What Is a Cover Letter? (And What To Include in One)
Updated July 7, 2023
An illustration shows a person taking notes at a desk, with a sheet of paper with writing at the center. A banner at the top says "Cover Letter Example", and there are five headings that discuss the different parts of a cover letter:
Heading - Your name, Phone number, Email, City, State, Datte, and Company name
Intro - Introduce yourself, how you found the role, and state your interest.
Body - 1-2 paragraphs describing why you are qualified for the role, 1 paragraph including a call to action and your availability for an interview.
Sending a cover letter with your resume can allow hiring managers to learn more detailed information about you, your accomplishments and how you can benefit their company. Employers often use cover letters to screen candidates for jobs before moving forward in the hiring process. Learning the purpose of a cover letter and how to discuss your professional background in one can help you lead a successful job search.
In this article, you'll learn what a cover letter is, why it's important and what to include in yours with examples and tips.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a one-page document you send with your resume that provides additional information about skills and experiences related to the job you're pursuing. It typically includes three to four short paragraphs. A cover letter is important because it serves as the first chance for the recruiter to see the qualifications that make you a good fit for the position. Not every job application requires a cover letter, but it's a good idea to submit one. The extra effort not only shows the employer that you're serious about the job, but the letter differentiates you from other candidates.
Genevieve Northrup has more than 15 years of experience in HR and training. Here's her explanation of a cover letter:
A cover letter is a short introduction to you that concisely communicates your interest in a job opportunity along with your top skills and relevant experience. It's important to customize your cover letter for each role to demonstrate that you've researched the organization's mission and values.
—Genevieve Northup, MBA, SHRM-CP, HCI-SPTD
Types of cover letters
There are four general categories of cover letters:
1. Application cover letter
This is the most common type of cover letter that candidates use to apply for a job. This traditional style includes details about your professional experience that are relevant to the requirements of the job post. It's also an opportunity to explain details that aren't in your resume, such as an employment gap, a career change and the reason you're excited to work for a specific company.
2. Referral cover letter
A referral cover letter is also useful for applying for a job, but it mentions the name of a current employee who referred you to the open position. A referral can help you distinguish yourself during the hiring process. Consider sending a copy of your referral cover letter and resume to the person who referred you to keep them updated on your application process.
3. Letter of interest
A letter of interest is a cover letter that inquires about job openings at a company where you want to work. A company may not have job postings public but may still be looking for qualified individuals. This type of cover letter takes the initiative to let the hiring manager know your interest in working with them.
A few weeks after sending the letter of interest, consider contacting the recruiter or hiring manager to follow up on your inquiry. A phone call or email may help them remember you, and you can keep the call or email short and professional while still showing your enthusiasm for working for the company.
4. Value proposition letter
A value proposition letter is a summary that explains what makes you unique, such as your skills, accomplishments and the value you can add to a company. This type of short cover letter is usually used as a resume summary statement or as an answer for "tell me about yourself" interview question.
What to include in a cover letter
A cover letter can include the most interesting and relative experiences and skills you have for the open position. Here are important details to include in your cover letter:
How you meet the job's requirements
Give details about your current and past experience and how it directly impacts your ability to succeed in the new position. Pay close attention to the job description and pick out specific aspects of the job that you can compare to your knowledge. Include numbers or percentages to specify your qualifications. For example, if you're applying to a marketing job that requires a deep knowledge of SEO, you might describe how you worked several successful SEO campaigns in your last position and trained three new marketing associates on SEO best practices over your two-year employment.
Why you want to work at the company
Employers want to know your motivation for working with them. They want to hire someone who expresses sincere interest in the job's duties and enthusiasm for the company. Explain how working there can fulfill your career goals. It's important to be sincere. Discuss a company's reputation and growth to show that you performed research about the employer and are genuinely interested in contributing to its success.
Other elements of a cover letter can include:
Meaningful anecdotes: Tell an interesting story about your experience with the company, industry or the type of job. For example, you can mention that you've been a customer of this establishment for over 10 years or that you've dreamt of working in this industry since you read an article in the newspaper last year.
A call to action: A polite, open-ended call to action such as "I look forward to hearing more about this opportunity," shows your excitement and suggests a reason for employers to call you.
Cover letter template
This template can give you a general idea of how to write a cover letter for your next job application:
[First name] [Last name]
[Phone number] | [Professional email address] | [City], [State]
Dear [Hiring manager's first name] [Hiring manager's last name],
[Express excitement for the position including the role title and the company name]. [Introduce yourself by explaining why you're applying for the job and how the job aligns with your career goals and what specifically draws you to the company].
[Explain your relevant experience and qualifications without repeating what's in your resume]. [Highlight one-to-two relevant achievements with facts and data when possible.] [Explain why you'd be a good fit for the company]. [Optional - address employment gap or career transition].
[Express gratitude]. [Summarize qualification]. [Restate interest in role]. [Call to action + availability and preferred contact method]
To upload the template into Google Docs, go to File > Open > and select the correct downloaded file.
Cover letter example
Here's an example of a traditional application cover letter:
(504) 240-2151 | email@example.com | New Orleans, Louisiana
June 2, 2024
Dear Francine Williams,
I want to thank you for the opportunity to apply for the server position at Cove Diner, one of the most immersive dining experiences in Florida. As a self-motivated and detail-oriented person with a passion for food and connecting to people, I believe the server position at Cove Diner can allow me to effectively use my past server experience and soft skills to further my career in the restaurant business.
I began serving in high school, waiting tables at the local breakfast diner, Cottage Cafe. Every Saturday and Sunday morning for three years, I helped serve over 70 customers a day. Many of them were repeat customers with whom I made great connections, but I enjoyed making every customer's experience pleasant. I also was a waitress at a popular coffee shop, Coffee Beans, every summer in addition to working at Cottage Cafe.
As an experienced server, I prioritize the customers' needs and ensure they enjoy every aspect of their dining experience from the moment they walk in the door. With my years of serving experience, I'm confident I can be a valued team member at Cove Diner. I've dined at your establishment many times and have always felt welcomed. Your customer-oriented culture is inviting and fun, and want to contribute to it.
Thank you for your time and consideration of my application. I look forward to learning more about the expectations and duties of a server at Cove Diner.
Related: Cover Letter Samples
Tips for writing cover letters
Here are some tips to help you write a cover letter that captures an employer's attention.
Pick an appropriate voice and tone. Write like yourself, but research the company to get an idea of what tone and voice to use. For example, the voice and tone you use for a marketing design company may differ from a legal consulting firm.
Use a consistent format. A simple format on your cover letter can make your writing easier to read. Avoid distracting the reader by using neutral colors, such as black, and a sans-serif font.
Read the job description. Before writing a cover letter, read the job description closely to understand what the employer is looking for in an ideal candidate. Pick out cover letter keywords that emphasize the skills and experience you have that are beneficial to them.
Pay attention to instructions. Some employers instruct candidates to answer specific questions or provide certain information in their cover letter. Be sure to read these notes carefully.
Address your contact correctly. Sometimes the hiring manager's name is not available. In these cases, put the company's name at the top, then address the letter as "Dear Hiring Manager."
Diversify your word choice. Try to use more creative word variations, such as "tenacious" instead of "determined," and begin with an attention-grabbing starting sentence.
Keep it short. The length of your cover letter may ultimately depend on the number of details you include and if the employer specifies a minimum or maximum length. Be as clear and concise as possible to illustrate your qualifications, and remember that your cover letter is a more personal representation of your skills, not a reiteration of your resume.
A cover letter answers the question of 'why you?' or why a hiring manager should invest time in getting to know you and what you could bring to the organization and role. A cover letter is a written elevator pitch that's focused on results without the fluff.
—Genevieve Northup, MBA, SHRM-CP, HCI-SPTD
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