header. Include your contact details here (think: name, phone number, and email address).
Greeting. This can be “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Hiring Manager” if necessary. But if you can find the hiring manager’s name, address them directly.
Opening paragraph. This is where you introduce yourself. And show your enthusiasm for the role you’re applying for. All in a non-boring, non-generic way (see below for examples).
Body. This includes one or two paragraphs (reminder: keep it short and sweet) detailing your most relevant previous experience and the skills. And why you’re a good match for the company.
Conclusion. In one last paragraph, summarize in one or two sentences why you are the best person for the job. And end with a call to action (to set up an interview or phone call).
How long should a cover letter be?
Keep your cover letter to no more than one page, between 250-400 words. Just stick to the information that is most relevant for this role.
Do’s and don'ts in a cover letter
Start with a unique, grabby intro.
Tailor your letter to each job. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation.
Address the hiring manager by name, if possible. You can typically find this by doing some friendly LinkedIn sleuthing.
Rehash your whole resume.
Be negative — especially about previous jobs and companies.
Be too modest. Yes, you are good at that thing. So tell ‘em.
Leave any typos unchecked. Just like you don’t want mistakes on your resume, you definitely don’t want the wrong “your” in your cover letter. Here’s a tip to spot them: Read your cover letter out loud to yourself before submitting the application.
Can you give me a cover letter example?
Dear [HIRING MANAGER NAME],
With [EDUCATION] and [YEARS] of experience in [INDUSTRY], I’m excited to apply for the [ROLE] position at [COMPANY].
As a [POSITION] in my current role, my primary focus has been [TOP THREE MAJOR COMPONENTS OF YOUR JOB]. My work requires [TOP THREE QUALITIES THAT MAKE YOU GOOD AT YOUR JOB]. It’s given me a deep understanding of [SOMETHING IMPORTANT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO EXCEL IN YOUR INDUSTRY].
Outside of that, I have also been responsible for [AN ADDITIONAL RESPONSIBILITY OR TWO YOU HAVEN’T MENTIONED] which has been incredibly rewarding while helping me grow as a [YOUR CURRENT ROLE]. Prior to this role, I [BASIC INFO ABOUT YOUR PAST JOB OR TWO].
My experience in both [TOP TWO SKILLS YOU WANT THEM TO REMEMBER ABOUT YOU] has given me the skills and experience to excel on your team. I’m a [TWO QUALITIES YOU HAVEN’T MENTIONED YET THAT ARE RELEVANT TO THE ROLE YOU’RE APPLYING FOR], and I believe my skills will be valuable at [COMPANY]. I would love the opportunity to speak further about this role, and you can contact me anytime at [PHONE NUMBER] or [EMAIL ADDRESS]. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
How about a short cover letter example?
You got it:
Dear [HIRING MANAGER NAME],
As a [YOUR CURRENT ROLE] with experience [TOP THREE MAJOR COMPONENTS OF YOUR JOB], I was excited to see your open posting for [POSITION] at [COMPANY]. My [TOP THREE QUALITIES THAT MAKE YOU GOOD AT YOUR JOB] have served me well in this and previous roles and make me uniquely qualified for this particular position.
Your job listing mentions a need for a candidate with specific experience in [SOMETHING THEY’RE LOOKING FOR]. I have worked in [THAT THING] on many occasions in my current and previous roles. One of my strongest skills is [A SKILL THAT RELATES TO WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR]. Past projects have also utilized my skills in [AN ADDITIONAL RESPONSIBILITY OR TWO YOU HAVEN’T MENTIONED YET], which would be valuable in this role.
I am excited to bring my experience in [TOP TWO SKILLS YOU WANT THEM TO REMEMBER ABOUT YOU] to your team. I look forward to discussing the role in detail and finding the ways I can contribute to achieving your goals. Thank you for considering my application.
Writing a cover letter is a tedious but crucial part of applying for jobs. The good news? Recruiters are likely to actually read it. And it gives you an opportunity to stand out against other candidates.
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