A killer cover letter is an essential part of any job application. And since it can seem daunting to try to summarize all your professional expertise and goals into just a few short, well-designed paragraphs, we've got some tips to help make the process easier.
Cover letter length and margins
Your cover letter should be one page. It can be less, but definitely not more. Ideally, the margins should be set at one inch on all sides. If your finished letter doesn't fit on a page with those margins, edit it for length and clarity until it does. Make it single-spaced with double-spaced breaks between the main cover letter sections (all profiled further on in the article).
And as for using multiple colors or fonts, well, that depends. "If you're in a creative field, it's understandable to send something that has some beautiful design to it, but the substance has to be there," Victoria Vitarelli, a career consultant and marketing expert who has worked with brands including Garnier and Bausch & Lomb. You can consider using a font color that is not black for your name and perhaps your contact information (to give it an extra pop so it stands out), but the body of the letter should be in black font.
Assemble your building blocks
A polished cover letter should include these tried-and-true sections:
- Contact information and date
Contact information would include your full name, city, state, zip code, phone number and email address. Also list the date that you are sending the letter.
- A greeting
If you're applying through a portal, this might just be a generic salutation, such as "Dear Hiring Manager." But if you know the name of the person receiving the application, it's worth looking them up. You might discover important information such as their preferred pronouns, or other commonalities (maybe you both attended the same college or university or are affiliated with the same professional organization) that you could mention elsewhere in your letter. Even if you don't know the name of the person receiving the application, do your best to find the person's name (via the company's website, or via the People section of their LinkedIn profile page).
- An opening paragraph
This is where you should mention the position your applying for using the language in the job posting — as well as language that is part of the company culture. Stacey Staaterman, a certified professional coach who's worked with executives at Welch's Foods, Random House and Consumer Reports, recommends researching the values and language used in the company's materials, and echoing that mood in your letter. "Make sure the letter is clearly tailored for the conversation you want to have with the company," says Staaterman. In other words, don't send out something that's so generic, it feels like you haven't added any of your own story. Use this section to show your enthusiasm about the position and demonstrate any knowledge you might have about the company or what's going on in the industry at large.
- One or two paragraphs about your experience and goals
Use the body of your cover letter to lay out how your past experience relates to the requirements listed in the job description, and what you could bring to the position you're applying for. But don't just regurgitate your resume." Employers don't want to read your resume in one document, and then read it again in another," says Staaterman. Instead, use the cover letter to expound on your achievements and tell your story. For example, if being the manager of the lifeguards at your swim club required leadership and management skills, which are needed for the job being advertised, then explain that here. "Great careers require great communications," explains Katie Fogarty, a career strategist and the founder of The Reboot Group, which has worked with leaders at NBC Universal, American Express and iHeart media. "And to evolve your career, you have to tell your career story — and tell it well!"
- Final paragraph and closing
Reiterate your interest in the job in the final paragraph of your cover letter. Choose a sign-off that is concise and courteous, such as "Yours truly" or "Respectfully yours." Some creative industries might be okay with a more casual sign-off, but there's always time for chattiness and informalities at the interview if you find that's the company's overall vibe.
Additional design touches
Once you've composed the sections above, you can consider customizing the design of your cover letter with carefully chosen fonts, headers and banners. But Staaterman suggests keeping it simple. "There's definitely more tolerance these days for more creative graphic presentation, but you never know if a company's applicant tracking software can read all of the design you create." The same thing goes for overly complicated spacing and margins. Keep it a simple, and keep it to around one inch all around.
Recruiters and hiring managers today are inundated with candidates, so it's easy for them to cut candidates who don't stand out. That's why, argues Katie Fogarty, you need to make certain your communications set you apart. "You need to figure out what your secret sauce is, and get good at sharing it."