Cover Letter Writing Guide: What to Include in Your Cover Letter

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    What is a Cover Letter?

    First thing’s first. You might be wondering, “what exactly is a cover letter?”. Don’t worry, you’re in the right place.

    A cover letter is simply a letter of introduction that accompanies a resume. Although cover letters are not required as frequently today as they once were, when one is requested, it gives the applicant a chance to expound upon the details of their resume. Cover letters also provide the job seeker an opportunity to express their goals and distinct background and personality that may not come across on the resume.

    What is the purpose of a cover letter?

    A cover letter explains who you are, lists major accomplishments, and tells the hiring manager what you hope to bring to the company if hired.

    There are three 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 this article on cover letter formats. To receive instant feedback on your cover letter, check out Jobscan’s cover letter tool.

    How long should a cover letter be?

    Think of a cover letter like a quick preview instead of the entire feature film. The goal is to plant the seeds of intrigue in the hiring manager’s mind about your most relevant skills and experience that you can discuss more in-depth during the interview. This means that the best cover letters tend to be around one page in length to keep your message clear and easy to digest.

    How to share a cover letter with a potential employer

    There are several methods of sharing a cover letter with potential employers, depending on their application process. Cover letters can be written on a document and turned into a PDF to be uploaded to a job application website or attached to an email along with your resume. In other cases, your cover letter can simply be written in the email message to a hiring manager, with your resume attached.

    How to start writing a cover letter

    It can be intimidating to try to parse down all your best qualities into a few quick paragraphs. To make sure you’re headed in the right direction it’s best to start writing a cover letter without actually even writing. Before you start typing away, you should do your research on the company, job title, and description.

    Researching the company you are applying to can help you understand the general tone and personality of the brand as a whole. This can then determine the tone of voice you might write your cover letter in. For example, an artsy start-up busines is likely to have a much more casual and creative energy compared with a more traditionally structured corporation. Pro tip? Look to the company website for hints of the tone to match.

    Similarly to how you might adjust your resume to match the job description, it can also inform where your focus should be directed in the cover letter. It’s likely that the hiring manager has a priority list of key skills they’re looking for. Consider emphasizing those experiences and unique specialties to help capture their interest.

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    How to Write a Cover Letter

    1. Contact Information

    Include your full name, address (including zip code–for ATS purposes,) and phone number with area code. You should make it as easy as possible for the hiring manager to reach you. Traditionally, this contact information is included in the upper left corner of your cover letter if you’re writing in a document. If you’re writing an email, this information can be included beneath your signature at the end of the message.

    2. Greeting

    It is ideal 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.

    3. Opening

    Think of the opening sentence as your “hook”. It’s your chance to grab the hiring manager’s attention and get them excited to learn more about you. How exactly do you write a good hook? Think about what skills set you apart from the other candidates or how your experience would make you invaluable to the company. What can you do that nobody else can?

    Word of warning: be careful not to go overboard with information in your opening (and be cautious of writing a run-on sentence). Pick just the one or two things you think are the most relevant and most important to this particular job.

    4. Body

    When writing the body, or main section, of your cover letter, remember the three w’s: why, what, and what (Yep, we meant to say “what” twice).

    Why are you writing to the hiring manager?

    What value can you offer the company?

    What do you know about the company and the team?

    The body of the cover letter is all about selling yourself. Include a few examples of relevant and measurable accomplishments. Measurable accomplishments are powerful because they show tangible 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 a 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. To home in on the right skills and qualifications to mention, try scanning your cover letter.

    5. Closing

    The closing of your cover letter is just that, a closing. This section 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,” it’s best to keep it cool with something like, “I look forward to finding out if I’m a match for this position”. Again, keep in mind the tone and personality of the company you’re communicating with here.

    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. If you’re sending your cover letter in the body of an email, make sure it’s your personal email account that does not list your current work signature beneath the email. Your other option is to write the cover letter in a word document, saving as a PDF, and attaching it to your email.

    How to Format Your Cover Letter

    A cover letter is a letter, but that doesn’t mean you should just plop everything onto the page in a stream-of-consciousness flow. After all, the format of your cover letter determines the order in which the hiring manager learns about you, which can significantly influence their first impression.

    For example, if you list your work history last, he or she has to read through the whole letter before learning the most relevant information.

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

    How to format your cover letter for a job

    When in doubt, think of your cover letter as a conversation. In most cultures, socialization begins with personal introductions before jumping into a more in-depth conversation. Keep those same conversational event markers in mind when writing 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

    How to format your cover letter for an internship

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

    How to format your cover letter with no experience

    1. State your name
    2. Say hello
    3. Explain your skillset and character qualities that make you well-suited for the role
    4. Tell them what you can do for their company
    5. Say goodbye

    If this still seems tricky, try pulling out your smartphone or another recording device and pretend as though you’re speaking directly to the hiring manager, pitching yourself for the job. Record yourself saying each of the sections of your cover letter out loud and then listen back. Chances are, you’ll naturally hit each of the event markers. You can then transcribe and edit directly from your recording.

    cover-letter-writing-guide The flow of a cover letter is very similar to the flow of a conversation

    How to title and save your cover letter

    The devil’s in the details! If you’re writing a cover letter in a word document to save and send as a PDF, it’s important to save and label it appropriately. This is helpful both for the hiring manager and to keep yourself organized throughout the job search process.

    The key in every aspect of job applications is to make yourself an easy “yes” for your potential employer. That means making it easy for the hiring manager to keep track of your application materials for later review. With this in mind, it’s typically best to ensure your full name and the phrase “cover letter” is included in the file label. Other helpful details might include the job title you’re applying for or the year of your application.

    Here are a few examples:

    • Your Name_Cover Letter_Job Title.pdf
    • Cover Letter_Your Name_Job Title.pdf
    • Job Title_Your Name_Cover Letter.pdf
    • Your Name_Cover Letter_2021.pdf
    • Cover Letter_Your Name_2021.pdf

    Once you’ve saved the file, add it to a folder on your computer for easy reference and access later on. Having your existing cover letter templates readily available can make it easy to tweak and adjust for future job applications.

    Cover Letter Tips

    • If emailing your cover letter, be strategic with your subject line. Never leave the subject line blank and double-check for specific instructions in the job posting. If possible, use the email subject line to sell yourself. Ex: “Experienced Software Engineer Seeks Senior Level Mobile Position.”
    • Keep your cover letter brief and to the point. The hiring manager will be reading many cover letters. By carefully selecting your words and experiences to include, you can stand out from the crowd of applicants.
    • Be confident. Let the hiring manager know the reasons why you deserve this position and make yourself believe them too!
    • Your cover letter should not be simply a rephrasing of your resume. Let your personality show and go into further detail about your most valuable skills and experiences.
    • Do your research on the company and position 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, skills, and experience to focus on.
    • The best cover letters include keywords from the job posting. Applicant tracking systems may scan your cover letter along with your resume and will be using these keywords to sort through the applicants.
    • Check for spelling and grammar errors.
    • Send your cover letter as a PDF to avoid readability issues and to present the most professional application package.
    • Scan Your Cover Letter with Jobscan to make sure you’re checking all the boxes.

    Scan Your Cover Letter with Jobscan

    In addition to resume scans, Jobscan Premium users can also scan their cover letters 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

    Cover Letter FAQ

    What tense should I use when writing a cover letter?

    It can be appropriate to change tenses throughout your cover letter. For example, you can explain who you are in the present tense and explain important aspects of your work history in the past tense. You can switch to future perfect tense when discussing the ways you would perform if given the position. Think of it like this, “I am ABC, I did XYZ previously, I look forward to doing EFG in this position.”

    What to include in a cover letter

    Our cover letter guidelines above explain how to write a cover letter more deeply, but in summary, you should always include your name, relevant work experience, and reasons why you are right for the job in your cover letter.

    Are cover letters really necessary?

    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 particular job.

    What should you send first: a cover letter or a resume?

    Be sure to review all instructions in the job description to follow the hiring manager’s requests. Typically, your cover letter and resume will 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.

    How to address a cover letter

    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

    What should I include in 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.

    How long should a cover letter be?

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

    Should a cover letter be sent as a file attachment?

    If it is not specified in the job posting, 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.

    How do I start a cover letter?

    Don’t overthink it! Start a cover letter by introducing yourself by name and a greeting. For example, “Hello Mary, I’m Paige Doepke.”

    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


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