16 Frequently Asked Questions About Cover Letters

Updated July 1, 2022

When you apply for jobs, you will often need to include a cover letter in your application. Knowing what to include in your cover letter and how to handle these single-page documents can set you apart from other candidates and help you make a great first impression on employers. In this article, we explain what a cover letter is and provide answers to frequently asked questions about cover letters.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a document that discusses your experience and skills in-depth using paragraphs. You can use a cover letter to tell employers more about what you have done and how those experiences have shaped who you are as a professional in your field.

Usually, you submit a cover letter with your resume and potentially a portfolio as well, depending on the type of job you're applying for. Cover letters are about three to four paragraphs long, showing your eagerness for the position and explaining how you can meet the prospective employer's needs.

Frequently asked questions about cover letters

Here is a list of common questions and answers about cover letters to help you create your own:

What is the purpose of a cover letter?

The purpose of a cover letter is to elaborate on your achievements outlined in your resume. A cover letter typically includes four main areas. First, add your contact information so the employer can reach out to you. Then, include an introduction explaining who you are and how you heard about the job. Next, write body paragraphs that explain why you would be a perfect fit for their company. Finally, close your cover letter with a reminder of why you are a great candidate and a call to action, requesting the employer to reach out.

What should a cover letter include?

A cover letter should include background information about yourself, showing why you are qualified for the position you are applying for. Also, include why you are interested in the position to show you are motivated and excited to work with the company.

Related: Writing a Cover Letter: Tips and Examples

Are cover letters becoming obsolete?

While companies are moving more toward focusing on your portfolio and social media presence, cover letters are still an important element in the job application process. When filling out a job application, dedicate some time to writing a cover letter in case they request one.

How long should a cover letter be?

Keep your cover letter short with your most relevant information. A single page is sufficient for discussing your qualifications. Short cover letters ensure that you keep the recruiter interested and include only the most important details.

What's the difference between a cover letter and a resume?

A resume outlines your job history in general, while a cover letter highlights qualifications you have that are specific to the job you are applying for. When writing a resume, the information you include is typically listed in reverse chronological order, meaning your most recent work experience would come first. Cover letters, however, are written in a letter format to explain how you meet specific job criteria. Both of these documents are needed in the job application process to showcase your background and further explain why it is applicable to an open position.

How can I make my cover letter stand out?

One way to make your cover letter stand out is by mentioning a reference from the company, if applicable. If you have one, include your reference's full name in the first paragraph to draw attention to it right away. Also, include a specific success story or statistic from your past position in the body of your cover letter. For instance, if you surpassed your coworkers in increasing your company's number of vendors, share the exact number you gained and how it affected your company.

Do employers read cover letters?

Depending on the company and its schedule, many employers do read cover letters, while others may focus more on your resume. Since you don't know which approach the hiring manager will take, be sure to write a personalized cover letter that conveys why they should hire you.

Should I include a cover letter if the application says "optional"?

Even if an application says a cover letter is optional, it is a good idea to submit one. Writing a cover letter shows recruiters that you are willing to put in the extra effort. The exception to submitting a cover letter is when a business specifically asks you not to include one.

Who should I address my cover letter to?

Address your cover letter to the recruiter or hiring manager reviewing your application. To find out the addressee's name, do some research online or call the company. If you are still unsure who the hiring manager is, try using a more general salutation, like "Dear Hiring Manager." Avoid using "To Whom It May Concern" since it could be considered impersonal.

What should I write about if I don't have any work experience?

While you may not have specific experience related to the job you are applying for, consider mentioning skills you already have. For example, if you learned how to communicate more clearly and effectively with others while on a mission trip, discuss this to show that you have strong communication skills. Use personal experiences to compensate for any missing professional experiences.

How can a cover letter help with a career change?

Since resumes are limited to your previous jobs and education, a cover letter is an opportunity for you to show how your skills attained in past positions can carry over to your new career. A cover letter can also help you further explain why you are making the transition. Show the hiring manager that your experience in a different career is an opportunity for a fresh perspective.

Are cover letters and CVs the same thing?

A cover letter is used when applying for a job, and a CV, or curriculum vitae, is used more often when applying for a position in academics or research. More specifically, a CV highlights your academic achievements, while a cover letter focuses more on professional experiences.

How should I format my cover letter?

Cover letters are formal documents and should use professional fonts like Times New Roman or Arial. Try to keep the format style the same as your resume. If you use a subtle header with a specific color border in your resume, consider using a similar one for your cover letter. Overall, the content included in your cover letter is more important than the design, but it should still look professional and polished.

Should I use the same cover letter for all of the jobs I'm applying for?

Because a cover letter is the opportunity to tell the employer why you are the best fit for their specific company, it is important to write personalized cover letters for each job you apply for. Each cover letter should go into detail about why you can fulfill the specific job duties and why you are passionate about the organization. Some of the information you include will be the same for each job, so you could create a general cover letter document that you personalize and adjust for each new position you apply for.

What are some common mistakes to avoid making when writing a cover letter?

One common mistake people make when writing a cover letter is forgetting to proofread. Before submitting your cover letter, make sure your writing is free of spelling and grammatical errors and avoids repetition. It is also best to avoid overusing the word "I" too much, especially at the beginning of your sentences. One last mistake to avoid is repeating too much of the general information from your resume. Instead, focus on your top selling points and tell a story about your experiences and how they prepared you for this particular role.

Related: Cover Letter Do's and Don't's

What is an "uninvited" cover letter, and should I send one?

An "uninvited" or "cold" cover letter is a cover letter sent directly to a hiring manager without any reference to a specific job posting or opening. While the company may not be currently hiring, your uninvited letter can help the employer consider their needs and possibly create a new position. Sending an uninvited letter may also encourage the company to keep you in mind when an opening becomes available. This can be a good strategy if you want to work for a specific company that has no current job openings.

Explore more articles

  • How To Become an Animal-Assisted Therapist in 8 Steps
  • What To Say at a Career Fair (With Tips)
  • 18 Tech Jobs That Require Little Education To Get Started
  • Healthcare Management Careers With Salary and Job Descriptions
  • How To Become a Real Estate Agent in New Jersey in 8 Steps
  • Medical Assistant vs. Nurse: Differences and Similarities
  • What Does an Entertainment Lawyer Do? (With Duties and Career Steps)
  • 19 Jobs That Pay $1,000 per Day
  • 13 Types of Massage Therapy Specialties
  • How To Use Friends as a Reference (Plus How To Ask Them)
  • 11 Things To Know About Jobs for American Lawyers Abroad
  • 20 Jobs You Can Get With a Civil Engineering Degree