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How to Write a Cover Letter

Jobscan’s Step-by-Step Guide for Writing an Effective Cover Letter

What is a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is a short letter sometimes included with your resume during the application process. It gives a brief overview of your professional history, while also allowing you to give your application a personal touch.

A job posting will generally specify whether or not to include a cover letter. If the posting does not request a cover letter, it is best not to include one. Today, the use of cover letters has become somewhat antiquated, especially in the tech and startup industries. The prevalence of them has faded significantly, likely due to the increase of online applications and applicant tracking systems.

There are three types of cover letters: the application letter, prospecting letter and networking letter.
Application Cover Letter:
An application letter comes from a candidate with the purpose of responding to a specific job. It is the most commonly-used type of cover letter, and the type of cover letter being described in this guide.

Prospecting Cover Letter:
A prospecting letter comes from a job seeker and inquires to a company or hiring manager about possible job openings. Since this type of cover letter focuses on your desire to work for the company in general, not on a specific job, it should focus on what skills or experiences make you a good fit for the company culture. Otherwise, the format is the same as that of an application cover letter.

Networking Cover Letter:
A networking letter goes out to a friend, mentor or other contact asking for help or information in a job search. Since this type of cover letter will generally be sent to contacts or friends, it can be more casual and shorter than the typical cover letter.
It should inform the contact of your job search and ask them to send your enclosed resume to those who may be interested.


How to Write a Cover Letter

1. Contact Information

The first step of every resume is contact information. It might seem futile, but 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.

2. Greeting

The greeting is how you introduce yourself to the person on the other side. 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.

3. Opening

This is your chance to get the hiring manager’s attention. While your resume should be a very technical rundown of your experience and education, your cover letter is your chance to let your personality shine through. Be creative and try to start each cover letter in a different way than most people would. 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?

4. Body

When writing the body of your cover letter, remember the three w’s: why, what and what (okay, maybe that only counts as two).
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. For example, if you’re applying for a job in sales, you might say about your previous job position, “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.

5. Closing

The closing of your cover letter is just that, a closing. It is not an opportunity to include more information about you or your experience. It should be used to thank the hiring manager for his or her time, mention any attachments (resume, portfolio, samples). Keep the closing professional, and try not to sound too eager to get the job. It is tempting to say something like, “Looking forward to hearing more about the position”, which sounds a little desperate. According to our research, it is better to say, “I look forward to finding out if I’m a match for this position”.

To finish out the closing, do a formal signature. Keep the signature of your cover letter formal. “Sincerely,” “Best,” “Regards,” “Yours,” are all good options. 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.


The “Don’ts” of Writing a Cover Letter

Don’t include a photo:

While including a photo on a cover letter or resume is customary in other countries, it is not necessary in the U.S. In fact, it can hurt your chances of getting a job. While companies are not allowed to hire based on race or gender, the hiring manager might make judgments based on your picture without even meaning to.

Don’t simply copy your resume:

Your cover letter should not be a longhand version of your resume. It is your chance to let some of your personality shine through while also explaining exactly why you are ideal for this particular position.

Don’t send the same cover letter:

Sending the same cover letter and only changing the name of the company is not a good idea. It will sound less personal and it leaves room for error--you could forget to change the name in each place it is mentioned, which will give you away.

Don’t send a cover letter if it is not requested:

Like we mentioned above, the use of cover letters is a bit outdated. If a job posting or company does not request a cover letter, it is best not to include one. Online applications have eliminated the need for cover letters since the process has become primarily automated.

Don’t skip out on spellcheck:

Even if you think your spelling and grammar skills are perfect, run it through a spell check just in case. Many employers will throw out your cover letter and application as soon as they see errors. Those are easy fixes!


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Jobscan Learning Center The Jobscan How To Learning Series

Part 1: How to Find a Job
Jobscan's Step-by-Step Guide to Finding and Landing a Job
Part 2: How to Write a Cover Letter
Jobscan’s Step-by-Step Guide for Writing an Effective Cover Letter
Part 3: How to Write a Resume
Jobscan’s Step-by-Step Guide for Writing a Resume
Part 4: How to Prepare for a Job Interview
Jobscan’s Step-by-Step Guide to Job Interview Preparation

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