How To Write a Cover Letter

3 min read

Sitting in front of a blank piece of paper or Word document can be daunting for any writer, but perhaps especially so for job hunters. A resume is a pretty straightforward list of professional accomplishments, but a cover letter requires a little extra polish to let your skills and qualifications shine. It can be intimidating, but don’t let it stop you from applying for that dream job. Once you know the basic format of a cover letter, you can tailor it to both your strengths and the company's needs and.

What to Include in a Cover Letter

A cover letter shouldn't just restate your full resume. While your complete job history should be on that other document, this letter should be personalized to the specific job you're applying for. It should answer three fundamental questions:

  1. How do your experiences reflect the job requirements?
  2. How do your skills meet the needs of the job requirements?
  3. Why do you want to work at this organization?

To answer these questions, follow these five steps as a guide: the address, the intro and hook, the body paragraphs, the conclusion, and the call to action. Keep in mind, none of these sections should be very long. The ideal cover letter fits on one page, and most hiring managers will be skimming, at that. Make it short, yet impactful.

Address: Be as Specific as Possible

In today’s job market, it’s likely you’re filling out a form or uploading a file, not putting a stamp on an envelope. However, adding an appropriate name or department can show you’ve done your research. The job description may include a specific person to address; always follow those instructions. If you have a direct contact, check for the spelling of their name and their pronouns. “To Whom It May Concern” is a little stuffy for the modern job market, but if you can’t find the name of the recruiter or hiring manager, it’s OK to use a salutation of “Dear hiring manager.”

Introduction: Hook the Reader

Think of a cover letter as a story — the story of you. You want to hook the reader from the beginning to ensure they make it to the end. It’s likely your application will be one of many, and employers aren’t going to spend a lot of time on first impressions that don’t wow.

Begin your introduction with an interesting fact that relates to the company you’re applying to, as well as yourself. For example, if the company created a product that benefited your family when you were a child, you might state how that improved your life and impacted your outlook on the world. If the job is in a field you’ve always wanted to work in, include an anecdote about a documentary that first sparked your interest in it, for example.

Body: Answer the Fundamental Questions

Since the application will also include your resume, don’t worry about detailing every past job or every aspect of your education or industry knowledge.

Instead, focus specifically on the details that relate to the work you will be doing. Highlight only workplaces and projects that prepared you for this position, or achievements and lessons that pertain to the listed job responsibilities and qualifications. If you're applying for a managerial role, talk about your experiences with that. One to two paragraphs is enough.

Conclusion: Why Do You Want the Job?

Instead of using the conclusion to summarize what you're already written, explain why this particular position is important to you. You should have already shared something about yourself in the introduction, and explained how you’re prepared to do the work, but now it’s time to explain why you’d want to do it in the first place. Perhaps it’s the next step in your career path, or even a career change — if the latter, explain how this job matches your goals. If you love the culture and values of the company, this is a chance to share that.

Call to Action: Invite the Hiring Manager to Contact You

Before closing with a simple “Sincerely, Your Name,” invite the reader of your cover letter to reach out to you. Don’t be overly bold and say you expect to hear from them, but do express your interest in hearing about next steps. You might say, for example, that you would be interested in a follow-up call or interview if they feel you're a good fit.

Finally, always do a spell check when you’re done writing, and if you have a detail-oriented friend, ask for a proofread before you hit "send.". Remember: Each cover letter should be customized for the job, but you can use this basic framework to write what could be an entry into the next step of an interview.
Featured photo credit: PeopleImages/ iStock

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