Write a Compelling Cover Letter in 8 Steps
1. Format Your Letter Correctly. Presentation can be just as important as content when it comes to cover letters. Make sure you use clear, professional fonts, and a design that organizes information neatly, for easy scanning. A great place to start is with our free cover letter templates, which cover a variety of design styles, all professionally formatted. For even more formatting tips, check out our Cover Letter Formatting page.
2. Grab a Recruiter’s Attention Right From the Start. Opening your cover letter with a bland statement like “I’m interested in applying for job X at your company” won’t set you apart from the crowd. Make a more memorable impact through one of these methods:
- Enthusiasm: Convey your passion for your work, and why you’re excited about the job opportunity. For example: “As a customer service representative committed to quality and ensuring consumer satisfaction, I’m excited by the opportunity to make a positive impact in your regional manager role.”
- Your connections: If you’re applying for this job through someone you know at the company, mention it up front — studies show that over 50% of all jobs are filled through networking contacts. For example: “I’ve been referred to this graphic designer opportunity through Tom Smith, a product manager on your team.”
- A notable accomplishment: Impress employers right off the bat by providing details about an achievement that relates to the job. For example: “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% increase in followers for our company Twitter account. I’m excited at the prospect of making a similar impact with your company’s social media accounts.”
3. Tell a Story Through Your Skills and Accomplishments. While a resume provides an overview of your capabilities and work history, a cover letter is your chance to provide more details about your top accomplishments. Draw connections between what you’ve achieved, and how it can be applied to the potential job. For example, if you’re applying for an administrative job that requires scheduling management and being able to assist executive team members on projects, you could write:
“As an administrative assistant, I’ve well-versed in managing schedules for groups of 40+ employees using Outlook and Google Calendar, and collaborating with executives on regular weekly financial forecast presentations, using PowerPoint.”
Note how this example uses specific numbers and mentions software you’ve used, giving your successes more context. For related tips on how to best present your story, see our article 5 Cover Letter Moves Managers Love.
4. Use Keywords To Match What the Job Needs. To get the right keywords, look over the job description and note phrases and words that underline what the job requires (e.g., proficiency with Microsoft Office, or strong communication skills). Make sure these keywords are addressed when you describe your own skills and work experiences. For example: “As an event planner, I’ve used strong communication and negotiation skills with vendors to organize over 200 events, earning 5-star ratings on Yelp for my services.”
5. Show You Understand the Company.
- Take the time to research the job and company, and identify aspects of the company that excite you. For example: “I’m very impressed with your company’s creative, out-of-the-box approach to the industry, and how you trust your employees to be proactive.”
- Take note of the company’s culture. 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.”
Cover Letter FAQ
1. What should a cover letter include?
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 three major areas:
- Who you are: Introduce yourself as an employee, including some tidbits on your work history and your best qualifications.
- Why you’re a good fit: Explain why your abilities and experiences are suited for the job.
- What you know about the company: Show your understanding of what the company does, and what excites you about it.
2. Should you always submit a cover letter?
Even if a company doesn’t specifically request it, you should always send a cover letter with your resume when you can. A cover letter can provide more background on your most relevant skills, and also provides a glimpse of your personality in a way that a resume can’t.
3. How do you sell yourself in a cover letter?
Think of your cover letter as a sales pitch. When a company seeks a new employee, they’re searching for a solution. Market yourself as the solution in your letter. To do so, make sure you understand what you’re offering the solution to: What are your potential employers specifically looking for, and what kind of employee do they want? Then line up experiences and skills you have that fit those requirements, and inject them in your letter. As with any good salesperson delivering a pitch, maintain a confident but respectful tone, and open the door to continued communication (“I’d be happy to further discuss these and other qualifications I have to fill this position”).
4. How do you write a cover letter if you have no experience?
First-time job applicants usually have to make do with resumes that might look a little skimpy. Use your cover letter to expand on why you think you can benefit a company, by emphasizing skills and training you already have that fit what the job needs, as well as a willingness to go the extra mile and pick up new skills quickly. You can also explain how your volunteer work or extracurricular activities have helped prepare you for this opportunity. 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. Finally, your attitude can be just as important as your experience: Take the time to explain why the job excites you, and how your personality can fit with the company.
5. Should you bring up salary or work benefits in your letter?
Save these questions for later in the job application process, such as during the interview. The cover letter should focus on the job position, and why you’re a good candidate to fill it.
6. What are the three types of cover letters?
There are three primary types of cover letters:
- Application cover letter: This is a cover letter that’s part of a standard job application — most cover letters are in this format.
- Networking cover letter: This letter is aimed at a contact person you know within a company, either inquiring about potential job opportunities or seeking a referral for a job opening within the company.
- Prospecting cover letter: Think of this letter like a “cold call.” Use it to introduce yourself and your skillset to hiring managers or other employees at a particular company, and check on job opportunities that are just opening up, or might open up down the road.
7. How do you write a cover letter for a career change?
As with all cover letters, first determine what the employer is looking for, then find transferable skills from previous jobs that fit these needs. Certain skills like organization, leadership and good communication are fitting for most jobs. You may also find that your experiences give you a unique advantage over others who are applying for the job. For example, if you’re applying for a journalist position but have a solid background in social media, you can note your ability to use social media to increase readership, and make important contacts. For more tips, see our article How to Write the Perfect Letter for a Career Change.
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