Elyssa Duncan
Community Specialist
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How to write a winning cover letter for your next job opportunity
Last updated: August 12, 2022
Elyssa Duncan
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How to write a winning cover letter for your next job opportunity
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After spending hours perfecting your resume, you probably dread having to write a separate cover letter for every job you apply to.

It’s tempting to skip it — but you shouldn’t.

A cover letter is where you can make yourself stand out from the pack and increase your chances of landing that next job. Hiring managers read these to better understand who you are and what you can do for their company.

Starting the cover letter is overwhelming. What do you cover? How do you structure it?

Don’t worry — we’ve put together a complete guide to writing a great cover letter that can land you your next job opportunity.

Get ready to learn the proper cover letter format, what to avoid, and several tips to make it as compelling as possible. Toward the end, we’ll go over some cover letter FAQs.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a one-page document written in a formal tone and sent with your resume that lets you talk more about your skills and achievements and demonstrates your personality.

It often contains the hiring manager’s name, date, and company name and address.

Take a look at this cover letter example:

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You’ll need to send out a different cover letter tailored to each position and company you’re applying for.

Your resume only lists facts about you — it doesn’t show who you are as a person and a worker.

A well-written cover letter can give you an edge against others with a slightly strong resume and no cover letter.

In fact, about 25% of HR managers spend less than 30 seconds looking at your resume.

Your cover letter offers a chance to talk about who you are and why you’re the best fit for the job.

It lets you leave a strong first impression beyond your skills and experience. You can inject some personality and show your enthusiasm for the job.

It also allows you to talk more about the best stuff on your resume and truly sell yourself.

How do you start and end a cover letter?

At the top, you’ll put your name and contact information.

Below that, you’ll put your potential employer’s address and contact information. This isn’t as important in today’s world of digital applications, but it never hurts to list it.

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After that comes the main structure of the cover letter.

Salutation

It’s not always obvious who you’re supposed to send your cover letter to. It could be an HR person, hiring manager, or even a senior team member.

But “dear hiring manager” or “to whom it may concern” makes it seem like you didn’t care enough to research the company and the job. You should write to a specific person.

To find the correct person, review their website and LinkedIn. If that doesn’t work, call the company’s front office and ask who’s in charge of hiring for the position in question.

Opening paragraph

In the opening paragraph, you have to grab the employer’s attention. Start strong by expressing your interest in the position, then write a couple of sentences about your relevant strengths and how they relate to the job.

Body paragraphs

After the introductory paragraph, your body paragraphs elaborate on what you have to offer and what you know about the company.

Start the second paragraph with what you bring to the table. Discuss some key strengths you have and provide a specific example or two of how you applied those to achieve success in previous positions. Consider using bullet points to keep your reader’s attention.

For higher-level job openings, you may have another paragraph discussing a second position you held in the past.

In the next paragraph, demonstrate your knowledge of the company. Show you did your research by linking your experience and the job you’re applying for to the company’s mission.

Closing paragraph

Close the cover letter by reiterating your interest in the job and your enthusiasm to meet the hiring manager. Mention that you’ve enclosed or attached your resume with your cover letter as well.

Finish it off with a formal closing, such as “sincerely.” Type your name afterward, but leave a space for your signature. If applying online or by email, type your name and contact information — don’t worry about a signature.

How do you write a winning cover letter?

Use these eight cover letter tips to land your next job.

1. Go beyond your resume

Remember, your resume is simply the facts about you. Your cover letter needs to complement your resume, not copy it.

In other words, your cover letter is where to expand on what these facts mean for the employer.

Talk about why your experience and skills make you a fit for the job. Discuss some specific results you’ve achieved using those skills. Put in a touch of personality, too.

2. Highlight the most relevant experience and achievements

You don’t have a ton of room in your cover letter. Whatever you put in needs to hit as hard as possible.

Highlight only the most relevant skills and experience you have. This often means discussing only one job — probably your current or previous job if you aren’t making a career change.

When discussing that job, talk about the skills you developed there and how you applied them to help the company.

For example, if you worked at a retail store, you might discuss how your sharp customer service and sales skills recently made you the top salesperson of the month.

3. Consider testimonials

Testimonials — statements from others that praise something about you — are a unique way to sell yourself to employers in your cover letter. You gain plenty of credibility with testimonials.

Think about it as if you were a hiring manager: even if an employee were excellent at showing why they’re the best candidate, wouldn’t you trust them a lot more if someone else thinks they’re great?

Not to mention, few applicants use testimonials, so you’ll stand out in the employer’s mind.

The best testimonials come from former supervisors — if they’re relevant to the job you’re applying for. If your current or former boss said something great about you, weave it into the cover letter. You don’t have to quote them directly.

Stick with only one or two testimonials to prevent your cover letter from stretching too long.

4. Convey moderate enthusiasm for the role

Your potential employer wants to see enthusiasm, but not too much. Saying that you’re “extremely excited” or “super thrilled” might sound enthusiastic to you, but it doesn’t add much to the letter.

Instead, write as you normally would. Inject enthusiasm by linking your skills to the opportunity at hand and stating that you’re looking forward to talking more with the company.

5. Keep it short but impactful

Like your resume, your cover letter needs to hit hard without a lot of words. Keep them short but impactful.

Here’s an example of taking “short but impactful” about as far as possible:

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Now, your cover letter doesn’t need to be that short. But you shouldn’t add any fluff to lengthen it. Employers look through tons of cover letters, so yours needs to convey your suitability for the job without extras.

6. Don’t apologize for lacking skills

Honesty is key in the job hunt, but that doesn’t mean you have to highlight where you lack experience.

Doing so can make you appear less confident.

For example, you don’t have to say, “I don’t have direct experience doing X,” even if that’s true. Instead, keep the focus on your relevant skills and abilities. Emphasize that you’re excited to bring those skills to a new role, company, and environment.

7. Don’t copy and paste your cover letter

Let’s face it: writing a unique cover letter for every job takes time. It’s easier to send a generic cover letter.

But resist the urge to copy and paste. You might forget to take out the previous company’s information, cutting you out of consideration for the job.

Plus, if you write each cover letter, your enthusiasm will shine through more. Copying and pasting, on the other hand, shows that you’re just applying to every job possible.

Sure, you can reuse a few key phrases — such as relevant skills — but tailor the rest of it to each job and company.

To make this easier, consider saving each job ad you come across. The job description is full of valuable information you can use to write your cover letter.

8. Get honest feedback from friends or family

Before you send your cover letter off, get some other sets of eyeballs on it. See what your friends and family think. They know you from the outside, so they can provide a fresh perspective on who you are personally and professionally.

Plus, they’ll help you catch any typos and other language errors.

What to avoid when writing a cover letter

Here are four things to avoid when writing your cover letter:

Generic salutations

As previously mentioned, avoid “to whom it may concern” and similar salutations. They make your cover letter look generic.

Filling it with “I”

You should talk about yourself in the cover letter, but the focus is on how you bring value to this new company. Tie any statements about you back to the company when possible.

Being too formal

Cover letters are formal, but you don’t want to sound robotic. Use proper English, but don’t be afraid to sound friendly and approachable.

Lying

This one’s obvious, but it’s worth a reminder. If the employer discovers you lied in your cover letter after handing you the job, they can fire you for it, so don’t exaggerate.

Cover letter FAQs

How do I write a cover letter as a student?

You may not have a lot of work experience to lean on, but the principles don’t change.

No need to focus on your schoolwork too much. Maybe mention your major and your GPA if it’s strong, but that’s about it. Employers care more about work experience. Even if, for example, you work as a cashier while in school, you can learn valuable skills on the job.

You can also mention any clubs or groups on campus that you play a significant role in, such as a chair position. Once again, talk about what you’ve done for the club or group in that position.

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Is a cover letter the same as a resume?

Resumes and cover letters are not the same.

Your resume is filled with facts about your job history, education, and skills. It’s the “who, what, when, where, and how.”

Your cover letter is the “why.” It lets you elaborate on your experience and accomplishments and how they make you fit for the job.

It’s also a place to show your personality and, in some cases, explain shortcomings (like periods of unemployment).

Does my cover letter have to go with my resume?

Yes. Most job applications let you submit your cover letter and resume at the same time. A cover letter is often optional, but you should always submit one anyway.

If you’re sending your documents via email, attach both to the same message.

How long should my cover letter be?

Cover letters should be no more than a page in length. That includes the header, employer information, salutation, and signature.

In general, shoot for three to four paragraphs in the body. This is enough space to highlight your accomplishments without losing the employer’s interest.

Are cover letters different in different countries?

The theme doesn’t change, but cover letters do vary slightly from place to place — countries have different nuances due to cultural differences.

If you’re applying internationally, it’s a good idea to read up on what cover letters should look like in that country.

What words should I avoid in my cover letter?

Many words and phrases — such as adverbs — have been overused in cover letters. Employers get tired of seeing them.

Here are some words and phrases to avoid in your cover letter.

  • “Thinking outside the box”
  • “Dynamic”
  • “Significant”
  • “Self-started”
  • “Detail-oriented”
  • Most industry buzzwords
  • Any words that convey uncertainty (“I believe,” “I think,” etc.)
  • Any words or phrases that aren’t direct and assertive (“please feel free”)

When should I submit my cover letter?

Submit your cover letter with your resume. As mentioned, there’s usually a spot on online applications for it.

If you’re mailing it or dropping it off, keep them together.

If you’re emailing your job application, send it with your resume.

Land more interviews with a awesome cover letter

Without your cover letter, employers can’t see you as more than a list of jobs and skills. A short but effective cover letter puts a personality to the facts and lets you persuade your employer that you’re the best candidate for the job.

Follow the tips above and put some work up front into each cover letter. You’ll thank yourself when you land your next fantastic job opportunity.

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Elyssa Duncan
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Melanie Gilreath

Great tips! I've always struggled with cover letters, to make them sound genuine.

1y
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