Whether you love writing cover letters or view them as a chore, many hiring managers still rely on them to gauge an applicant’s personality, attention to detail, and communication skills. The key to writing effective cover letters, then, is to follow instructions and communicate succinctly but with a compelling voice.
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How to write a cover letter
Writing an effective cover letter that gets you noticed by employers can be done by following a few simple steps:
- Start by listing your name and address
- Include the date
- List the recipient’s name and address
- Open with an introduction
- Include an opening paragraph about your intent to apply
- Write a second paragraph about your background
- Conclude with reasons why you are uniquely qualified
- End with your signature
Let’s look at each of these steps in more detail as a guide for writing a cover letter for your next job application.
Related: How to Format a Cover Letter
1. Start by listing your name and address
As with many standard business letters, you should include a few pieces of information at the top of your cover letter. Some people might center their name and address at the top of the page, mirroring the way it looks on their resume. For example:
firstname.lastname@example.org | 555 Orchard Ln., Las Vegas, NV | (555) 888-4000
Otherwise, you might decide to simply list each piece of information on a new line oriented to the left hand side of the page. For example:
555 Orchard Ln
Las Vegas, NV
2. Include the date
Next, include the date of the day you are sending the letter. The date line should be separated from your address and the recipient’s address.
3. List the recipient’s name and address
After the date, you will list the recipient’s name and information. You can find these details by looking on the company’s website or Indeed Company Page. This information will also likely be listed on the job posting.
The top part of your letter should look like this:
555 Orchard Ln
Las Vegas, NV
May 5th, 20XX
123 Vineyard Dr.
Las Vegas, NV
Please note that if you are sending an email cover letter, you do not need to list the information in steps 1—3.
4. Open with an introduction
Start by introducing your letter with a standard greeting like “Dear,” or “Hello.”
5. Include an opening paragraph about your intent to apply
Write an introductory paragraph that includes the position you’re applying for. You should also include a statement about your enthusiasm in regards to the role and company.
6. Write a second paragraph about your background
Your second or body paragraph should be a brief overview of your background as is relevant to the position. Here, you should include key achievements, skills and specialties that make you particularly suited to perform well in the position. Focus on one or two and provide specific details about your success including measurable impacts you made.
Pay close attention to keywords listed in the job description and include those that you identify with in the body of your cover letter. You should only include information about your most recent one or two professional experiences.
7. Focus on another reason why you are qualified in the next paragraph
Your next paragraph should focus on another key achievement or skills that is relevant to the position. Instead of repeating details from your resume, expand on specific stories or anecdotes that display your fitness for the role.
8. Conclude with reasons why you are uniquely qualified
Your last paragraph should recap the reasons you are applying for the role and why you would be a great fit. Keep the conclusion brief and explain that you look forward to hearing from the employer with next steps.
9. End with your signature.
Finally, sign your name after a closing line like “All the best,” or “Sincerely.”
By using these steps, you will be able to write a simple, impactful cover letter that shows employers why you are uniquely qualified for the position.
Cover letter tips
Here are five guidelines to keep in mind when writing a cover letter.
- Customize your header based on your application format
If you’re writing your cover letter directly within an online job application, there’s no need to include your address or other contact information, as you’ve probably already typed that into other areas of the application form. If you’re including your cover letter as an attachment, you can use the same heading as your resume.
- Use an appropriate greeting
If you know the name of the hiring manager for this job, begin your cover letter by addressing them directly (Example: Dear Jane Smith). If you don’t know the name of the hiring manager, you can begin your letter with a simple “Hello,” or “Dear Hiring Manager,”. Get a feel for the company’s culture when deciding how formal your greeting should be. More formal introductions such as “To Whom It May Concern:” or “Dear Sir or Madame,” can come across as too stuffy for some organizations, while greetings like “Hey!” and “Hi there,” are almost always too casual for a cover letter.
- Avoid generic references to your abilities
Whenever possible, tell meaningful anecdotes that tie your skills to concrete problem-solving activities or tangible business results you’ve worked on in your career. Any candidate can say they possess a desirable skill. To make an impact, you need to show hiring managers examples of your skills in action. For example:
Too vague: “My skills would be a great fit for your organization.”
More specific: “In my role as a sales associate, I am frequently required to provide exceptional customer service on short notice. Exceeding customers’ expectations is a point of personal and professional pride for me, and this is a skill I’m eager to continue developing.
Too vague: “I’m a proactive team player.”
More specific: “In my current job, I proactively jumped in to help launch an internal recycling and waste reduction initiative. Together, our team contributed to a 25% reduction in solid waste production within the company.”
- Keep it short and to the point
Unless specified in the job description, there is no required length for a cover letter. When determining how long a cover letter should be, focus on the details that are most important for the job. Read the job description closely to identify the best opportunities to illustrate your qualifications. What professional achievements are you the most proud of? Choose one or two and map them directly to the desired experience or qualifications the hiring manager is looking for, using just a few detailed but concise sentences. What attributes is the job description calling for in a candidate? Consider using the cover letter itself as a way of demonstrating those traits.
Don’t reiterate everything that’s on your resume. You want to focus on one or two anecdotes, expanding on how you achieved something specific.
Related: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing
- Proofread before you submit
Reread your cover letter several times before submitting and keep an eye out for errors of spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Reading the letter aloud can help you pick out awkward phrasing or too-long sentences. There are certain common errors that we all have a tendency to gloss over, so make sure to do a slow, deliberate reading that examines each word. If your salutation includes the hiring manager’s name, triple-check the spelling.
Read more: Cover Letter Checklist: What to Review Before You Submitg
Samples to use when writing a cover letter
Here are two examples of cover letters, a traditional version and a less traditional version. First, read the job description on the left, then read the cover letter. In the first example, you’ll see how the writer uses specific phrases from the job description and includes them in the letter. The second example takes a more creative approach. The author tells a personal story and appeals more abstractly to the attributes called for in the job posting. Both are less than 300 words long.
Example 1: Administrative Assistant
In this role, you will be supporting managers and other senior level personnel by managing their calendars, arranging travel, filing expense reports, and performing other administrative tasks.
Strong interpersonal skills, attention to detail, and problem solving skills will be critical to success.
- 5+ years of experience providing high-level admin support to diverse teams in a fast-paced environment
- High school diploma or equivalent work experience
- Excellent Microsoft Office Skills with an emphasis on Outlook and Excel
- Self-motivated and highly organized
- Team players who works well with minimal supervision
Dear Hiring Manager,
I am writing to express my interest in the opening for an administrative assistant at ***.
I am drawn to this opportunity for several reasons. First, I have a proven track record of success in administrative roles, most recently in my current job as an administrative coordinator. A highlight from my time here was when I proactively stepped in to coordinate a summit for our senior leaders last year. I arranged travel and accommodation for a group of 15 executives from across the company, organized meals and activities, collaborated with our internal events team, and ensured that everything ran according to schedule over the two-day summit. Due to the positive feedback I received afterwards, I have been given the responsibility of doubling the number of attendees for the event this year and leading an internal team to get the job done.
I am also attracted to this role because of the the growth opportunities that *** provides. The research that I’ve done on your company culture has shown me that there are ample opportunities for self-motivated individuals like me. A high level of organization and attention to detail are second nature to me, and I’m eager to apply these skills in new and challenging environments.
I look forward to sharing more details of my experience and motivations with you. Thank you for your consideration.
Example 2: Brand Copywriter
We are looking for an experienced copywriter to join our team. If you have a great eye for balance, a quick wit, and can adapt a brand voice for any medium, then this role is right for you.
- Write for branded communications including ads, emails, events, landing pages, video, product marketing, and more.
- Maintain and develop the voice of our brand in collaboration with others.
- Develop copy for internal communications that generate excitement about our company culture
- Work independently and manage your time well.
- Strong copyediting skills: for your own work and for others.
- A portfolio of your work
- Minimum 5 years of copywriting, ideally within an agency
- Strong attention to detail
There are least two less-than-obvious ways to improve your vocabulary (and by extension, your copywriting skills): studying for the GRE and becoming a crossword puzzle enthusiast. I’ve done both but for the purposes of this job application, I’d like to focus on the latter.
My grandmother was the best writer I’ve ever known. She wasn’t a professional writer, but she had a gift and a love of writing was something we shared. It wasn’t until last year that I also took up her love of crossword puzzles, and immediately saw how the two went hand in hand. Before long, I was solving Monday through Wednesday puzzles in the New York Times, needing to look up words less and less frequently as time passed. Soon, I was able to complete Thursday to Saturday, too. Throughout this process, I could feel my stock of quips, rejoinders, and turns of phrase steadily growing. Eventually, I worked up the courage to attempt the Sunday puzzles.
It was this courage that was the real turning point for me. In my current agency, I was already known as a hard worker and creative spirit; my peer and manager evaluations had made this clear. But while I felt confident in my abilities, I had never seen myself as particularly daring. Considering new challenges and mastering each one along the way had given me a renewed sense of myself and clarity about my chosen profession.
I began a career as a copywriter because I was skilled at finding combinations of words to fit a thought or feeling. I’m continuing down that path because I’ve realized how I can shape and hone that skill to reach new heights. I’d like copywriting at *** to be the next step in my journey.
All the best,
For jobs that require submitting a cover letter, remember that you’re getting a valuable chance to illustrate your capabilities and share a glimpse of authentic personality. Take advantage of the opportunity to let your greatest strengths shine, while also showing that you respect the hiring manager’s time and attention. For inspiration, you can browse cover letter samples by job title on Indeed.
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