A cover letter is an introductory letter and pitch letter that you send to a company you are interesting in working for along with your resume. The cover letter typically targets a specific position that has come available at the company. The goal of sending a cover letter is to get you an interview and a chance at landing the job. Many people will likely be sending in resumes for the same job. The cover letter gives you a chance to stand out from the other applicants.
Cover letters have specific formatting rules. There is no rule that says they have to boring. Don't use a form letter for the body of your cover letter. They need to be personalized.
The Internet contains tens of thousands of articles about how to write a cover letter. We will highlight a few of the best articles while providing tips and suggestions.
Are Cover Letters Still Relevant Today?
The answer is yes but it is a good question because cover letter usage is fading. You can't even send or attach a cover letter when applying for some jobs online. However, there are still plenty of recruiters and hiring managers that want to see cover letters. This is understandable because a cover letter can be used to determine that you are creative and that you can write. You should take the time to learn how to write one. You should also keep ideas in mind of what you want to say to different employers.
If an employer specifically asks for a cover letter you must send a cover letter. Do not ignore the request. You need to keep all possibilities alive and all avenues open when job hunting.
Researching and Rewriting
Applying for jobs takes time if you do it right. In order to write a great cover letter you will need to spend time understanding the job and researching the company. The more you understand company XYZ, its products and the corporate culture, the better you can pitch the company and help them see how you would be a great fit. You will also be spending time rewriting your cover letter to make it perfect and editing it to make sure it is error free.
It will be obvious to the hiring manager that reads your cover letter that you took the time to personalize it and target it just for them. This extra effort could be what help gets you the interview and ultimately the job.
Cover Letter Components
These are the basic components of a cover letter:
- Introduction or Opening Paragraph
Formatting the Heading
Here you will provide your name and contact information. This includes your address, phone number and email address. It should also include the date. The Purdue OWL has an article with short formatting tips to help guide you. The OWL advises, "Remember that the basic format of a cover letter follows that of a business letter."
Indeed also has an article with cover letter formatting advice and an example. Another good format cover letter sample can be found here in the American University's Career Center.
A single page only and 3/4 of a page is likely long enough. Do not write a cover letter that is longer than one page. You won't (we hope) find a single article anywhere recommending to write a cover letter longer than a page.
Salutation: Dear ...?
To whom should you address your cover letter? Use the name of the hiring manager or human resources director at the company. You should be able to find their name. If it is a very small company then it may be the president or vice president of the company.
If you cannot find the name of the hiring manager then read Jobscan's "Addressing a Cover Letter When You Don't Know the Hiring Manager's Name" helpful article. It contains advice on how to track down the name of a hiring manager. It also gives alternatives to using the outdated "To Whom it May Concern." Send your cover letter without a real name target only as a last resort.
Have a great opening that immediately interests the hiring manager. You should sound excited about the job opportunity. You should know something about the organization and have something good to say about it. Use this introduction to lead into your next paragraph about how your past experience makes you perfect for the available job.
Glassdoor has an article with 5 great opening lines. They say that one good way to approach your opening is to "begin your letter by expressing your excitement for the job opportunity."
You can find several examples for starting a letter with passion and love for the company at The Muse.
Body of the Cover Letter
If your potential employer is still reading your cover letter after the opening paragraph then you have succeeded in getting their attention. This section of the cover letter is where you pitch yourself to the employer. You want to tell them how you can fill their needs and exceed their expectations. You want to tell them you are right for the job. Here are a few ideas for what to say in the body of your cover letter:
- Highlight a relevant portion of your resume.
- Explain how your skills will benefit the company.
- Provide an example of a specific project you were in charge of.
- Don't overuse "I."
- Mention any foreign languages or travel experiences that might apply.
- The Balance says you could use a short bullet point list here.
This is where you conclude with a strong final point and say thank you for your time. Here are some ideas for your conclusion:
- You can say you are confident you are right for the job.
- You should sound confident without sounding needy.
- You can give a cell phone number to arrange for an interview.
- You can use, "I'd love to opportunity to show you..."
- You should thank them for their time.
- You should keep the concluding paragraph short.
Optional P.S. Section
The Resume Companion's article, "How to Write a Cover Letter - The Ultimate Guide" mentions an optional P.S. you could use if you wanted to mention a personal anecdote or connection you have with the hiring manager. It could work but don't use this idea unless you have something really good.
More Cover Letter Writing Tips
This video about "How to Write a Cover Letter" from Forbes has some more great tips, such as make your cover letter 1/2 to 2/3 of a page and include anecdotes.
Cover Letter ExamplesWith the Internet you have a ridiculous amount of cover letter examples available to you. Examples are a great way to make sure you have the format right and you can get a feel for what a professional cover letter sounds like.
Here are a few good cover letters available online:
- Georgetown University has example cover letter. This particular letter is for a newsroom internship.
- The Monster job site offers dozens of cover letter examples organized by industry.
- ResumeGenius also has a section with dozens of cover letter examples for 15 different industries.
- Portland State University offers five cover letter samples here in its Careers Center.
- You can find cover letter examples for an administrative assistant position and sales executive position at Blue Sky Resumes.
- The Harris Business School has some example cover letters for positions that include a medical assistant, message therapist and dental assistant.
Good luck with your job search!