How to Write a Cover Letter in 2022 | Beginner’s Guide
After weeks of heavy job search, you’re almost there!
You’ve perfected your resume.
You’ve short-listed the coolest jobs you want to apply for.
You’ve even had a friend train you for every single interview question out there.
But then, before you can send your application and call it a day, you remember that the job ad requires a cover letter.
Now you’re stuck wondering how to write a cover letter.
Don’t panic! We’ve got you covered. Writing a cover letter is a lot simpler than you might think.
In this guide, we’re going to teach you how to write a cover letter that gets you the job you deserve.
- What’s a cover letter & why it’s important for your job search
- How to write a convincing cover letter that gets you the job (step-by-step!)
- How to perfect your cover letter with the Novoresume free checklist
- What excellent cover letter examples look like
So, let’s get started with the basics!
What is a Cover Letter? (and Why It’s Important)
A cover letter is a one-page document that you submit as part of your job application (alongside your CV or Resume).
Its purpose is to introduce you and briefly summarize your professional background. On average, your cover letter should be from 250 to 400 words long.
A good cover letter can spark the HR manager’s interest and get them to read your resume.
A bad cover letter, on the other hand, might mean that your application is going directly to the paper shredder. So, to make sure this doesn’t happen, it’s essential to know how to write a convincing cover letter.
How does a good cover letter look, you might ask. Well, here’s an example:
Keep in mind, though, that a cover letter is a supplement to your resume, not a replacement. Meaning, you don’t just repeat whatever is mentioned in your resume.
If you’re writing a cover letter for the first time, writing all this might seem pretty tough. After all, you’re probably not a professional writer.
The thing is, though, you don’t need to be creative, or even any good at writing. All you have to do is follow a tried-and-tested format:
- Header – Input contact information
- Greeting the hiring manager
- Opening paragraph – Grab the reader’s attention with 2-3 of your top achievements
- Second paragraph – Explain why you’re the perfect candidate for the job
- Third paragraph – Explain why you’re a good match for the company
- Formal closing
Or, here’s what this looks like in practice:
How to Write the Perfect Cover Letter (And Get Hired!)
Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, we’re going to guide you through the process of writing a cover letter step by step.
Step #1 – Pick the Right Cover Letter Template
A good cover letter is all about leaving the right first impression.
So, what’s a better way to leave a good impression than a well-formatted, visual template?
You can simply pick one of our hand-picked cover letter templates, and you’ll be all set in a jiffy!
As a bonus, our AI will even give you suggestions on how to improve your cover letter on the go.
Step #2 – Start the Cover Letter with a Header
As with a resume, it’s important to start your cover letter with a Contact Information section:
Here, you want to include all essential information, including:
- Full Name
- Phone Number
- Name of the hiring manager / their professional title
- Name of the company you’re applying to
In certain cases, you might also consider adding:
- Social Media Profiles – Any type of profile that’s relevant to your field. Social Profiles on websites like LinkedIn, GitHub (for developers), Medium (for writers), etc.
- Personal Website – If you have a personal website that somehow adds value to your application, you can mention it. Let’s say you’re a professional writer. In that case, you’d want to link to your blog.
And here’s what you shouldn’t mention in your header:
- Your Full Address
- Unprofessional Email – Make sure your email is presentable. It’s pretty hard for a hiring manager to take you seriously if your email address is “[email protected]” Whenever applying for jobs, stick to the “[first name] + [last name] @ email provider.com” format.
Step #3 – Greet the Hiring Manager
Once you’ve properly listed your contact information, you need to start writing the cover letter contents.
The first thing to do here is to address the cover letter to the hiring manager.
That’s right, the hiring manager! Not the overly popular “Dear Sir or Madam.” You want to show your future boss that you did your research and are really passionate about working with their team.
No one wants to hire a job seeker who just spams 20+ companies and hopes to get hired in any of them.
So, how do you find out who’s the hiring manager? There are several ways to do this.
The simplest option is to look up the head of the relevant department on LinkedIn. Let’s say you’re applying for the position of a Communication Specialist at Novoresume. The hiring manager is probably Head of Communications or Chief Communications Office.
So, you do a quick lookup on LinkedIn:
And voila! You have your hiring manager.
Or let’s say you’re applying for the position of a server. In that case, you’d be looking for the “restaurant manager.”
If this doesn’t work, you can also check out the “Team” page on the company website; there’s a good chance you’ll at least find the right person there.
Here are several other greetings you could use:
- Dear [Department] Hiring Manager
- Dear Hiring Manager
- To whom it may concern
- Dear [Department] Team
Step #4 – Write an Attention-Grabbing Introduction
First impressions matter, especially when it comes to your job search.
Recruiters get hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of applications. Chances are, they’re not going to be reading every single cover letter end-to-end.
So, it’s essential to catch their attention from the very first paragraph.
The #1 problem we see with most cover letter opening paragraphs is that they’re usually extremely generic. Most of them look something like this..
- Hey, my name is Jonathan and I’d like to work as a Sales Manager at XYZ Inc. I’ve worked as a sales manager at MadeUpCompany Inc. for 5+ years, so I believe that I’d be a good fit for the position.
See the issue here? This opening paragraph doesn’t say pretty much anything except the fact that you’ve worked the job before.
Do you know who else has similar work experience? All the other applicants you’re competing with.
Instead, you want to start off with 2-3 of your top achievements to really grab the reader’s attention. Preferably, the achievements should be as relevant as possible to the position.
So now, let’s make our previous example shine:
My name’s Michael and I’d like to help XYZ Inc. hit and exceed their sales goals as a Sales Manager. I’ve worked with Company X, a fin-tech company, for 3+ years. As a Sales Representative, I generated an average of $30,000+ in sales per month (beating the KPIs by around 40%). I believe that my previous industry experience, as well as excellence in sales, makes me the right candidate for the job.
See the difference between the two examples? If you were the hiring manager, which sales manager would you hire, Jonathan or Michael?
Now that we’ve covered the introduction, let’s talk about the body of your cover letter. This part is split into two paragraphs: the first is for explaining why you’re the perfect person for the job, and the latter is for proving that you’re a good fit for the company.
So, let’s get started.
Step #5 – Explain why you’re the perfect person for the job
This is where you show off your professional skills and convince the HR manager that you’re a better fit for the job than all the other applicants.
But first things first – before you even write anything, you need to learn what the most important requirements for the role are. So, open up the job ad and identify which of the responsibilities are the most critical.
For the sake of the example, let’s say you’re applying for the position of a Facebook Advertiser. You scan the job ad and see that the top requirements are:
- Experience managing a Facebook ad budget of $10,000+ / month
- Some skills in advertising on other platforms (Google Search + Twitter)
- Excellent copywriting skills
Now, in this section, you need to discuss how you fulfill these requirements. So, here’s how that would look for our example:
In my previous role as a Facebook Marketing Expert at XYZ Inc. I handled customer acquisition through ads, managing a monthly Facebook ad budget of $20,000+. As the sole digital marketer at the company, I managed the ad creation & management process end-to-end. Meaning, I created the ad copy , images, picked the targeting, ran optimization trials, and so on.
Other than Facebook advertising, I’ve also delved into other online PPC channels, including:
Are you a student applying for your first internship? You probably don’t have a lot of work experience to show off in this section. Learn how to write an internship cover letter here.
Step #6 – Explain why you’re a good fit for the company
Once you’ve written the last paragraph, you might be thinking – I’m a shoo-in for the job! What else do I need to write? I’ll just wrap up the cover letter and hit that sweet SEND button.
Well, no. You’re not quite there yet.
The HR manager doesn’t only look at whether you’ll be good at the job or not. They’re looking for someone that’s also a good fit for the company culture.
After all, employees that don’t fit in are bound to quit, sooner or later. This ends up costing the company a ton of money, up to 50% of the employee’s annual salary.
Meaning, you also need to convince the HR manager that you’re really passionate about working with them.
How do you do this? Well, as a start, you want to do some research about the company. You want to know things like:
- What’s the company’s business model?
- What’s the company product or service? Have you used it?
- What’s the culture like? Will someone micro-manage your work, or will you have autonomy on how you get things done?
So, get to Googling. Chances are, you’ll find all the information you need either on the company website or somewhere around the web.
Then, you need to figure out what you like about the company and turn that into text.
Let’s say, for example, you’re passionate about their product and you like the culture of innovation / independent work in the organization.
You’d write something like:
I’ve personally used the XYZ Smartphone, and I believe that it’s the most innovative tech I’ve used in years. The features such as Made-Up-Feature #1 and Made-Up-Feature #2 were real game changers for the device.
I really admire how Company XYZ thrives for excellence for all its product lines, creating market-leading tech. As someone that thrives in a self-driven environment, I truly believe that I and Company XYZ will be a great match.
What you don’t want to do here is be super generic for the sake of having something to write. Most job seekers tend to mess this one up. Let’s take a look at a very common example we tend to see (way too often):
I’d love to work for Company XYZ because of its culture of innovation. I believe that since I’m super creative, I’d be a good fit for the company. The company values of integrity and transparency really vibe with me.
See what’s wrong here? The example doesn’t really say anything about the company. “Culture of Innovation” is something most companies claim to have.
The same goes for “values of integrity and transparency” – the writer just googled what the values for the organization are, and said that they like them.
Any hiring manager that reads this will see through the fluff.
So, make sure to do a lot of research and come up with good reasons why you’re applying.
Step #7 – Wrap up with a call to action
Finally, it’s time to finish up your cover letter and write the conclusion.
In the final paragraph, you want to:
- Wrap up any points you couldn’t in the previous paragraphs. Do you have anything left to say? Any other information that could help the hiring manager make their decision? Mention it here.
- Thank the hiring manager for their time. It never hurts to be courteous, as long as you don’t come off as too needy.
- Finish the cover letter with a call to action. The very last sentence in your cover letter should be a call to action. You should ask the hiring manager to take some sort of action.
And now, let’s turn this into a practical example:
So to wrap it all up, thanks for looking into my application. I hope I can help Company X make the most out of their Facebook marketing initiatives. I’d love to further discuss how my previous success at XYZ Inc. can help you achieve your facebook marketing goals.
Step #8 – Use the right formal closing
Once you’re done with the final paragraph, all you have to do is write down a formal “goodbye” and you’re good to go.
Feel free to use one of the most popular conclusions to a cover letter:
- Best Regards,
- Kind Regards,
- Thank you,
And we’re finally done! Before sending off the cover letter, make sure to proofread it with software like Grammarly, or maybe even get a friend to review it for you.
Does your cover letter heading include all essential information?
- Full Name
- Professional email
- Phone Number
- Relevant Social Media Profiles
Do you address the right person? I.e. hiring manager in the company / your future direct supervisor
Does your introductory paragraph grab the reader’s attention?
- Did you mention 2-3 of your top achievements?
- Did you use numbers and facts to back up your experience?
Do you successfully convey that you’re the right pro for the job?
- Did you identify the core requirements?
- Did you successfully convey how your experiences help you fit the requirements perfectly?
Do you convince the hiring manager that you’re passionate about the company you’re applying to?
- Did you identify the top 3 things that you like about the company?
- Did you avoid generic reasons for explaining your interest in the company?
Did you finalize the conclusion with a call to action?
Did you use the right formal closure for the cover letter?
5+ Cover Letter Examples
Need some inspiration? Read on to learn about some of the best cover letter examples we’ve seen (for different fields).
College Student Cover Letter Example
Middle Management Cover Letter Example
Career Change Cover Letter Example
Management Cover Letter Example
Senior Executive Cover Letter Example
Want to discover more examples AND learn what makes them stand out? Check out our guide to cover letter examples.
Next Steps in Your Job Search – Creating a Killer Resume
Your cover letter is only as good as your resume. If either one is weak, your entire application is for naught.
After all, a cover letter is just an introduction. Imagine going through all this effort to leave an amazing first impression, but flopping at the end because of a mediocre resume.
. But don’t you worry, we’ve got you covered on that end, too.
If you want to learn more about Resumes & CVs, we have a dedicated FREE guide for that. Check out our complete guide on how to make a resume, as well as how to write a CV – our experts will teach you everything you need to know in order to land your dream job.
Or, if you’re already an expert, just pick one of our resume templates and get started.
Now that we’ve walked you through all the steps of writing a cover letter, let’s summarize everything we’ve learned:
- A cover letter is a 250 – 400 word document that convinces the hiring manager of your competence
- A cover letter goes in your job application alongside your resume
- Your introduction to the cover letter should grab the hiring manager’s attention and keep it all the way until the conclusion
- There are 2 main topics you need to include in your cover letter: why you’re the perfect candidate for the job & why you’re passionate about working in the company you’re applying to
- Most of the content of your cover letter should be factual, without any fluff or generalizations
At Novorésumé, we’re committed to helping you get the job you deserve, every step of the way! Follow our blog to stay up to date with the industry-leading advice. Or, check out some of our top guides…
How to Write a Job Application Letter (With Examples)
Alison Doyle is one of the nation’s foremost career experts and has counseled both students and corporations on hiring practices. She has given hundreds of interviews on the topic for outlets including The New York Times, BBC News, and LinkedIn. Alison founded CareerToolBelt.com and has been an expert in the field for more than 20 years.
Do you need to write a letter to apply for a job? Most of the time, the answer is yes. Even when employers don’t require a job application letter, writing one will help you highlight your skills and achievements and get the hiring manager’s attention. The only time not to send one is when the job listing says not to do so. It can help, and it definitely won’t hurt to include an application letter with your resume.
What is a Job Application Letter?
A job application letter, also known as a cover letter, should be sent or uploaded with your resume when applying for jobs. While your resume offers a history of your work experience and an outline of your skills and accomplishments, the job application letter you send to an employer explains why you are qualified for the position and should be selected for an interview.
Tips for Writing a Job Application Letter
Writing this letter can seem like a challenging task. However, if you take it one step at a time, you’ll soon be an expert at writing application letters to send with your resume.
Melissa Ling / The Balance
How to Get Started
Before you begin writing your job application letter, do some groundwork. Consider what information you want to include (keeping in mind that space is limited).
Remember, this letter is making a case for your candidacy for the position. But you can do better than just regurgitating your resume—instead, highlight your most relevant skills, experiences, and abilities.
Analyze the Job Posting
To include the most convincing, relevant details in your letter, you’ll need to know what the employer wants.
The biggest clues are within the job advertisement, so spend some time decoding the job ad. Next, match your qualifications with the employer’s wants and needs.
Include Your Most Relevant Qualifications
Make a list of your relevant experience and skills. For instance, if the job ad calls for a strong leader, think of examples of when you’ve successfully led a team. Once you’ve jotted down some notes, and have a sense of what you want to highlight in your letter, you’re ready to get started writing.
Writing Guidelines for Job Application Letters
Writing a job application letter is very different from a quick email to a friend or a thank-you note to a relative. Hiring managers and potential interviewers have certain expectations when it comes to the letter’s presentation and appearance, from length (no more than a page) to font size and style to letter spacing:
Length: A letter of application should be no more than one page long. Three to four paragraphs is typical.
Format and Page Margins: A letter of application should be single-spaced with a space between each paragraph. Use about 1″ margins and align your text to the left, which is the standard alignment for most documents.
Font: Use a traditional font such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. The font size should be between 10 and 12 points.
What to Include in Each Section of the Letter
There are also set rules for the sections included in the letter, from salutation to sign-off, and how the letter is organized. Here’s a quick lowdown on the main sections included in a job application letter:
Heading: A letter of application should begin with both your and the employer’s contact information (name, address, phone number, email) followed by the date. If this is an email rather than an actual letter, include your contact information at the end of the letter, after your signature.
Salutation: This is your polite greeting. The most common salutation is “Dear Mr./Ms.” followed by the person’s last name. Find out more about appropriate cover letter salutations, including what to do if you don’t know the person’s name, or are unsure of a contact’s gender.
Body of the letter: Think of this section as being three distinct parts.
In the first paragraph, you’ll want to mention the job you are applying for and where you saw the job listing.
The next paragraph(s) are the most important part of your letter. Remember how you gathered all that information about what employers were seeking, and how you could meet their needs? This is where you’ll share those relevant details on your experience and accomplishments.
The third and last part of the body of the letter will be your thank you to the employer; you can also offer follow-up information.
Complimentary Close: Sign off your email with a polite close, such as “Best” or “Sincerely,” followed by your name.
Signature: When you’re sending or uploading a printed letter, end with your signature, handwritten, followed by your typed name. If this is an email, simply include your typed name, followed by your contact information.
Simple Formatting Using a Template
Overwhelmed by all these formatting and organization requirements? One way to make the process of writing a job application easier is to use a job application letter template to create your own personalized job application letters for applying for a job. Having a template can help save you time if you are sending a lot of application letters.
Be sure that each letter you send is personalized to the company and position; do not send the same letter to different companies.
Tips for Writing an Effective Letter
- Always write one. Unless a job posting specifically says not to send a letter of application or cover letter, you should always send one. Even if the company does not request a letter of application, it never hurts to include one. If they do ask you to send a letter, make sure to follow the directions exactly (for example, they might ask you to send the letter as an email attachment, or type it directly into their online application system).
- Use business letter format. Use a formal business letter format when writing your letter. Include your contact information at the top, the date, and the employer’s contact information. Be sure to provide a salutation at the beginning, and your signature at the end.
- Sell yourself. Throughout the letter, focus on how you would benefit the company. Provide specific examples of times when you demonstrated skills or abilities that would be useful for the job, especially those listed in the job posting or description. If possible, include examples of times when you added value to a company.
Numerical values offer concrete evidence of your skills and accomplishments.
- Use keywords. Reread the job listing, circling any keywords (such as skills or abilities that are emphasized in the listing). Try to include some of those words in your cover letter. This will help the employer see that you are a strong fit for the job.
- Keep it brief. Keep your letter under a page long, with no more than about four paragraphs. An employer is more likely to read a concise letter.
- Proofread and edit. Employers are likely to overlook an application with a lot of errors. Read through your cover letter, and if possible, ask a friend or career counselor to review the letter. Proofread for any grammar or spelling errors.
Sample Job Application Letter
This is a job application letter sample. Download the letter template (compatible with Google Docs or Word Online) or read the example below.
Sample Job Application Letter (Text Version)
12 Jones Street
Portland, Maine 04101
Human Resources Manager
Veggies to Go
238 Main Street
Portland, Maine 04101
I was so excited when my former coworker, Jay Lopez, told me about your opening for an administrative assistant in your Portland offices. A long-time Veggies to Go customer and an experienced admin, I would love to help the company achieve its mission of making healthy produce as available as takeout.
I’ve worked for small companies for my entire career, and I relish the opportunity to wear many hats and work with the team to succeed. In my latest role as an administrative assistant at Beauty Corp, I saved my employer thousands of dollars in temp workers by implementing a self-scheduling system for the customer service reps that cut down on canceled shifts. I also learned web design, time sheet coding, and perfected my Excel skills.
I’ve attached my resume for your consideration and hope to speak with you soon about your needs for the role.
Elizabeth Johnson (signature hard copy letter)
Sending an Email Application
When you are sending your letter via email include the reason you are writing in the subject line of your message:
Subject Line Example
Subject: Elizabeth Johnson – Administrative Assistant Position
List your contact information in your signature, rather than in the body of the letter:
How to Write a Cover Letter
Perhaps the most challenging part of the job application process is writing an effective cover letter. And yes, you should send one. Even if only one in two cover letters gets read, that’s still a 50% chance that including one could help you. Before you start writing, find out more about the company and the specific job you want. Next, catch the attention of the hiring manager or recruiter with a strong opening line. If you have a personal connection with the company or someone who works there, mention it in the first sentence or two, and try to address your letter to someone directly. Hiring managers are looking for people who can help them solve problems, so show that you know what the company does and some of the challenges it faces. Then explain how your experience has equipped you to meet those needs. If the online application doesn’t allow you to submit a cover letter, use the format you’re given to demonstrate your ability to do the job and your enthusiasm for the role.
No one likes job hunting. Scouring through online job listings, spiffing up your résumé, prepping for grueling interviews — none of it is fun. For many, the most challenging part of the process is writing an effective cover letter. There’s so much conflicting advice out there, it’s hard to know where to start. Do you even need one, especially if you’re applying through an online system?
What the Experts Say
The answer is almost always yes. Sure, there will be times when you’re submitting an application online and you may not be able to include one, but whenever possible, send one, says Jodi Glickman, a communications expert and author of Great on the Job. “It’s your best chance of getting the attention of the HR person or hiring manager and an important opportunity to distinguish yourself from everyone else.” And in a tight job market, setting yourself apart is critical, says John Lees, a UK-based career strategist and author of Knockout CV. Still, as anyone who’s ever written a cover letter knows, it’s not easy to do well. Here are some tips to help.
Do your research first.
Before you start writing, find out more about the company and the specific job you want. Of course, you should carefully read the job description, but also peruse the company’s website, its executives’ Twitter feeds, and employee profiles on LinkedIn. This research will help you customize your cover letter, since you shouldn’t send a generic one. It’ll also help you decide on the right tone. “Think about the culture of the organization you’re applying to,” advises Glickman. “If it’s a creative agency, like a design shop, you might take more risks, but if it’s a more conservative organization, like a bank, you may hold back.”
If at all possible, reach out to the hiring manager or someone else you know at the company before writing your cover letter, advises Lees. You can send an email or a LinkedIn message “asking a smart question about the job.” That way you can start your letter by referencing the interaction. You might say, “Thanks for the helpful conversation last week” or “I recently spoke to so-and-so at your company.” Of course, it’s not always possible to contact someone — or you may not get a response. That’s OK. It’s still worth a try.
Focus it on the future.
While your résumé is meant to be a look back at your experience and where you’ve been, the cover letter should focus on the future and what you want to do, says Glickman. “It can be helpful to think of it as the bridge between the past and the future that explains what you hope to do next and why.” Because of the pandemic there is less of an expectation that you’ll be applying for a job that you’ve done before. “There are millions of people who are making career changes — voluntarily or involuntarily — and need to pivot and rethink how their skill set relates to a different role or industry,” says Glickman. You can use your cover letter to explain the shift you’re making, perhaps from hospitality to marketing, for example. Think of it as an opportunity to sell your transferrable skills.
“People typically write themselves into the letter with ‘I’m applying for X job that I saw in Y place.’ That’s a waste,” says Lees. Instead, lead with a strong opening sentence. “Start with the punch line — why this job is exciting to you and what you bring to the table,” says Glickman. For example, you might write, “I’m an environmental fundraising professional with more than 15 years of experience looking for an opportunity to apply my skills in new ways, and I’d love to bring my expertise and enthusiasm to your growing development team.” Then you can include a sentence or two about your background and your relevant experience, but don’t rehash your résumé.
Read more about
Chances are the hiring manager or recruiter is reading a stack of these, so you want to catch their attention. But don’t try to be funny. “Humor can often fall flat or sound self-regarding,” says Lees. Stay away from common platitudes, too. “Say something direct and dynamic, such as ‘Let me draw your attention to two reasons why I’d be a great addition to your team.’”
If you have a personal connection with the company or someone who works there, also mention it in the first sentence or two. And always address your letter to someone directly. “With social media, it’s often possible to find the name of a hiring manager,” says Glickman.
Emphasize your personal value.
Hiring managers are looking for people who can help them solve problems. Drawing on the research you did earlier, show that you know what the company does and some of the challenges it faces. These don’t need to be specific but you might mention how the industry has been affected by the pandemic. For example, you might write, “A lot of health care companies are overwhelmed with the need to provide high-quality care while protecting the health and safety of their staff.” Then talk about how your experience has equipped you to meet those needs; perhaps explain how you solved a similar problem in the past or share a relevant accomplishment. You want to provide evidence of the things that set you apart.
Lees points out that there are two skills that are relevant to almost any job right now: adaptability and the ability to learn quickly. If you have brief examples that demonstrate these skills, include those. For example, if you supported your team in the shift to remote work, describe how you did that and what capabilities you drew on.
“When you don’t get hired, it’s usually not because of a lack of skills,” says Glickman. “It’s because people didn’t believe your story, that you wanted the job, or that you knew what you were getting into.” Hiring managers are going to go with the candidate who has made it seem like this is their dream job. So make it clear why you want the position. “Enthusiasm conveys personality,” Lees adds. He suggests writing something like “I’d love to work for your company. Who wouldn’t? You’re the industry leader, setting standards that others only follow.” Don’t bother applying if you’re not excited about some aspect of the company or role.
Watch the tone.
At the same time, don’t go overboard with the flattery or say anything you don’t mean. Authenticity is crucial. “Even if you’ve been out of work for months, and would take any job at this point, you want to avoid sounding desperate,” says Lees. You don’t want your tone to undermine your message, so be professional and mature. A good rule of thumb is to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager and think about “the kind of language that the hiring manager would use with one of the company’s customers.” Of course, it can be hard to discern your own tone in writing, so you may need to ask someone to review a draft (which is always a good idea anyway — see advice below). Lees says that he often cuts outs “anything that sounds like desperation” when he’s reviewing letters for clients.
Keep it short.
Much of the advice out there says to keep it under a page. But both Glickman and Lees say even shorter is better. “Most cover letters I see are too long,” says Lees. “It should be brief enough that someone can read it at a glance.” You do have to cover a lot of ground — but you should do it succinctly. This is where asking a friend, former colleague, or mentor to review your letter can be helpful. Ask them to read through it and point out places where you can cut.
In fact, it’s a great idea to share your cover letter with a few people, says Lees. Rather than sending it off and asking, “What do you think?” be specific about the kind of feedback you want. In particular, request two things. First, ask your friend if it’s clear what your main point is. What’s the story you’re telling? Are they able to summarize it? Second, ask them what’s wrong with the letter. “Other people are more attuned to desperation, overselling, over-modesty, and underselling,” says Lees, and they should be able to point out places where the tone is off.
When you can’t submit a cover letter.
Many companies now use online application systems that don’t allow for a cover letter. You may be able to figure out how to include one in the same document as your résumé, but that’s not a guarantee, especially because some systems only allow for data to be entered into specific boxes. In these cases, use the format you’re given to demonstrate your ability to do the job and your enthusiasm for the role. If possible, you may try to find someone to whom you can send a brief follow-up email highlighting a few key points about your application.
Principles to Remember
- Have a strong opening statement that makes clear why you want the job and what you bring to the table.
- Be succinct — a hiring manager should be able to read your letter at a glance.
- Share an accomplishment that shows you can address the challenges the employer is facing.
- Try to be funny — too often it falls flat.
- Send a generic cover letter — customize each one for the specific job.
- Go overboard with flattery — be professional and mature.
Advice in Practice
Case Study #1: Demonstrate an understanding of what the company needs.
Michele Sommers, the vice president of HR for the Boys & Girls Village, a nonprofit in Connecticut, recently posted a job for a recruiting and training specialist. “I was looking for someone with a strong recruiting background who could do everything from sourcing candidates to onboarding new hires,” she says. She also wanted the person to hit the ground running. “We’re a small team and I can’t afford to train someone,” she says.
More than 100 candidates applied for the job. The organization’s online application system doesn’t allow for cover letter attachments, but one of the applicants, Heidi (not her real name), sent a follow-up email after submitting her résumé. “And it’s a good thing she did, because she would’ve been weeded out otherwise,” Michele says.