How to write a cover letter

So you’ve done your best to create an eye-catching resume that highlights your skills and experience, but you’re still not getting any responses. Maybe your work history is spotty, or your qualifications are outdated. Maybe you are getting lost in a swarm of other applicants and your resume just isn’t standing out. Whatever the reason, don’t give up! The cover letter is here to save the day!

Most employers, unless they specifically state otherwise, will be open to receiving a cover letter attached to a resume. The same employers who admit to spending 5 seconds on a resume say that they will almost always take the time to read through a cover letter. Submitting your resume with a cover letter helps to expand on the basic information contained in your resume. Do your past experiences vary wildly? Talk about how your varied skills relate to the position by writing about them in your cover letter. Is your work history full of holes? Explain the gaps in your cover letter. Do you have little work experience? Highlight your volunteer work in your cover letter. The cover letter is your chance to shine!

There are three very important things to keep in mind when writing a cover letter. Your cover letter needs to be relevant to the position for which you are applying; it needs to be honest about your experience and qualifications; and it needs to capture the attention of the reader. A basic cover letter can be broken down into three main parts:

Introduction – One (short) paragraph.

A cover letter is a business letter. It should be addressed in a formal way to the person who is going to be reading it. Whenever possible, address your letter to a specific person, not “to whom it may concern”. “To the hiring manager of [company]” will do in a pinch, but if you can find out that person’s name and address your letter to them directly, that is even better. The introduction of your letter should clearly identify yourself, the position you are applying for, and how you found out about the position (if you have been referred by someone you know, name drop!). It can also be good to indicate why you are applying for the position at this point – aside from needing a job, what makes you want to pursue this position in particular? Is it your dream job? Did you train specifically for this position? What motivates you and sets you apart from the other applicants?

Qualifications – One or two paragraphs.

This is the biggest section of your cover letter and outlines your experience and qualifications. Don’t just repeat the information that is in your resume! This is your chance to highlight your understanding of the position and how to apply your particular skills to the job. Look at the language used to describe the position in the job description and mirror that language in your letter. Make sure you touch upon all of the key points in the job description. Talk about not just the position but the company itself: why do you want to work for this company? What specific skills or traits do you have that make you a perfect fit for both the job and the company? Be sure to keep the information in this section relevant. Don’t talk about unrelated experience just to fill out your letter. If you don’t have a lot to say in this section, try explaining why. Be honest, but keep things positive.

Thank you and follow up – One paragraph.

Reiterate in a single sentence why you are the best candidate for the position. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS end your cover letter with a thank you. It is so important to acknowledge the time that is being taken by the employer to read through your application. Be sure to indicate a follow up procedure (phone, email, etc.) if one hasn’t already been established. Don’t wait for the employer to contact you! Let them know you will follow up in a few days (and then do it!). If you are emailing your letter, be sure to save it in an easily accessible format. If you are mailing or hand delivering your letter, it is customary to sign it by hand.

Additional tips:

Your cover letter should be a single page in length or less. Be precise and concise.

Create a header for your cover letter that includes your name and contact information. Use this header on your resume to create a seamless transition between documents.

Include the full name and address of the person you are addressing the letter to (if that information is available to you).

Date your cover letter.

Personalize your cover letter thoroughly. Don’t just reference the company name. Make sure all of your content is relevant to the position for which you are applying.

Formatting, spelling, and grammar are important! Have someone look over your cover letter before submitting it.

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