How To Write a Cover Letter (With Steps, Examples and Tips)
Updated January 9, 2023
Published February 17, 2017
Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.
While cover letters are not always required, many hiring managers still rely on them to gauge an applicant's skills, experience and background. The key to writing an effective cover letter is to clearly show how your professional experience fits the needs of the open role and the culture of the hiring company.
In this article, we explain how to write a cover letter that makes a great first impression on potential employers.
To see example cover letters for your job and industry, browse our free Cover Letter Samples.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter, also known as an application letter, is a three- to four-paragraph memo to employers explaining your interest in the job and company and your fitness for the role. It's typically submitted along with your resume in a job application. This letter should highlight your skills, experience and achievements concerning the position you seek. Unlike your resume, cover letters allow you to go into more detail about your professional career and explain why you're a good fit for the role and company.
A well-written cover letter has the potential to impress employers and set you apart from other applicants. To avoid a generic cover letter, you should conduct in-depth research on the company and role for which you're applying to in-depth before writing your cover letter.
What to consider before you write
Before you craft your cover letter, gather all the information you may need. Here are some things to consider before you write a cover letter:
Think about your experiences and how you would like to relate these experiences to a hiring employer. What talents, skills or accomplishments would you like the company to know?
Think about how you learned about the job opportunity. If it's a personal contact, jot down the person's name and title. If it was an ad or job board, write down where and when you saw it and list any specific instructions noted in the job description.
Think about the company you're writing to and what drew you to it. Do you admire its culture or brand? Are its reviews positive or negative? Research the company to see if you agree with its mission statement and vision.
Think about who you are writing to. If it's a specific person, address them by name and title. If not, consider addressing the cover letter to "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Human Resources."
Cover letter format
A cover letter should be formatted like a business letter with these sections:
Header with date and contact information
Salutation or greeting
Letter ending and signature
Your cover letter should be one page long and use a simple, professional font, such as Arial or Helvetica, 10 to 12 points in size. Your letter should be left-aligned with single spacing and one-inch margins.
How to write a cover letter in 6 steps
Here are six simple steps to writing a great cover letter. In the sections below, we'll offer detailed information about what to include in each area with examples.
1. Start with your header
As with any standard business letter header, you should include a few pieces of personal and role-specific information at the top of your cover letter to make it easier for a hiring manager or recruiter to follow up with you. If you'd like, you can center your name and address at the top of the page, mirroring how it looks on your resume.
Your city and ZIP code
Your phone number
Your email address
Name of recipient
Title of recipient
555 Orchard Lane, Las Vegas, NV(555) 888-4000
May 5, 20XX
123 Vineyard Drive, Las Vegas, NV
2. Include a greeting
In your research, try to find the name of the person reviewing applications for the job. Address your letter to this person with a common business greeting, such as "Dear [first and last name]" or "Dear [position title]." Avoid using "To whom it may concern."
Dear Hiring Manager,
Dear Tyler Wallace,
Related: How To Address a Cover Letter
3. Write an opening paragraph
In the first paragraph, mention the job title you're applying for and where you saw the position posting. Explain your interest in the role and company to show you've done your research. The first section of your cover letter is also the first impression the reader will have of you, so it's important to appeal to that person quickly and succinctly.
Opening paragraph example:
"I'm excited to apply for the Graphic Designer position at Cloud Clearwater I found on Indeed. I understand you're currently adding several new product lines, and I believe my skills in video and animation provide a significant advantage for creating a successful launch. As a longtime fan of your products, I'm thrilled at the opportunity to bring my unique style and passion for beachwear to the company."
4. Add a second paragraph
Your second paragraph should be a brief overview of your background as it relates to the position. Include key achievements, skills and specialties that make you particularly suited to 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 you identify with in the body of your cover letter. You should only include information about your most recent professional experiences.
Second paragraph example:
"As the Director of Human Resources at Wes Morgan Philips, I was a key senior leader in the organization and was responsible for improving the efficiency and performance of the company's 540 employees. Before that, I worked in human resources, equal employment opportunity and diversity for Jenkins Technology Solutions, Inc. At Jenkins Technology, I developed an employee retention plan involving a wellness program, an internal training program and a promotions selection process. This led to a 50% reduction in the overall employee turnover rate."
5. Finish with a closing paragraph
The closing paragraph should focus on another key achievement or skill relevant to the position. Instead of repeating details from your resume, summarize a specific story or anecdote that displays you're right for the role. If you're changing careers, this is a good opportunity to talk about transferable skills or relatable experiences from your career.
Closing paragraph example:
"Achieving ambitious marketing goals is always a top priority, and I am always looking out for the company's best interests. I enjoy delivering marketing presentations to potential clients and focusing on an organization's strengths. My marketing skills at River Tech helped the company experience new levels of success and a 45% increase in customer engagement. I'm never satisfied with the status quo, and I believe that a company should continually look for ways to improve and reach new clients through innovative campaigns."
6. End with a professional signoff
You should end your cover letter with a paragraph summarizing why you are applying for the role and why you would be a great fit. Keep the cover letter conclusion brief and explain that you look forward to the employer's response about possible next steps. End with your signature at the bottom.
"Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to learning more about the sales position and TradeLot. Growth is essential to my continued success, and I'm excited for the chance to be a part of TradeLot's industry-leading team. My proven track record and TradeLot's quality products are a winning combination for increasing the company's market share.
Cover letter examples
Here are two examples of cover letters, a traditional version and a less traditional version. Review the job description, then read the cover letter. In the first example, you'll see how specific phrases from the job description are used in the letter. The second example takes a more creative approach, telling a personal story and appealing 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 support 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 work well with minimal supervision
Dear Hiring Manager,
I am writing to express my interest in the opening for an administrative assistant at [name of company].
I'm 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, I'm now tasked with doubling attendance for the event this year and leading an internal team to get the job done.
I am attracted to this role because of the growth opportunities that [name of company] 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 is 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, this role is right for you.
Write for branded communications, including ads, emails, events, landing pages, videos, product marketing and more
Maintain and develop the voice of our brand in collaboration with others
Develop copy for internal communications that generates excitement about our company culture
Work independently and manage your time well
Strong copy-editing skills for your own work and others
A portfolio of your work
Minimum 5 years of copywriting, ideally within an agency
Strong attention to detail
There are at 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 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 a love of writing was something we shared. It wasn't until last year that I also took up her passion for crossword puzzles and immediately saw how the two went hand in hand. Before long, I was solving Monday-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-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'm known as a hard worker and creative spirit; my peer and manager evaluations have 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 gave 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 as I've realized how I can shape and hone that skill to reach new heights. I want copywriting at [name of company] to be the next step in my journey.
All the best,
Related: Free Cover Letter Templates
Tips for an effective cover letter
Here are 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. You've probably already typed that into other areas of the application form. If you include your cover letter as an attachment, you can use the same heading as your resume.
Avoid generic references to your abilities
When 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, "my skills would be a great fit for your organization" is vague. A more specific approach would be, "As a sales associate, I'm 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."
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 most important details of the job. Read the job description closely to identify the best opportunities to illustrate your qualifications.
What professional achievements are you the proudest 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.
Proofread before you submit
Reread your cover letter several times before submitting it and keep an eye out for spelling, grammar or punctuation errors. Reading it aloud can help you pick out awkward phrasing or too-long sentences. We all tend to gloss over errors, so do a slow, deliberate reading that examines each word. If your salutation includes the hiring manager's name, triple-check the spelling.
Applications that require a cover letter give you a valuable opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities and authentic personality. Use the cover letter to let your most significant strengths shine while showing you respect the hiring manager's time and attention. For inspiration, you can browse cover letter samples by job title on Indeed.
Cover letter examples by job title
Related: Free Cover Letter Templates
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