What is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter is a letter of introduction that accompanies a resume. Online applications and resume screeners (ATS) have made resumes strictly technical documents. Cover letters can give applicants the opportunity to share more of their wants for their careers and even a glimpse into their personalities.Though cover letters are not required as frequently today as they once were, there are times that one will be requested. For that reason, it’s good to know exactly how to write a cover letter.
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 Write a Cover Letter
1. Contact Information
It may seem like a small thing, but adding your contact info to your cover letter is very important since it is the way the hiring manager will get in contact with you for an interview.
Include your full name, address (including zip code) and phone number with area code. You should make it as easy as possible for the hiring manager to reach you.
While many people just say “hi” or “to whom it may concern”, it is important to find out the name of the hiring manager and greet them directly. You can usually find the hiring manager’s name by searching the company website, or even calling the company and asking which hiring manager is assigned to this particular position. Once you learn the name, a simple greeting of “John” or “Hello John” is all you need.
This is your chance to get the hiring manager’s attention. While your resume is technical and straightforward, your cover letter is your chance to let your personality shine through.
Think of the opening as your “hook”; pull the hiring manager in. A couple of ways you can hook the hiring manager is to explain what you specifically can do for the company. What skills set you apart from the other candidates? How can your experience make a positive impact on the company?
When writing the body of your cover letter, remember the three w’s: why, what and what (Yep, we meant to say “what” twice).
Why are you writing?
What can you offer?
What do you know about the company and the team?
The body of the cover letter is all about selling yourself. Include a couple of examples of relevant and measurable accomplishments. Measurable accomplishments are powerful because they show proof of your abilities. For example, if you’re applying for a job in sales, you might include, “In Q4 of 2015, I increased sales by 15%”.
Or, if you’re applying for a job in web development, you might say, “Worked on a team of three developers to build out full mobile app”.
Someone in a managerial position could say, “Led a team of 15 to reach a combined $250,000 in sales in one quarter”. Just like when writing a resume, your cover letter should only include the most relevant and positive information about you.
The closing of your cover letter is just that, a closing. It should be used to thank the hiring manager for his or her time and to mention any attachments (resume, portfolio, samples). Keep the closing professional, and try not to sound too eager, since eagerness can come off as desperate.
For example, rather than saying something like, “Looking forward to hearing more about the position”, but it’s best to keep it cool with something like, “I look forward to finding out if I’m a match for this position”.
To finish out the closing, do a formal signature. You can use “Sincerely,” “Best,” “Regards,” “Yours,” or any
other professional signoff.
Use your first and last name as your signature, and send from a personal email account that does not list your current work signature beneath the email.
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.
How to Format 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.
- State your name
- Say hello
- Explain your work history
- Tell them what you can do for their company
- Say goodbye
How to Format Your Cover Letter 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.
Cover Letter Tips
- If emailing your cover letter, be thoughtful in your subject line. Never leave the subject line blank and double check for specific instructions in the job posting. If possible, use it to sell yourself. Ex: “Experienced Software Engineer Seeks Senior Level Mobile Position.”
- Keep your cover letter short and to the point. The hiring manager will be reading lots of cover letters. Make yours stand out with as little text as possible.
- Be confident. Let the hiring manager know the reasons why you deserve this position and make yourself believe them too!
- Don’t simply rephrase your resume. Let your personality show and go into further detail about your most valuable skills and experiences.
- Do your research before writing the cover letter. It should be customized to that specific company’s values and needs. Hiring managers can spot a generic resume from a mile away.
- Use the job posting as your guide for what topics to focus on.
- Include keywords from the job posting. Applicant tracking systems may scan your cover letter along with your resume.
- Check for spelling and grammar errors.
- Send your cover letter as a PDF to avoid readability issues.
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.
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 gets personal, your resume should be focused on the technicalities, like 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.
Free Cover Letter Downloads
Microsoft Office offers a free collection of simple cover letter templates.
Download Susan Ireland’s basic, universal cover letter template.
Here is a massive collection of free cover letter downloads by industry.
Check out this wide range of cover letter examples.
This website offers cover letters appropriate for US, UK and AU job positions.
If you’re a Google Drive user, these free templates are a great place to start.
These cover letters are available for download on Word, OpenOffice and Google Docs.
A free selection of cover letter downloads for specific job positions.
Cover Letter FAQ
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 aspects 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.”
Learn more here: How to Address a Cover Letter
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.
Learn more here: Are Cover Letters Necessary Anymore?
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.
Learn more here: How to End a Cover Letter With a Call to Action
Jobscan Learning Center The Jobscan Cover Letter Learning Series
How to write a cover letter that will get the attention of recruiters and hiring managers
A rundown of the various cover letter formats and how to determine which option is right for your job search
Cover letter templates and guidance that provides structure and foundation for your own cover letter
These cover letter examples will point you in the right direction if you’re unsure where to start