Cover letters. As much as they require more work, cover letters are a great opportunity to cover qualifications we can’t fully explain in our resumes. In addition, they help personalize job applicants to enable them to come across more as real people to potential employers. If you throw together a cover letter in the hopes that nobody will actually read it, you might be missing a chance to land the job. To take advantage of a cover letter’s full potential, follow these steps below. You’ll find advice on formatting, reviewing, and researching cover letters. You will also find links to three free samples, which you can copy and adapt to your own personal cover letter.
Write an Email Cover Letter
Include a salutation. There are a number of cover letters to choose from. And, the greeting you choose will depend on how much information you have about the company.
How to Address Your Cover Letter
Figure out the name of the hiring manager. This small detail makes a huge difference. It makes your letter seem less formulaic, and shows the hiring manager that you care about this opportunity enough to figure out who to write to.
Go with another manager’s name if you can’t find the hiring manager. Look up the company’s employee roster and make an educated guess as to who will be reading your cover letter. Even if you’re incorrect, it’s better than using “Dear Hiring Manager” or “To whom it may concern”. If you can’t find the name of an employee, you can also address the team (for example, “Dear Digital Marketing Team“).
Use “Dear” and their formal title. Make sure to use the hiring manager’s proper title, like Mr., Ms., or Dr. If you can’t tell from their name what the manager’s gender is, address it to their full name.
End with a comma or semi-colon. Ending the salutation with a comma is typically acceptable. If you want your letter to be more formal, opt for a semi-colon instead.
Write the first paragraph of your letter. This is where you will mention the job for which you’re applying and how you found the job listing. It only needs to be 1 to 2 sentences in length.
The introduction is your chance to hook the reader and convince them that reading your cover letter is worth their time. If they aren’t convinced in the first few sentences, they may not read the rest of the letter.
Start with a few unique, attention-grabbing lines that are creative and original. This can include relevant anecdotes, facts, or quotes. Always think about it from the perspective of the hiring manager or recruiter: what is the specific value you bring to the company, organization or role?
Carefully evaluating a job posting is a great way of gauging the type of company that you’re applying for and can help determine the tone you’ll use in writing your letter from the first paragraph to the last.
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Write the body paragraphs of your letter. Most cover letters will only have 1 or 2 body paragraphs. You don’t want to overwhelm the hiring manager or use up a great deal of their time.
Make Sure to Talk About…
Why you’re a qualified candidate for the position.
What work experience you have that fits the listed job requirements.
Why you want to work for this company specifically.
What tangible actions and improvements you could make in this role.
Write the final paragraph of your letter. This will be where you wrap up and discuss how you will proceed with the application. Your final paragraph is your chance to sum up your letter, emphasizing why you’d be great in this position, always mapping your skills and matching them to the qualifications outlined in the job description. You’ll also talk about how you’ll proceed with your application before thanking the manager for their time and signing off.
Wrapping Up the Cover Letter
Reiterate why you’re a perfect fit. Sum your qualifications up in one succinct sentence to remind the manager why you’re the right person to hire.
Discuss what you’ll do next. If you plan on following up with the hiring manager in a week or two, include a specific date. Otherwise, just say that you look forward to interviewing for the position and discussing your qualifications further.
Give your contact information. Include your email address and phone number to make sure the manager can get in touch with you.
Mention any attachments you’ve included. This could be references, a resume, your portfolio, or other requested materials.
Thank the person for their time and consideration. Say something like, “Thank you very much for your time and I look forward to speaking with you soon.”
End your cover letter with a respectful closing statement. “Best” or “Sincerely” are both classic options. Also, since you won’t be able to sign your email, finish the letter by typing your full name.
Write a Paper Cover Letter
Add a letterhead at the top of the letter. Your letterhead should include your full name, address, telephone number, and email address. You can align your letterhead along the left hand margin or place it horizontally across the top of the page with a separating line—a good option if you want it to take up less space.
Formatting the Letterhead
Write your name at the top. If you’re stylizing your letterhead horizontally, bold your name and write it in 14- or 16-point font. If not, put it in 12-point.
Include your address, phone number, and email. Make sure your information is up-to-date so the employer can easily contact you, and write it in normal, 12-point font.
Use a professional, legible font. You can use a different font from the rest of the letter to help your information stand out, but it should be clear and professional. Avoid fonts with stylistic curls and add-ons.
Include an extra line under the letterhead. This creates visual appeal and separates the letterhead from the rest of the letter.
Write the recipient’s name, address, and the date below the letterhead. It doesn’t matter whether you put the date first or last, or how many blank lines you include between them, as long as it looks professional.
- From here on out, use 12-point Arial or Times New Roman throughout the entire letter, set your margins to one inch, and use single spacing. Be sure your font is black, and if you’re printing your letter out, use standard-sized paper (8 1/2” by 11”)
Address the recipient. Be sure to refer to the recipient by his or her proper title (Mrs., Mr., Dr., etc.). If you’re not sure who the recipient is, write, “To Whom It May Concern:” or “Dear Sir or Madam”; however, it is always best to address a cover letter to a real person to make it look like you’re not sending form letters.
State your purpose in the first paragraph. Tell the employer why you are writing to them in two or three sentences. State the position for which you are applying (or the one you would like to have should it become available).
- You don’t necessarily need to include how you became aware of the position unless it was through a mutual contact or recruiting program—in which case you should make the most of the connection.
- If you are writing a letter of interest (also known as a prospecting or inquiry letter) in which you are asking about positions that might be available, specify why you are interested in working for the employer.
Outline your qualifications in the middle paragraph(s). Make sure to match them to the requirements of the position. If you are writing to inquire about open positions, tell the employer how you can contribute to their bottom line, not what you want to get out of the deal. To do this, use what you have researched about the employer’s background and history.
Writing Stand-Out Body Paragraphs
Research the company and tailor your letter accordingly. The tone and content of your letter depend on the company you’re applying for, so it’s important to learn as much as you can about it. Take a look at their website and look up any outside articles about the work that they’re doing.
Use language directly from the job listing. Incorporating the exact skills, requirements, and wordings used in the job listing will make your letter stand out to your employer and show that you’re exactly what they’re looking for.
Use a direct tone that matches the company’s atmosphere. If you’re applying to write for a blogging website, go for a friendly or informative tone like the site uses. If you’re applying for a finance position, a more serious tone will work better. Tailoring your voice shows the manager that you’ll fit in well at the company.
Research the employer’s mission and history. What makes the company stand out? How have they evolved over time and what’s their stated mission? Incorporating bits of the company’s history and current projects will show that you’re invested and well-informed with their work.
Include a positive statement or question in the final paragraph that will motivate the employer to contact you. Make this closing paragraph between two and four sentences. Direct the employer to your enclosed resume and make sure you specify that you’re available for an interview. Finish off by thanking the recruiter for their time and consideration, and welcome them to get in touch with you to continue the conversation.
Write an appropriate closing. It’s a good idea to thank the reader for his or her time. After that, write “Sincerely,” “Respectfully,” or “Regards,” leave several spaces, and print your name.
Add your signature. If you will be submitting your cover letter digitally, it’s a good idea to scan and add your signature, write it in with a digital writing pad, or make a digital signature stamp with appropriate software.
Make a notation of the enclosures. If you enclose something, such as a resume, with a letter, you should indicate that the letter contains enclosures by making the notation “Enclosure” or “Enclosures” at the bottom of the letter.
Review Your Cover Letter
Spell-check and proofread. If you have a spell-check feature, use it. Some programs, such as Microsoft Word, also include a grammar check that you should use. Proofread your letter yourself.
Watch Out For:
Common misspellings and incorrect punctuation. Comb over your letter carefully to make sure you catch any mistakes that your spelling and grammar checker may have missed.
Writing in the passive voice. Now’s the time to own your accomplishments. Replace phrases like “This experience gave me the opportunity to…” with “I used this opportunity to grow and learn that…”
Informal writing. Aim to sound professional and educated. Avoid all forms of slang and unnecessary abbreviations.
Read your letter aloud to hear how it reads. Do not rely on spelling and grammar checks to catch mistakes. Consider asking a friend, or even two, to proofread your letter as well. If no one is available to help, another good strategy is to spend some time away from your final draft (a few hours or even a whole day) so that you can return to it with a fresh perspective.
Checklist for Preparing Your Cover Letter
Double-check some of the most-overlooked basics before you do anything. While misspelling or misidentifying the name of the company you’re applying to isn’t the end of the world, it’s not exactly starting off on the right foot. Double-check the following:
- The complete name of the company to which you are applying for a job
- The name of the person to whom you are addressing the cover letter
- The address of the person to whom you are sending the letter
- The title of the job for which you are applying and/or its reference number, if it exists
Ask yourself what skills do you possess that you are not using enough in your current role. Would the ideal candidate for this new role be required to make more use of those types of skills? What opportunities are missing in your current role? Answering these questions will help you explain why you are interested in leaving current position. For example, are you looking for:
- “room for advancement”
- “an opportunity to learn new skills”
Hammer down your current job or educational position. This may seem like an obvious question, but knowing how to clearly define your current role is a tremendous asset. For example, you could be a:
- “graduate student in environmental science”
- “customer service professional specializing in the high-end retail market”
Provide a general description of your accomplishments/experiences in the field to which you are applying. For example, you could have:
- “fifteen years of excellent customer service experience”
- “an outstanding background in scientific research and discovery”
- “a solid history of dependability in the automotive industry”
Identify the assets can you offer to the company to which you are applying. List a few in your cover letter, such as:
- “extensive experience with start-ups”
- “demonstrated ability to solve problems”
- “refined ability to manage teams”
- What will you help the company accomplish, if given the job you desire?
- “increase its bottom line”
- “meet its goal of providing only the best in customer service”
- “expand its customer base and increase its revenue”
Specify the type of job or level of the position you are seeking. Is it:
- “senior level”