How to Write a Cover Letter

A cover letter sent in along with your resume is a key tool for eager job seekers who want to stand out amidst their competitors.

Having a cover letter in your job application can be just what an employer needs to really get to know you and see what you have to offer. When you effectively include the key sections listed below, you can create an effective cover letter that ensures the employer has everything they need to see how qualified you are.

What is a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is like the front page of your resume but in letter form. You write it just like a regular letter but includes certain things related to your resume and the particular job you are applying for. 

Cover letters are often used because your resume is only a page long, you might not be able to explain a lot of things, might not have room. 

It's like a summary of the most important aspects of your resume, or the most important qualifications for the job you'd like to highlight. A cover letter also gives you the opportunity to introduce yourself a little more, and explain important aspects of your resume and qualifications. 

Cover Letter Format

It is always a good idea to include a cover letter when you send an employer your resume. Like your resume, a cover letter is a single page long and consists of 3 to 5 paragraphs. 

When writing a cover letter it is also wise to research the job, and just going off the job ad isn't enough either. Look up the company and try and learn a bit about them. This can help you make the letter specific since employers prefer it when an applicant seems to specifically want this job, not just any job. 

Make a master cover letter where you keep all the brief paragraphs you write to outline certain skills, so that when you go to write a letter for a specific job you can pull from there. Sometimes certain experiences will relate to more than one job application, so these paragraphs can be reused. 

Still, always read through your cover letter before sending it to make sure there aren't any references that don't apply to the specific job application. Each letter should be written for that job in mind.

Elements of a Cover Letter

Just like a resume, a cover letter has key sections that are always included.

Your Name and Contact Information

Put your first and last name at the top of the cover letter, on center stage, in a similar way to how you put your name at the top of your resume. This way if the two papers should get separated they'll be distinguishable as a unit because of this similarity, and it will leave the readers with no confusion about who they are reading about. 

Then you'll want to place your contact information here as well, again just like how you did so on your resume. You can think of your name and contact information like the header of your job application documents, present on each page for optimal clarity. 

Contact information to include: 

  • Email 
  • Phone number 
  • Your website, or online portfolio 
  • Your LinkedIn account 

The Date

Include the date you submitted or sent the letter right below your name and contact information and right before the rest of your letter. 

Professional Greeting

There are several ways you can address your letter. If you are able to find out the name of who would be receiving your letter, who the hiring manager would be, then you can address them by name. 

But more often than not, we aren't able to know such specific information in the application process. Instead, you can simply address your letter by the name of the corporation with whom you are applying. 

You can also use a general term like, to whom it may concern, but this may be seen as impersonal, and make it seem like you didn't put specific personal effort into that cover letter for this application. 

Introduction

First, introduce yourself.

Write a brief paragraph about yourself, introducing some key information they'll want to know. They'll want to know who you are and what you are doing in your life or career right now. For instance, you can tell them if you're a student, if you're looking for a career change, or if you're looking for a new job in a new area after moving. 

Second, tell them how you came across the job opening.

Maybe you found it on Indeed.com or knew someone who referred you to the job opening. 

Third, tell them briefly why you are interested in this particular job. 

Briefly explain why you are interested in this particular job and what caused you to apply for it.

This section should only be a small paragraph—just a couple of sentences to briefly outline the three items mentioned above.

Key Experiences

In the main body of your letter, you're going to talk about two or three key experiences that prove your skills. This may be the most important section of your cover letter. If a cover letter is the written form of your resume, then this would be the work experience and skills section combined into one.

Here is where you're going to outline chosen, key experiences that outline important skills. This is where you give real-life examples that prove your qualifications. Be careful about which experiences you decide to write about, and make sure they are relevant to what the employer would be looking for. 

Conclusion

The closing paragraph should be a brief as your introduction, if not shorter. It is where you place your "call to action." But since this is a job application you have to be careful how you frame this call to action. If you're too pushy or seem arrogant, you could give a negative impression to the employer before they even meet you. 

Usually, you simply let them know that you would be happy and willing to come in for an interview or be contacted for any additional information they may need. 

Professional Closing

Now it's time to close your letter with a professional closing. Here are some examples of letter closing phrases you can use in a professional setting: 

  • Sincerely,
  • Regards,
  • Best,
  • Thank you for your consideration,

Cover Letter Examples

Unlike a resume, there aren't any websites that will let you simply plug in information while their template arranges your cover letter for you. You have to write it yourself. But here's an example of a basic outline for how a cover letter should be. 

People also often wonder how to write a cover letter if they're still in high school, or if they're not applying for a job but an internship. Either way, the main principles of your cover letter will be the same. The only main difference will be in the key experiences section. 

If you're a high school or lack work experience, use other experiences you have. Maybe you don't have stories from a past job, but you were in the marching band where you learned about hard work and dedication. 

If you're applying for an internship instead of a job, make sure you understand what the internship is all about, and the kind of tasks they'll want you to do. Then you can talk about the things you are learning in your college classes that make you a good candidate for this program. 

You should also talk about how you plan to use this internship to further your professional career so that they can see all you plan to gain from this program.  

What NOT to Do in a Cover Letter

Here's a list of some things you should never do in a cover letter.

  • Don't blindly send the same cover letter for every job application. This can make you look detached and sloppy if there's ever something on it that relates to a different job you previously applied for.
  • Don't use a casual voice or any slang 
  • Proofread! Make sure you thoroughly edit your cover letter before sending it so there are no spelling mistakes, run-on sentences, or any other mistakes or oversights. 
  • Don't be pushy. You want to sell yourself in your cover letter, but if you do so in a demanding way you could make a bad impression.  

In Conclusion,

If you're worried about how you come across in your cover letter, it's always a good idea to have some other people read it too. They can give their impression of you through the letter and make sure you're portraying yourself in the correct light and clearly getting your points across. 

Having a second or third set of eyes look over your cover letter is also a great way to make sure you don't miss any dumb spelling or grammar mistakes.