On the long list of hard things we all have to do, writing a cover letter falls somewhere between paying rent and scheduling doctor appointments. But cover letters are a necessary part of the job search, especially since writing one is a great way to show you’re serious about the role you’re going for. A cover letter can also help boost your resume to the top of the candidate list, which improves your odds of landing an interview. And while what you put on your resume is important, it’s limited — and a cover letter can cover for that.
What’s a cover letter?
It’s your shot to expand on your resume (usually via an attachment sent along with your application or resume). A good cover letter also explains why you’re the best fit for the role. Even if a cover letter is listed ‘optional’ during the application process, just making the effort to write one could be enough to make you stand out from the crowd.
What should a cover letter include?
Start with an introduction to the hiring manager before you move on to your skills and experience. Then, touch on what makes you different from other applicants. Here’s what your cover letter should look like by the time you hit ‘send’:
Header: Include your contact details here, like your name, phone number, and email address.
Greeting: This is where you’ll address the cover letter. If you can find the hiring manager’s name (which you can typically do through some friendly LinkedIn sleuthing), address them directly. You can also use “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Hiring Manager” if you don’t know their name.
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 detailing your most relevant previous experience and skills. Basically, why you’re a good match for the company.
Conclusion: In one last paragraph, end your cover letter with a summary of why you are the best person for the job. As well as a call to action to set up an interview or phone call.
Here are a few more ways to make your cover letter stand out from the job applicant crowd:
Make sure you tailor each cover letter to the specific job you’re applying for — this isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation.
Don’t repeat everything you include in your resume.
Don’t be too modest. Yes, you are good at what you do. So let them know.
Remember to reread your cover letter before submitting it. Just like you don’t want mistakes on your resume, you definitely don’t want the wrong “your” in your cover letter or to include a misspelled word. Pro tip: Read your cover letter out loud to yourself before submitting the application.
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.
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.
…And if you prefer to keep yours even shorter, try this cover letter example:
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 actually read and use them. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to stand out against other candidates.
Updated on Feb. 16 to reflect new information.
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