How To Write a Cover Letter: The Ultimate Guide
You have crafted a compelling resume, updated your LinkedIn profile, and even short-listed promising open positions. The only thing left to do is write your cover letters. And for many people, this task proves to be unexpectedly challenging. A lot of questions arise. How do I address these letters? How long should they be? What should I write? And do I still need cover letters in 2022?
We have created this ultimate guide to answer all your questions and give step-by-step instructions on writing a good cover letter. This guide will teach you:
- How to format your cover letter
- What types of cover letters exist
- When do you need a cover letter even if an employer does not explicitly ask for one
- How to address and end a cover letter
- Common mistakes to avoid
We have also added cover letter examples and tips for making your documents even better.
Let’s get started!
What Is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter is a document you send with your resume. In this letter, you express your interest in a job opening, provide some context for your skills and experiences, and explain any parts of your resume that may be confusing or concerning for a potential employer.
Some people believe writing cover letters is a waste of time and that recruiters rarely read them. Others argue that employers still value these documents for insight into a candidate’s personality and motivations. And although there is some truth to the first point, studies show that cover letters are still well worth writing.
For example, ResumeGo surveyed 236 hiring professionals to determine if cover letters impact their decision-making process. Here are some results:
- 87% of recruiters said that they do indeed read cover letters
- 81% answered that they value letters written for a particular company and position more than generic ones
- 65% stated that cover letters significantly influence their hiring decisions
So, yes, your cover letter probably will be read. And yes, it better be good because it can be the reason you get an interview!
There are only two situations where you can skip cover letter writing. The first is if an employer explicitly states in their job ad that you should not include a cover letter. The second is if you are applying through an online form and there is no option to submit a cover letter. Otherwise, invest some time introducing yourself to a potential employer and showcasing why you will be a valuable asset to their company.
And again, your cover letter is the best place to add important information that does not belong on your resume. You can use a cover letter to explain employment gaps, mention that you are willing to relocate, describe why you are changing careers, or address any other concerns a hiring manager might have. You can also use a cover letter to ask a company if there is an open position that suits your qualifications, request help in the job search process from people in your network, or mention a person who referred you for a job.
Now, let’s take a closer look at different types of cover letters.
Types of Cover Letters
There are three main types of cover letters:
- Application cover letters are the most common type. These are sent together with resumes to apply for a particular job opening.
- Referral cover letters indicate a mutual contact you share with a recruiter. It might be an industry expert or an employee at the company where you are applying. Such letters are a powerful tool as hiring managers are likely to look closely at referred candidates.
- Prospecting cover letters or letters of interest, on the other hand, are not written for a specific position. People send these letters to companies where they would like to work. Prospecting cover letters ask if there are any unpublished openings where your qualifications and skills would be helpful.
- Networking cover letters are not sent to companies but instead to people in your network. These letters inform your former colleagues, alumni, or friends that you are looking for a new job and ask them if they know of any suitable opportunities.
In this guide, we will be focusing on application cover letters. However, you can also apply most of our recommendations to other types of cover letters.
Before we dive deeper into what you should include in your cover letters, let’s take a moment to discuss how your letters should look.
Cover Letter Format
The right format and proper structure are as important for your cover letter as its content. You need to make sure that your document is concise, clear, and easy to read. Luckily, this goal is not too difficult to achieve. Just follow these simple tips:
- Font: Use a standard font size (11 or 12-point) and stick with basic styles like Arial, Verdana, Times New Roman or Calibri.
- Spacing: Leave space between each section so your document does not look cluttered.
- Length: Keep it short. Recruiters have no time to read lengthy cover letters. Try to keep your letters around 200–400 words.
- File format: If the job ad includes instructions regarding the file format, follow them. Some companies prefer Word or PDF attachments. Others favor cover letters in the body of your email.
- File name or email subject line: Choose a straightforward and informative file name. You can use this template: [Your Name] Cover Letter — [Job Title]. You can follow the same format for your email subject line.
As to structure, you can follow this simple formula:
- Opening paragraph
- Middle paragraph
- Final paragraph
We will look closer at what to include in each of these parts in the next section.
How To Write a Cover Letter In 6 Steps
Before spending time on the content of your cover letter, take a moment to think about people who will read it. The goal of hiring managers is to close an open job as soon as possible with the most suitable candidate. Regardless of the position, hiring managers need to find a person who meets two main criteria:
- Has the necessary skill to do the job
- Is likely to stay with the organization for several years.
A perfect cover letter will demonstrate that you are qualified for the job and that you are excited to join the company.
With this thought in mind, let’s see how to craft a cover letter in 6 simple steps.
Step 1. Start with a professional header
Your header should include your contact information, the date of application, and the recipient’s contact information. You can also include links to your personal website, LinkedIn profile, or online portfolio. For example:
February 25, 2022
Human Resources Manager
AAA Company Inc.
123 Some Avenue
Make sure you are using a professional-looking email address. It can be a combination of your first and last names. And remember that it is inadvisable to send resumes or cover letters from your work email.
Step 2. Open your letter with an appropriate salutation
Ideally, you should address your letter to a specific person to establish a connection and signal that you tailored your letter to this particular role. If you know the hiring manager’s name, start with a greeting like “Dear Mr. Brown,” if the company is more traditional, or “Dear John,” if you know for sure that the company’s culture is more casual. If you have trouble determining the hiring manager’s gender, the safest option is to use “Dear” followed by the hiring manager’s full name. For example, Dear Aryan Patel.
What should you do if the ad does not include the recruiter’s name? First, do some research using the company’s website and LinkedIn page. If this still does not tell you who will read your application, choose one of these common ways to address your letter:
- Dear Hiring Manager
- Dear Business Analyst Hiring Team
- Dear Some Company Team
- Dear QA Team Hiring Manager
- Dear Hiring Team
It is best to avoid overly formal greetings like “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir and Madam,” or very informal greetings such as “Hi, John.”
Step 3. Introduce yourself in your opening paragraph
The first paragraph of your cover letter is a good place to mention which job position you are applying for and how you discovered it. This is because hiring managers may work with documents for different job openings simultaneously. It is perfectly valid to start with something simple like, “I am excited to apply for the Systems Engineer position at AAA Company I found on LinkedIn.” Then, explain your interest in this particular organization and briefly state what makes you a good fit for the job:
As a longtime fan of your products, I would be thrilled to become part of your team. I firmly believe that my five years of experience in designing and implementing efficient and secure computer systems will be a valuable addition to AAA Company.
In the first two or three sentences, you need to give recruiters a reason to read further. Show them that your candidacy answers both requirements we discussed earlier: you are qualified for the position and likely to stay with a company for a long time.
Step 4. Explain why you are a perfect candidate in the middle section
In the second paragraph, describe your most relevant experiences and achievements, and link them to the position you are applying for. Of course, there is no need to repeat the content of your resume. Instead, expand on the points in your work experience section. Give some examples, demonstrate the measurable impacts you made, or mention the professional praises you received.
During my previous role at 123 Technologies, I evaluated work processes, developed business requirements, and created use cases and process models. One of my most significant accomplishments was implementing a new contract management system, which reduced the time needed to complete contract-related tasks by 25% and saved the company $350K yearly. Working on large and small projects, I often communicated with people from different departments. My colleagues praised my extraordinary ability to explain complex technical concepts to non-technical specialists while at the same time being able to discuss technical details with developers easily.
The best way to determine what to write in this section is to read the job description carefully and see what the employer wants in an applicant. Then choose two or three points that correlate with your previous experiences and emphasize those in your cover letter.
Step 5. Wrap up by relating your experience to the company’s needs
In the closing paragraph, you can summarize skills that make you a perfect fit for the role, restate that you are excited about this opportunity, and thank hiring managers for their time. It is also important to politely ask them to invite you to an interview. You do not want to come off as needy, though. The final sentences of your cover letter should sound confident and focus on what you can bring to the table instead of what you want to get from the job.
I will be honored to bring my ability to notice opportunities where others might see only obstacles and my passion for improving processes until everything works like a well-oiled machine to AAA company. I look forward to sharing more details of my qualifications with you during the interview. Thank you for your time and consideration.
The last paragraph is also an excellent place to answer any potential concerns proactively. For example, if you currently live in San Francisco but are applying to a company in Atlanta, mention that you are relocating next month.
Step 6. End with professional signoff
The last thing to do is complete your letter with a formal closing. The most common sign-offs include:
- Best regards,
- Kind regards,
- With best regards,
Then just add your full name, and your cover letter is ready to send!
Professional Cover Letter Examples
Now that you know what each section of your cover letter should include, let’s take a look at two examples. The first is a cover letter from an experienced data analyst. The second is a recent graduate applying for an IT technician role.
Mid-career cover letter sample:
February 25, 2022
Human Resources Manager
AAA Technologies Inc.
123 Some Avenue
Dear Mr. Brown,
I am excited to apply for the Data Analyst position at AAA Technologies I found on Indeed. As a long-term admirer of AAA products, I will be honored to help the company base decisions on data. I firmly believe that my 7+ years of experience translating complex sets of numbers into meaningful insights and actionable recommendations would be a valuable addition to your team.
In my previous job at BBB Industries, I supported our marketing and sales teams with market reports and ad hoc data analysis. My most significant achievements include implementing a new approach to revenue forecasting reports that brought 35% higher accuracy and developing reporting dashboards that reduce the time needed to process data by 40%.
What I like the most about the data analyst job is the opportunity to explore relationships between numbers and turn them into stories that allow businesses to make better decisions. And I will be thrilled to help your teams identify key data patterns and translate them into valuable insights.
I appreciate you taking the time to read my letter and look forward to learning more about this opportunity. I would be happy to discuss how my experience and skills can help AAA Technologies reach its business goals.
Entry-level career cover letter sample:
February 25, 2022
Human Resources Manager
AAA Company Inc.
123 Some Avenue
Dear Mr. Davis,
I am excited to apply for the entry-level IT technician position at AAA Company advertised on Indeed. I am confident that the practical knowledge I gained during my internships and my excellent university results make me a good candidate for the job.
During my time at Northwestern University, I completed two internships at 123 Industries. In my role, I was responsible for documenting help desk tickets, installing equipment and peripherals, creating accounts for new employees, and troubleshooting various technical issues. I am proud to have helped our department improve ticket response time by 14%.
I won the Dean’s Award for achieving exceptional academic results at the university. The courses I completed have given me a solid foundation in the tools and methodologies involved in managing IT systems. I would be thrilled to bring my knowledge and skills to the IT technician role at AAA Company.
Thank you for taking the time to consider my application. I look forward to learning more about the position and discussing my qualifications during the interview.
Final Cover Letter Tips
By now, you should be confident about writing a compelling cover letter. However, let’s add a few more tips to keep in mind.
Do not repeat what is in your resume
Remember that the goal of your cover letter is to highlight how your qualifications are relevant to the target company. Do not simply repeat bullet points from your resume. Pick a couple of skills and provide specific examples of how you demonstrated them. Did you make a business process more efficient? Did you train junior team members in using a certain tool? Did you lead a particularly complex project to successful completion? Write about it! And do not forget to add numbers and percentages to boost the credibility of your statements.
Tailor your letter to a specific job
There is nothing wrong with preparing a template and recycling a few strong sentences from one letter to another. However, using the exact same document for different jobs is not the best idea. Recruiters can quickly identify when candidates use generic letters to apply for a position. To make a better first impression, take the time to customize your cover letter so that it reflects your interest in a specific company and showcases the most relevant experiences for a particular role.
Do not focus on weaknesses
Although your cover letter is a good place to briefly explain a career gap or mention reasons for changing careers, do so in a way that does not draw attention to your weaknesses. Avoid sentences like, “Despite my limited experience…” or “While I lack experience….” Do not focus on the skills or experience you are lacking. Instead, highlight what you bring to the table. Describe transferable skills and include examples of responsibilities relevant to a new role.
Show your personality
Of course, a cover letter should be professional. However, this does not mean that you must use overly formal language. Using sentences like “I wish to convey my sincere interest in…” can make you sound insincere. You should also avoid overused phrases such as “self-motivated go-getter” or “thinking outside of the box.” Instead, be honest and straightforward, provide unique examples of your skills, or tell a story about how effective you were in a previous job.
Keep it short
A cover letter should introduce you to a potential employer and get hiring managers interested in you as a candidate. It should not describe your entire professional life in every possible detail. So, there is no need to write several pages. Keep it brief and straight to the point. The perfect length for a cover letter is between half a page and one page using a 12-point font.
Proofread your cover letter carefully
Whether your target job requires writing skills or not, there should not be any errors or typos in your resume or cover letter. In a CareerBuilder study, 77% of hiring managers named bad grammar as a top reason for not offering job seekers an interview. So, it is crucial to proofread your documents carefully. It is always a good idea to ask a trusted friend or a family member to read over your resume and cover letters before submission. They may notice small mistakes you missed and can check that your letter is clear and easy to read.
Follow the instructions
Before sending your cover letter, take a moment to review the job ad again. Employers often provide specific instructions, such as submitting your documents in a particular format or including a job reference number in the email subject line. Make sure your job application fulfills all such requirements. Otherwise, your application might fall short even though your documents are well-written.
A cover letter that demonstrates you are both a qualified candidate and excited to join the company will help you stand out among applicants. Taking the time to craft a customized cover letter for each position is well worth your effort. Hopefully, our guide will make this task less challenging and time-consuming!