money·5 min read

How to Write A Cover Letter Hiring Managers Will Actually Read

An example of a cover letter
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
May 31, 2022

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:

Design: theSkimm
  • 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

Do:

  • 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. 

Don’t:

  • 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?

Here’s one: 

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. 

Best, 

[YOUR NAME]

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.

Sincerely,

[YOUR NAME]

theSkimm

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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