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Cover Letter Writing Guide

Jobscan’s Guide to Writing an Effective Cover Letter

What is a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is often the hiring manager’s very first impression of you, even before your resume. Though cover letters are not required as frequently today as they once were, it's still important to know the basics for those instances when they are requested.

Think of a cover letter as a formal introduction to your resume. Online application and resume screeners (ATS) have made the resume strictly a technical document in online applications. With a cover letter, you can let your personality shine through and expand on the most important pieces of your work history.

In a nutshell, the standard cover letter explains who you are, your major accomplishments, and what you will bring to the company if hired.

There are three major types of cover letters: the application cover letter, the prospecting cover letter, and the networking cover letter. To get the full rundown of each of the three types, check out our page on How to Write a Cover Letter.

How to Format Your Cover Letter

The format of your cover letter determines the order in which the hiring manager learns about you. For example, if you list your work history last, he or she has to read through the whole letter before learning the most important information.

Use the format order below as a guideline for building your cover letter.

For a Job:
When in doubt, think of your cover letter like a conversation. The order of events in a conversation is similar to the order of events in a cover letter.

For example:

  1. State your name
  2. Say hello
  3. Explain your work history
  4. Tell them what you can do for their company
  5. Say goodbye

For an Internship:
Again, your cover letter should flow like a normal conversation. The hiring manager will have a better impression of you if he or she feels as though they are talking to you. For an internship, simply replace your work history with your relevant coursework and skills.

conversational cover letter diagram
The flow of a cover letter is very similar to the flow of a conversation

What to Include in Your Cover Letter

As is true of a resume, it is critical to create a new cover letter for each job that requires one. If a job posting does not specifically ask for a cover letter, do not go to the trouble of writing one.

A cover letter should always relate specifically to the job for which you are applying and to the skills you believe you will bring to it. In the case of most cover letters, the following elements should be included.

Contact Info:
Don’t skip over this step! It is easy to forget, but it is important to make sure the hiring manager knows how to reach you. Include your full name, home address (including zip code), phone number, and email address. You can also include your LinkedIn web address if it is not already included in your resume.

Your greeting should be short, professional and the foundation for a positive first impression. The most important part of the greeting is doing your research to find the hiring manager’s name. You should never say, “To Whom It May Concern” or just “Hi.”

Use the company website, LinkedIn or other social media resources to find the name of the hiring manager who posted the job. If you cannot find his or her name, call the office manager at the company and ask for it.

It is appropriate to greet them by their first name. For example, “Nancy,”.

The opening of your cover letter should be used to get the hiring manager’s attention and set yourself apart from the rest. Show your personality while remaining professional, and most of all, show them that you are passionate and knowledgeable about the work that you do.

In your cover letter’s opening, explain who you are as a professional as well as the skills relevant to the particular job. Relevance is key! Hiring managers often see generic cover letters, so show them you are serious by tailoring yours to the job and company.

The body of your cover letter should not simply be a long form version of your resume work experience. In addition to including the most relevant hard skills found in the job description and your resume, expand on your experience with specific examples of professional success.

One of the best ways to sell yourself is by sharing measurable results. Explain what you’ve accomplished in your career and what you’ll do if hired. Percentages, dollar amounts, years, and other numerical values are the key to making the body of your cover letter work for you.

An example of a measurable result is, “While working for GMC, I grew the email subscriber base by 22% in two years.”

The goal of the closing is to be simple and informative. Inform the hiring manager of any attachments, online portfolios or samples included with your cover letter.

Many people use this opportunity to say something like, “I’m really looking forward to hearing back.” While it shows you are excited, phrases like this can also sound a little desperate. Try something like, “I’m looking forward to finding out if I’m a match for this position” as an alternative.

Finally, sign your name with something professional like “Sincerely,” “Best,” or “Yours.” If in an email, remember to include any necessary attachments at the bottom.

Example of Joe Jobscan’s cover letter

Cover Letter Tips

Jobscan Cover Letter Scan

In addition to resume scans, Jobscan premium users can also scan their cover letter against a job description. This generates a report of the top hard skills and soft skills found in the job description that should be included in your cover letter, plus additional checks for optimal length, contact information, measurable results, and more.

See a sample cover letter scan report here.


What About Your Resume?

Your resume is the document that the cover letter leads up to. It is the in-depth, informational partner to your cover letter. In other words, it’s the main act.

While your cover letter can show personality, your resume should be focused on skills and measurable accomplishments.

Your cover letter and resume should compliment each other. Both should be tailored to each job and company, and any changes made to one should be made to the other, if applicable. Keep applicant tracking systems in mind when going through the tailoring process.

For everything you need to know about writing a resume, check out our Resume Writing Guide.

Top Cover Letter Templates
Check out Jobscan’s top cover letter templates.

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What tense should I use when writing a cover letter?
It is appropriate to change Tenses throughout your cover letter. For example, you can explain who you are in present tense and explain important aspect of your work history in past tense. You can switch to future perfect tense when discussing the ways you would perform if given the position.

What is the purpose of a cover letter?
The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce yourself and your resume, and give insight into specific parts of your work history and how your experience is applicable to this job.

What should you send first: a cover letter or resume?
Your cover letter and resume will generally be sent as a pair, but your cover letter is meant to be an introduction to your resume. If it is an email, use the cover letter in the body and attach your resume, otherwise attach both.

Who should you address in a cover letter when there is no name?
You should always address the person on the other end by name. Check out the company website or call the company’s office manager to inquire about the name of the hiring manager. Never use “To Whom It May Concern” or “Hi” in place of a name. If all else fails, use “Hi Company Name”.

When should I include a cover letter?
Cover letters are much less prevalent than they were in the past, and one should only be included when asked for specifically in a job posting.

Are cover letters necessary when applying online?
Cover letters are only necessary when applying online if they are asked for in the job posting.

How long should a cover letter be?
A cover letter should be no longer than 400 words, and ¾ of a page.

Should a cover letter be sent as an attachment?
If it is not specified, a cover letter can be sent either as an attachment (PDF is best) or in the body of an application email with your resume attached.

What should a cover letter look like?
A cover letter should look like a letter!

How should I end a cover letter?
End your cover letter with a formal signature. Sincerely, Best and Yours are all appropriate before your name. If not sent in an email, use the date in your signature as well.

Jobscan Learning Center The Jobscan Cover Letter Learning Series

Part 1: Cover Letter Writing Guide
Jobscan’s Guide to Writing an Effective Cover Letter
Part 2: Cover Letter Formats
Formatting a cover letter can be frustrating but Jobscan walks you through cover letter formats from A to Z in this complete guide.
Part 3: Cover Letter Templates
Cover letter templates are a great starting point for writing your cover letter, here is our advice on how to choose and use cover letter templates.
Part 4: Cover Letter Examples
Cover letter examples can be helpful or confusing to a job seeker. Here is Jobscan's top advice on using the best cover letter examples.

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