How to Write a Cover Letter

Last updated: June 21, 2024
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Elyssa Duncan
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How to Write a Cover Letter
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After spending hours working on 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 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 compiled 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 that accompanies your resume and introduces you to the hiring manager of the company you’re applying to. It provides the hiring manager with information about your qualifications, skills, and experience that aren’t included in your resume.

A well-crafted cover letter can also make a great impression on an employer and help you stand out from the competition. It should be tailored to the specific opportunity you’re applying for and highlight the essential skills you have that are related to the role.

Your cover letter should be well-written and show enthusiasm in the position and interest in the company.

The cover letter is often a potential employer’s first impression of an applicant, and employers may even pass up your resume if the cover letter isn’t well-written. This is why it’s recommended that you spend some time creating an effective cover letter that reflects your qualifications, experience, and personality.

While every cover letter will be unique, there are specific components to include in each one to convey professionalism and attention to detail.

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.

Applicants who provide a cover letter are also seen as more professional and driven than those who don’t. It only takes a few minutes to write one, but the impression it makes can last much longer.

Some job postings may specify whether a cover letter is required. Even if it’s optional, you should always include one as part of your application process. The added effort will make a good impression on the prospective employer and increase your chances of getting an offer.

How to format a resume cover letter

A critical element of crafting a cover letter is formatting and presentation.

Your cover letter should look neat and organized, with no typos or errors. You want to ensure the employer can easily digest the information and quickly determine what’s important in it.

The cover letter should not surpass one page, using standard font size and margins. It should include your contact details (name, address with zip code, phone number, and email) at the top of the page.

Here is the general structure of a cover letter:

Salutation

It’s not always apparent to whom you should send your cover letter. It could be an HR person, a hiring manager, or even a senior team member.

But “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 hiring for the position.

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 several sentences about your relevant strengths and how they relate to the job.

Body paragraphs

After the introductory paragraph, your body paragraphs elaborate on your skill set 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 of instances where 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 previously held.

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 also enclosed or attached your resume with your cover letter.

Finish it off with a formal closure, 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.

Tips on how to write a cover letter

When you’re ready to write your cover letter, here are some tips for the process:

Learn from cover letter samples

One of the most complex parts of writing a cover letter is getting started. To get the ball rolling, look at examples from successful cover letters as inspiration for your own. You shouldn’t copy these samples word for word, but they can help you understand what goes into a great cover letter and what sections to add if you’re experiencing writer’s block.

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.

Explain 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.

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 transferable skills and experience you have. This often means discussing only one job — often your previous or current position if you aren’t making a career change.

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

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

Consider testimonials

Testimonials — statements from others praising 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 employees are excellent at showing why they’re the most qualified candidates, wouldn’t you trust them much 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.

Convey moderate enthusiasm for the role.

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

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

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:

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

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.

Don’t copy and paste your cover letter.

Let’s face it: writing a strong 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, your enthusiasm will shine more if you write each cover letter. Copying and pasting, on the other hand, shows that you’re just applying to every job possible.

Sure, you can reuse key phrases from the job description — such as relevant skills — but tailor the rest of each job and company.

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

Get honest feedback from friends or family.

Before sending your cover letter, get feedback from those who know you well. 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.

What to avoid when drafting a cover letter

While there are a number of things you should include in your cover letter, there are also some things to avoid. Here are a few common mistakes to keep an eye out for:

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.

Using an unprofessional email address

Another common cover letter mistake is using an unprofessional email address. You don’t want to miss out on a job listing just because you used the same email address you made when you were 15.

Create a professional email address with your name, and don’t forget to check your inbox regularly for updates.

Resume cover letter FAQs.

How do I craft a cover letter as a student?

You may not have much real-world work experience to lean on, but the principles don’t change. Your cover letter should show the prospective employer why you’re an ideal fit for the job. Even teens who create a resume for the first time can highlight their abilities, such as dependability, good communication skills, and an eagerness to learn.

If you have no work experience, try focusing on your skills, such as time management, organization, and problem-solving. These are all traits employers look for in their workers.

Is a cover letter the same thing as a resume?

Resumes and cover letters are not the same.

Your resume contains 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 simultaneously. 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 cover letter heading, employer information, salutation, and signature.

In general, aim 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 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 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 omit 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”)

These words don’t tell the employer anything about you; instead, they make your cover letter sound too generic. Use specific examples and achievements to show the employer why you’re the ideal fit for the job.

Should I repeat information from my resume in my cover letter?

Your cover letter should enhance your resume, not repeat it. Use your cover letter to expand on specific experiences or skills relevant to the job rather than simply rehashing the information your resume provides. Take the time in your cover letter to show your personality and passion for the role, as this may not be clear in your resume.

Can I use a cover letter template?

While using a resume template as a starting point is okay, you should personalize the cover letter to the job you are applying for. Use specific language related to the job requirements and the company’s values, and customize the opening and closing paragraphs. A cover letter is an opportunity to put a unique spin on your resume and make a great first impression on the employer.

Start crafting your cover letter today

If you're struggling with figuring out how to write a cover letter, there are ways to help simplify the process. Knowing at least the basics can help you avoid making the common mistakes mentioned above and improve your chances of landing an interview.

Remember:

  • Keep your cover letter brief

  • Focus on your accomplishments

  • Use concrete examples to explain why you’re the right fit for the job

  • Be clear about what you can add to the role and company as a whole

A well-crafted cover letter can make a world of difference when applying for your ideal job. Jobcase’s Getting Hired Resource Center has more advice and resources to help you put your best foot forward during your job search.

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Sophia Berry
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Thank you for this guide on crafting a cover letter! It can be daunting to know where to start, but having a structured approach like this really helps. It's clear that a well-written cover letter can truly make a difference in standing out to potential employers. I'll be sure to refer back to this guide as I continue my job search journey. For those who might need extra assistance or professional guidance, considering cover letter writing services https://writtent.com/blog/best-cover-letter-writing-services/ could be beneficial in ensuring a polished and impactful application.

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Maxim Davidov
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Thank you. This is really valuable advice for me. The fact is that when it comes to writing anything, I have difficulties. It has always been like this, my writing skills leave a lot to be desired. That's why this service recently helped me https://www.thesiswritingservice.com/ What I liked is that these specialists offer 30 days of free edits with no limits. They make edits instantly, so I had the opportunity to request them as many times as necessary until the work was approved by my supervisor.

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Melanie Gilreath
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Merchandiser Tng at The News Group

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

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