Purpose of a cover letter
Writing a good cover letter is essential to give hiring managers a better sense of who you are as a person, explain how you can add value to the company, and give you a chance to address any red flags you may have in your resume. You’ll need to both expand on your skills and experience that you outline in your resume, as well as show your knowledge of the company that you’re applying to, and why you’re a good fit. The difference between writing an effective cover letter and a bland one could lead to your dream job.
How to write a cover letter:
Opening (first paragraph):
- Address your cover letter properly. First things first: if possible, find the name of the person you are writing to, and address that person with his or her correct title. This will show that you have done some research and taken the time to understand the company. Remember never to use the despised, “To whom it may concern,” or “Dear Sir/Madam.”
- Introduce yourself. In your first sentence, give your name and the position you are applying to.
- Explain how you found out about the job. You should then name the place where you saw the job advertisement, or the person who told you about the position.
- Make a brief pitch. Your opening paragraph should not be more than a few sentences. However, you need to make sure it stands out. Sell yourself in one line at the end of your opening paragraph by combining your experience with the reason you think you’d be a good fit for the position. This might include an explanation of your highest degree, if it’s related to the position, your current job title, or a summary statement of your experience.
Body (second-third paragraphs):
- Assess the needs of your prospective employer. Again, doing the research on this particular company is necessary to write a good cover letter. In the body of your cover letter, you can explain how well you understand this company’s needs and strategies by citing some of the company’s history, news, or data. This will show that you are a serious candidate and not someone sending out hundreds of letters with no regard for the company in question.
- Expand on your qualifications. Once you identify the company’s needs, show how your qualifications meet them. This could be a description of certain degrees, licenses, trainings, or coursework that you’ve done which the position requires.
- Highlight your experience. If possible, give small anecdotal evidence of the way you have increased value for previous employers. You do not need to list your roles in previous jobs again—this is what your resume is for. Instead, look for ways to grab the prospective employer’s attention and give exact numbers. For example, say, “I increased local sales by 15% over a 3-year span.”
- Address any red flags. There are numerous potential issues that an employer might flag. These issues include gaps in employment history, spending short stints at each job and/or being terminated at a job, a change of career, or a criminal history. Of course, each one of these red flags has different implications, and each one has a story that only you can explain as to why you’re still the best fit for this job. Remember: employers will be interested in your story if you present in a matter-of-fact way that doesn’t explains without apologizing for any of these issues. Turn any potential flaws into strengths as best you can.
Conclusion (fourth paragraph):
- Be confident and provide next steps. In your final paragraph, you can quickly restate why you are right for this job, then request an interview. Some recommendations for cover letters include specifying when you will call the office to check on your application. However, most employers at this point ask applicants “no calls, please,” which would mean that if you did call first it would be viewed as a negative. Instead, you can say something like, “I look forward to further discussing with you how my qualifications and passion for xyz make me an excellent candidate for this position.”
- Indicate any supplementary material. You will include a resume along with your cover letter, but for some jobs you also might want to provide further information, such as a list of professional references, a link to your website, a portfolio, and so on. In your concluding paragraph, make sure the hiring manager knows how and where to find any of these materials.
- Thank the hiring manager for their time. Reading through hundreds of applications can be a thankless task at times—make sure you do thank the person to whom you’ve addressed you letter with the line, “Thank you for your consideration.”
- Sign off professionally. No need to add any flourish here: use a common closing such as “sincerely,” or “regards.” If you are sending this letter in a hard copy, make sure to leave a space or two below this line to sign your name, just above where you have typed your name.
Tips on how to write a cover letter:
- Different fields may have different requirements in content and tone. If you know people who work in your target field, ask them to review your cover letter and give you tips and edits to best structure your letter.
- Your cover letter should be no more than one page. Hiring managers may have dozens—or even hundreds—of cover letters to look through, and will appreciate a well-written and succinct letter. Also, be as concise as possible. Don’t use the word “very.”
- You may well be sending out hundreds of resumes, but never send out exactly the same cover letter to different companies. Yes, you can use the same basic structure, but remember that company research is key. It will require a lot more work from you to tailor each letter to each company. However, the hiring manager can tell when you have sent a blanket letter. More importantly, you’re trying to find a good fit with the company. The surer you are of your suitability for the position, the easier you’ll be able to convince the company of this fact.
- Type in 12-point font. Choose a good font for your cover letter—anything that looks professional. This could be serif or sans-serif, but should be a common one that doesn’t call attention to itself. If possible, you can choose a template on your word processor that will have recommendations for fonts.
- Print your cover letter on good paper. It shouldn’t be overly flashy, but it should be a slightly heavier weight than regular paper.
- Check your letter for grammar and spelling mistakes. Ask one or two other people to check your letter as well. You want to make sure to not leave a bad first impression with a couple of easy-to-fix mistakes.
- Use the active voice. This means, write “I developed software” instead of “The software was developed by me.” You should also use active, meaningful verbs such as: initiated, analyzed, designed, facilitated, recruited, increased, pioneered, streamlined, maximized.
- Avoid empty language that could apply to any candidate; instead, be specific about exactly how your experience pertains to the position. Give concrete details.
- Avoid gimmicks. Don’t send anything beyond what the job description asks for.