Everything You Need to Know
About Writing a Cover Letter

See also: Applying for Jobs

The cover letter is the first thing a recruiter or hiring manager will read when they pick up your application. This is your chance to make a good first impression.

Without a quality cover letter, your application may not even get a glance (no matter how great your resume is). On the other hand, a well-written cover letter can sometimes get your foot in the door for an interview even if you have a weak resume.

Your letter is part of the application process so you will need to take it seriously. Take advantage of everything your cover letter can do for you. Here is everything you need to know about writing a great cover letter that will help you land your dream job.

What is a Cover Letter?

There is a saying that goes:

“The first impression is the only impression.”

That saying is very true when it comes to finding a job.

Recruiters look through hundreds of applications for each open position. They do not have the time to look past the first impression of you on their first pass. Your cover letter may be all the recruiter looks at when sorting through the applicants, so it needs to stand out.

This is your chance to introduce yourself to the recruiter and hiring manager. You are selling yourself and your application packet, including your cover letter, is your tool to secure an interview.

A cover letter is also a tool for the recruiter to assess your communication skills. If you write a quality letter, you will demonstrate that you can communicate effectively and logically.

Tips for an Effective Cover Letter

While every cover letter should be unique, there are a few tips that should apply to every cover letter.

Keep your audience in mind as you consider each of these tips as different job positions may require differences in cover letter requirements. Always read the job posting closely to determine if any specific information is requested in the cover letter.

  • Keep your cover letter to a single page. Recruiters are busy people and they may not read a second page.
  • Personalize your cover letter for each job opportunity. Address each employer by name and title at the start of your letter. Write about how you will fit into the specific company and position role. It is a great idea to have a template for your cover letter, but spend the extra time to personalize each letter for the specific role you are applying to.
  • Research the company and demonstrate your knowledge of their organization in your cover letter. This can be a sentence or two about how much you are interested in what the company does or how your passions line up with the company’s goals. You may have read up about a problem the company is facing and could show how your skills would help solve the problem. You want to keep it short but also convey that you know who they are and what they are about.
  • Write your cover letter clearly. Avoid long sentences and paragraphs. Always reread your letters before you send them.
  • Use action verbs and the active voice in your cover letter. Using the active voice shows you have energy and directness. By using it, you will portray confidence and professionalism.
  • Thank the reader for his/her consideration and time.

What to Include in a Cover Letter

The following sections will be the basic elements of your cover letter.

There is no magic formula and you can change it up a bit, but consider including the following as a logical sequence to your letter.

The sections outlined below will get all of the required information across to the hiring manager without boring them. Keep in mind that your cover letter needs to be brief but also stand out.

  • Your greeting should address your letter to the proper person (hiring manager/recruiter, etc.). You can usually find this name on the job posting. If you cannot find a name, you can use “Hiring Manager” to address your cover letter. Try to avoid using “To Whom It May Concern” as this comes across as generic. You want to convey that this job position is important.

  • The opening paragraph will tell why you are writing and give a brief introduction of yourself and why you are perfect for the job. Let the recruiter know why the job is exciting for you. This paragraph is your opportunity to hook the reader. They read hundreds of cover letters so make yours stand out by having a strong opening paragraph. Avoid generic expressions such as “I am applying to Position X.”

  • In the body paragraphs (two or three short paragraphs), you should sell yourself to the reader by highlighting your past achievements and skills and explain how they relate to the job position that you are applying for. The body of your letter will be what sells you to the recruiter. Make sure you touch on your education and qualifications. Stay high level and brief. The specifics can be found in your resume.

  • The closing paragraph should have a quick recap of your specific strengths and what makes you different from other applicants. It should also include a call to action such as a request for an interview. Finally, in the closing paragraph let the recruiter know what other documents are being sent in the application package. The material might include a resume, portfolio, writing sample, or other document as applicable to the job. Do not forget to thank the reader for his or her time.

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Develop the skills you need to get that job.

This eBook is essential reading for potential job-seekers. Not only does it cover identifying your skills but also the mechanics of applying for a job, writing a CV or resume and attending interviews.

Cover letters are a great opportunity to demonstrate your enthusiasm and positive attitude that might not come across in your resume.

Your letter will help personalize yourself to the recruiter and let them know how valuable you are. Sell yourself and impress employers with an amazing cover letter and your time investment will pay off over and over. With an impressive cover letter, you will find yourself landing interviews in no time.

About the Author

Melissa Ricker covers career topics for JobHero, a free resource that aims to help people at every step of their careers with resume samples, cover letter samples and more.