What is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter is a standard requirement for a job application, and serves as both an introduction and a “sales pitch.” This is your opportunity to introduce yourself to a potential employer, and explain your interest and suitability for a specific job. A cover letter is also a key complement to your resume, as it provides context for your resume’s highlights, and focuses on how your strengths match the job. To create your own professional, employer-ready letter, follow our expert tips below.
Breaking Down a Cover Letter
- 1. Contact information: Make sure your contact information is accurate and professional (no silly email addresses here). Also make sure that your letter is addressed to the most appropriate person and department.
- 2. Opening: Introduce yourself and specify the position you’re interested in. Start making your case for why you’re a good fit for the job, using your strongest skill or job experience.
- 3. Body: Continue to elaborate on your skills, and how you’ve used them to accomplish positive results in previous roles. Provide specific details on how you can use your talents to excel in the open position.
- 4. Closing: Reiterate your enthusiasm for the opportunity. Get the employer interested in reading your resume, and emphasize your readiness for the next step (i.e., arranging for an interview).
What to Include in a Cover Letter
1. A strong opening
Mention a company contact or mutual connection if you have one. Studies show that over 50 percent of jobs are gained through networking contacts. For example:
I’ve become familiar with your company through your colleague John Smith, who works in your department.
Highlight details on previous jobs and accomplishments that prove your capabilities, with specific, quantifiable examples of how you’ve made a difference. For instance, a job applicant for a social media marketing manager position could start off this way:
As a marketing associate, I’ve had over five years of experience in social media, including work at the ABC Company where my marketing strategies resulted in a 300 percent increase in followers for our company Twitter account.
Convey your passion for your work, and why you’re excited about the job opportunity. Explain your interest in the job. For example:
As a customer service representative committed to quality service and contributing to a national company, I am excited by your regional manager role, which would be a great fit with my abilities.
As with a resume, you should customize your cover letter to directly address what the employer is looking for. Look for keywords and phrases in the job description that you can incorporate in your letter. For example, if an accounting specialist posting mentions “proficient in Microsoft Excel” as a required skill, and “Maintain and balance GL subledger records on a daily basis” as a task, address these elements in your letter if you have the know-how and experience to back up your claims:
My proficiencies include Microsoft Excel, and I also have extensive experience maintaining and balancing GL subledger records.
3. A Focus on the Employer
Above all, you want to convince your potential employer that you fit the job (and the company fits you). To do so, research the job and company, identify aspects of the company that excite you, and mention them. Take note of the company’s culture, and adjust the tone of your letter accordingly: straightforward for a professional, to-the-point organization, or more informal for a creative, innovative workplace. Express how you can help the company, rather than how the company can help you. This is your chance to show the employer that you’ve done your homework and understand what they’re all about. For example:
I’m impressed with your organization’s reputation in family services, an area that is a particular passion of mine. As an experienced case worker, I am familiar with the duties of your case manager position, and have also been recognized for my ability to create customized treatment plans — a skill that I think would be very beneficial for this role.
4. The Right Story
Everyone has a unique story to tell about their career, and the best way to tell that story is to pick out the right details that match the job opening. For example, if you’re applying for a customer service position but have a background in a different industry, pick out examples from your career where you’ve demonstrated the ability to assist clients and customers:
In my current position I’ve headed customer service best-practices training that has helped increase our company’s BBB rating from B to A- within the past two years.
As the example above demonstrates, it’s better to show than tell — give concrete examples of how you’ve succeeded.
Even if you’re a fresh college graduate with little or no work history, you can still tell a story by giving examples of internships, extracurricular work, or academic studies that relate to the job.
5. A Big Finish
You want to compel the reader of your letter to contact you for a follow-up. To do that, finish your letter with a strong call to action. One good method is to express your desire to further discuss your qualifications, and learn more about the company’s needs.
I look forward to discuss this job opening in more detail with you, and how I can help fulfill your company’s goals.
You should also re-emphasize your enthusiasm about the position and company.
I am very excited to learn more about this opportunity and share how I will be a great fit.
The conclusion of your letter is also a good time to refer to your resume again.
I have attached my resume for your review — feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
If you’re feeling very confident about your candidacy, you can also take a first step towards making further contact.
I look forward to following up with you next week on my application, and arranging for an interview.
What Not to Include in Your Cover Letter
- A generic salutation. Starting your letter with “Dear Hiring Manager” or “To Whom It May Concern” is impersonal, and gets you off on the wrong foot. Take the time to research a specific person to address the letter to. For example, if the job posting includes information on a specific team or manager the position reports to, check LinkedIn to get details on the team manager.
- Too many details. No need to regurgitate everything in your resume. Instead, write about the career experiences and achievements that apply directly to the job in question.
- Errors. Whether it’s a typo or a factual mistake about your career (or the company you’re applying to), having obvious errors in your cover letter makes it easy for employers to pass you up.
- Personal information. You might be tempted to share personal information about yourself or your family to make a positive first impression, but just stick to your work life.
- Questions about salary and benefits. Save these questions for later in the job application process, such as during the interview. The cover letter should just be about the job position, and why you’re a good candidate to fill it.
Cover Letter FAQ
How do you sell yourself in a cover letter?
Above all, you want to prove to the company that you are a worthy candidate for the job. To do so, emphasize your enthusiasm, knowledge, and readiness.
- Describe what it is about the job that excites you. Employers will be less interested in candidates who do not seem eager about the opportunity.
- Show that you have taken the time to understand the company’s mission and culture. Companies appreciate job seekers who are passionate enough to do initial research.
- Prove to them that you have the right capabilities to fulfill the jobs requirements. Highlight skills and previous job achievements that best match the job. You should give an impression that you can hit the ground running.
How do you write a cover letter if you have no experience?
If you are a recent college graduate, or do not have much experience with a particular industry, think of your cover letter in terms of skills instead of experiences. Use examples from internships, volunteer and extracurricular work, or academic programs that applies to the job. For instance, if you’re applying for a marketing position, you can mention communications, event planning and customer skills you’ve picked up from a part-time retail job. If you’re a programmer seeking a more managerial role, mention any experiences you have had leading small groups, or successfully managing a project.
What information should be contained in a cover letter?
On the most basic level, make sure your accurate, professional contact information is included, as well as the title of the job you’re interested in. The easiest way to do the latter is to include it on a separate line before your salutation, such as:
Re: Program manager position at Company X
Your letter should also focus on information that answers three major questions:
- Who are you? Introduce yourself as an employee, including some tidbits on your work history and your best qualifications.
- Why are you a good fit? Explain why your abilities and experiences are suited for the job.
- What do you know about the company? Show your understanding of what the company does, and what excites you about it.
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