Another job application, another cover letter. If you’ve lost count of how many of these stress-inducing documents you’ve written as a job applicant, you’re not alone.
Cover letters are challenging for everyone, even professional writers. And it’s frustrating when you’re not sure if anyone takes the time to read them.
They do — especially now that career-changing and employment gaps are more common. In one recent survey, 48% of hiring managers reported that they pay more attention to cover letters in 2021 than they did just two years ago.
Learning how to write a cover letter that impresses the hiring manager can even tip the scales in your favor and land you that interview. It’s worth taking the time to make it great.
What Is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter is a brief note that you send alongside your resume to a hiring manager. It expresses your interest in the position and articulates why you believe yourself to be the best possible candidate for the position.
A good cover letter is no more than three to four paragraphs long and shouldn’t exceed 400 words maximum. In one survey, 70% of hiring managers said they wanted cover letters to be a half page or less. That’s why it’s very important you learn how to write a cover letter that will impress and get you past the initial resume review.
Brevity isn’t just the soul of wit; it also tells a hiring manager that you’re professional, efficient, and easy to work with.
Formatting Your Cover Letter
A cover letter uses business letter format. That means it’s left-justified — all paragraphs aligned with the left margin — and it has the following sections in order:
- The recipient’s name and contact information
- The date
- A formal greeting
- An opening paragraph
- Two or three body paragraphs
- A closing paragraph
- A professional signoff and your full name
Here’s how it looks in practice:
Image credit: Indeed.com
Remember, this is a template, not an example — don’t use “Dear Hiring Manager” if you can avoid it! Your cover letter should be personalized at every level possible.
What to Include: A Checklist
Your cover letter has two purposes:
- To establish a connection between you and the hiring manager
- To expand on your key qualifications and present you as the perfect candidate
Don’t think of it as a hurdle or some kind of test (If I don’t phrase this perfectly, they’ll hire someone else!). It’s your chance to introduce yourself and highlight what you’ve accomplished.
Be genuine. Be human. Have some fun with it.
Make a Great First Impression
Nothing sends your resume to the trash bin like a generic cover letter. After all, if someone can’t be bothered to write an original cover letter, what kind of effort would they put into the job?
Also, you’re not like any other candidate, and your cover letter should show that. Communicate one-on-one from your very first word, starting with your “hello.”
Use the Hiring Manager’s Name
Always address your cover letter to a specific person. If the job posting doesn’t include it, you’ll have to do some digging. You can:
- Check the company’s website for management bios
- Contact the company or, better yet, the senior executive who would be the hiring manager’s supervisor
- Ask someone in your network who works for the company. Second and third-level connections on LinkedIn can be helpful resources.
- Search LinkedIn for titles like hiring manager or recruiter, or search for the manager of the department you want to join
Here’s what that kind of search will look like:
Image credit: LinkedIn
Always default to the formal mode of address, unless you’re officially on a first-name basis already. Use “Mr.” or “Ms.” If you know the person’s gender without a doubt. Otherwise, use their full name, as in “Dear Terry Smith.”
If you absolutely can’t find the name no matter how hard you try, then it’s okay to write to a job title, but be specific. Go with “Social Media Coordinator Hiring Manager” instead of just “Hiring Manager.”
Open with a Hook
Good writing is good writing, whether you’re crafting a cover letter or writing a best-seller. Your first job is to catch the reader’s attention with your first sentence.
Don’t stress too much — it’s perfectly fine to open with “I’m writing to apply for the [job] position at [company]. It’s just more interesting to start with something unique, like:
- Around the water cooler at Hamilton and Hamilton, I’m known as the guy who can land any client. But you can call me Bob, your very eager candidate for the publicity position at Burr & Co.
- I’ve always thought that wild horses couldn’t drag me away from my job at Neiman Marcus, where I’ve been employee of the week six times. It turns out I don’t need livestock. I just needed the chance to work as a personal shopper for Macy’s.
This kind of snappy opener is attention-getting and fun to write. If you need some inspiration, these 31 examples will get you going.
Include the Job Details
In your mission to captivate the hiring manager, don’t forget to name the job and company you’re applying to. Otherwise, they might assume that you use the same line on all your target companies.
Reel Them In
Once you have their attention, it’s time to swoop in and close the sale. In no more than two paragraphs — one is even better — show them why you’re the perfect fit.
This isn’t the time to talk about your “excellent communication skills” or “in-depth knowledge of Python.” You only have a few sentences to work with. Zero in on the skills you have that are a perfect match for the job description.
If you’re not sure which to focus on, look at what skills appear first or multiple times in the original posting. Then, ask yourself what you’ve done in your career that required those skills.
Say What Your Resume Doesn’t
If you’re truly a good match for the position, your key skills will already appear on your resume. Don’t just re-list them in your cover letter. Go into more depth and explain how you used a particular skill, and what the results were.
For example, if your resume mentions that you oversaw a nine-person team as a project manager, your cover letter could tell the story of the high-budget project you delivered on time, despite X or Y obstacle. If you have some hard numbers you can throw in, all the better:
We delivered ahead of deadline, saving the company $X.
Bonus points if you can connect it to the role you’re applying for:
With experience like this under my belt, I’ll be able to guide your engineering team to great heights.
If you’ve worked in another field and have transferrable skills, your cover letter is where you explain why those skills are relevant.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never worked in that role before. It matters whether you’ve got the skills to succeed and you have evidence to back it up.
In my six years as a product development manager, I learned a thing or two about collaboration. My team delivered 100% of projects on or ahead of deadlines, and the workflow I established shaved 32 hours off our average completion time. As member of your engineering team, I’ll bring the same commitment to results.
Make It About Them
Hiring managers spend all day reading about candidates who are excited about the job, and how the job can help the candidates meet their professional goals. They don’t even know you yet — their priority is their success.
Focus on that. Yes, you’re going to talk mostly about yourself, but keep bringing it back to the role and what you can accomplish for the company in that position.
End on a High Note
You “look forward to hearing from” the hiring manager, but so does everyone else. To give your closing a bit more “oomph,” add a reminder of what makes you a great hire:
- I’m excited to offer my skills in XX to [Company].
- I would be thrilled to work with a company that shares my passion for XX.
- I’m passionate about [company mission] and would be thrilled to bring my [specific] skills to the role.
As for the sign-off, don’t sweat it. A lot of job seekers get so stressed out by a cover letter that they panic when they have to decide between Sincerely and Kind regards. Either is fine. So is:
- Best regards
- Yours truly
- Thank you again
Keep it professional, end with your full name, and you’re golden. No one will choose not to hire you because they prefer Sincerely to Respectfully.
Great Cover Letter Examples
Now that you have all of the pieces of a captivating cover letter, it’s time to put them together. These examples will help you out — think of them as the picture on the jigsaw puzzle box, but with more flexibility.
For a Career Changer or New Professional
Everyone has some experience to speak of, whether it’s academic or on the job in a previous industry. Here’s a great example of how to describe transferable skills in a cover letter:
Image credit: Novoresume.com
Note how Enzo emphasizes the results of previous projects, even though the experience was in a different industry.
For a Mid-Career Professional
If you’re an experienced professional, you get to cherry pick your most relevant and impressive accomplishments. Use the structure of your letter to make them stand out. For instance:
Image source: Novoresume.com
This is a great cover letter because it includes concrete skills as well as the results of the applicant’s accomplishments. Plus, it keeps the focus on the hiring company.
The Finishing Touches: Using Templates
Never underestimate the power of a template. The text of your cover letter will be polished and professional by this point, but a visually appealing layout gives it that extra personal touch.
The easiest method for most people is to use an online builder. One of the best and easiest to use is Resume.io. All you have to do is plug in your content and the builder will create a unique downloadable PDF. You can even change the color scheme.
If you want a different format or you’d just like to explore other options, take a look at what’s available for your word processing software. Most tools, including MS Word and Google Docs, have galleries of templates you can choose from.
There are even more scattered across the internet, if you’re up for a search.
Sending Your Cover Letter
Always follow the job posting’s instructions for how to send your cover letter. Some employers will ask for an attachment, possibly in a specific format. If the employer requests a PDF, send a PDF — not a Word doc and certainly not something obscure like .odx or system-specific like Pages.
Sometimes the post doesn’t specify how to send your cover letter. That’s when a lot of job seekers start tearing their hair out. Should I copy and paste it? Attach it with the resume? If I attach it, what do I write in the email?
Take a breath. If a hiring manager has a strong preference, they’ll state it. Otherwise, they’ll understand that some people do it one way and some do it the other.
If you end up attaching your cover letter, you will need to include a quick note in the email body. A few sentences is enough.
Here’s a great example from TheMuse.com:
“I’ve learned you are seeking a senior project manager with e-commerce experience and knowledge of Jira. That’s me. My attached resume and cover letter outline my qualifications for the role. Thank you very much for your consideration. I hope to hear from you soon!”
Finally, You’re Done!
You’ve sent your cover letter and resume out into the world. If you’ve followed the best practices above, you can be confident that you’re putting your best foot forward.
Go ahead — click send. You’ve earned it.
Musings and updates from the content management team at Clippings.me.