A cover letter is a one-page formal letter to a prospective employer about a position you seek.
When applying for a job, you might be asked to provide a cover letter along with your résumé or CV. The two work together. Your résumé provides a dry list of facts about your experience. Your cover letter is your first chance to show the prospective employer who you are—your personality, your interests, and what you’ve learned on the job so far that makes you a good fit for this new opportunity.
To write a cover letter:
- research the position and the company. If possible, find out the name of who will be reviewing your application;
- write a formal heading;
- write an introduction: who you are and why they should hire you;
- describe how your experience would be good for the position;
- describe why you want to work at the company;
- and, write a formal closing.
Let’s look at each of these parts a little more closely … and soon you will be able to confidently write a cover letter for your next dream job (or just any job really, let’s be realistic). But first …
How to write without using the words opportunity and experience
Before you start talking up all your amazing work experience and gushing about what an incredible opportunity this job would be for you, you want to be sure to avoid one major pitfall: using the words opportunity and experience over and over again.
After you’ve written your first draft of your cover letter, go back and read it again, looking out for these specific words. If you’ve used them more than a couple times, try one of these synonyms instead:
Synonyms for job opportunity
- prospective position
- career goal
- new occupation
- excellent chance
Synonyms for experience
Try to mix it up a bit while writing your cover letter so you’re not repeating the same two words over and over.
OK, now back to the basics …
Research the position and the company
Before you even begin to write, you should do a little research. Go online and find out more about the company offering the position. What are they known for? What is their mission statement? What are their values? While you’re researching, don’t only look at the company website. You should also look at workplace review websites like Glassdoor to get a sense of what the company is like.
Think about what appeals to you about the company and/or the position. Do they do interesting work? Does the job seem like an opportunity to build your existing skills or learn new ones? What kind of tasks do you need to do for the position? What sort of skills are required?
While you are researching the company and the position, also try to find out who will be reviewing your application. At a fairly large company, this will typically be the hiring manager. In other cases, the name of the reviewer (or reviewers) will be provided on the job listing. (If you know someone who works at the company already, you can always ask them, too!) Sometimes it won’t be possible to find out who the reviewer will be—it happens. You just have to work with what information you’re able to find out.
Write a formal heading and intro
Your cover letter should have a formal heading. It should begin with your name and contact details: email and phone number. Some suggest making your name a larger font than the rest of the text.
Then, write the date. Finally, write the name of the hiring manager and the manager’s email address. If you don’t know specifically to whom you are addressing the letter, you can use the company name instead.
The format should look something like this:
September 4, 2020
Website Associate Hiring Manager
Once you have that heading down, you need a formal introduction to start off your letter. If you know the name of the hiring manager, you can use the classic: Dear Ms./Mr. [Last Name].
If you looked up the company culture and it has a casual vibe, you can even go for “Hello (or Hi) Ms. [Last Name].” Or for a slightly more updated approach, you can go with just the name of the company and a colon, e.g., “TechCo:” Feel it out first.
If you don’t know the name of the hiring manager, you can use “To Whom It May Concern.” This should only be used as a last resort.
Write an introduction
The first paragraph of your cover letter should start off with a bang. Well, a formal, carefully-measured bang. Many people begin their cover letters with the very boring line: “I am writing to apply for the position of Keyboard Monkey that I saw on JobWebsite.com.” Zzzz …
Your first line should, yes, reference the job itself. But it should also explain why you are excited about the job and why you would be a good fit for it. This opening line should be as specific as possible. Here are a couple of examples:
- With twelve years of childcare experience, including three years as an au pair in France, I am excited to apply for the position of Head Nanny.
- I am a dedicated audio engineer with a passion for crystal-clear sound who is enthusiastic about the opportunity to apply for a position at my favorite radio show, Chicken Care Weekly.
- As someone who has long dreamed of improving peoples’ lives in our community, I am applying to pursue my dream of working with at-risk populations at Local Nonprofit as a Grant Writer.
The rest of your introduction should include another sentence or two about why you think you would be a good fit for this position, based on your experience and interests.
Describe how your background would be good for the position
Remember, your prospective employer already has your résumé or your CV. So, you don’t need to restate all of your experiences. Instead, your second paragraph should discuss specific things you have done in past positions that are directly relevant to the position for which you are applying. And you should aim to make it about four to six sentences. For example:
While working as a general manager at Grocery Chain, I learned how to organize a team of 24 people, ensure smooth turnover of stock, and communicate effectively with different department managers. These skills will be invaluable as Department Manager at Other Grocery Chain, managing a team of 30 staffers in the Cheese Department.
Notice that the description is specific and ties directly to the job. This is what you want to demonstrate in this paragraph.
Describe why you want to work at the company
This isn’t a “Rah rah I love this company!” paragraph. It’s really a backdoor way to get in more details about why you’d be perfect for the job. But it’s also a way to show the person reading the cover letter that you understand the position, and the company, and that you can jump right in feet first. In this paragraph, you should describe why you want the job. For example:
Other Grocery Chain is nationally recognized for the quality of service it provides all customers. As a general manager at Grocery Chain, I worked hard to ensure our whole team met client needs with a smile, and I would provide the same level of care on the floor as a Department Manager. I am also eager to learn and implement the methods that Other Grocery Chain uses to ensure an excellent customer experience.
Once again, notice that the text specifically relates to prior experience and the specific tasks of the job. It also shows that the writer is familiar with the company and their values.
Write a formal closing
The final paragraph of your cover letter should be only one or two sentences long. In it, you should restate why you would be a good fit for the job and why you’re enthusiastic about it. You should also thank the reviewer or the committee for taking the time to consider your application and state that you hope to hear from them soon. For example:
My time spent in digital education content development, paired with my experience working with students and as a student myself, makes me the ideal fit for the position of Curriculum Developer. I would appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the work of Education Company, especially in the domain of e-publishing. Thank you for considering me for this position, and I hope to hear from you soon.
Then, finish with a formal closing like:
- Best regards,
- Kind regards,
- Thank you for your consideration.
- With gratitude,
Oh, and don’t forget your name!
When formatting your cover letter, you should use 1.5 line spacing. You should use a 10- or 12-point font similar to or the same as the primary font in your résumé. This should be a formal font type, like Calibri or Cambria. You should not use an informal font like Comic Sans MS.
Your cover letter should absolutely not be longer than a page. Not including the heading, that comes out to around 300 words.
Generally speaking, instead of indenting the first line of the paragraph, you should put a line break between the different paragraphs. It just looks better.
A few final pointers
In theory, you should write a different cover letter for every position you seek. In practice, as long as the positions are in the same field (for instance, you are applying for marketing roles at multiple companies), you can use the same basic text for each letter. Then, instead of writing a new letter every time, you can tailor the text to reflect the difference between the companies and positions. Just be sure that you change the name, address, and/or hiring manager name in letters for different companies.
If you’re printing out your résumé and cover letter as part of your application, be sure to use a high-quality paper. Don’t just use typical printer paper.
Before you send the cover letter, have a couple of people read it closely to look for typos or other mistakes. If you’re planning on emailing it, be sure to convert it to a PDF before you send it, so that you’re not sending a text document.
Writing a cover letter can be difficult. It’s hard to write a formal letter—after all, it’s not something we get a lot of practice doing in daily life. But if you take it one step at a time, do a little research, and use your friends and family for support, you can absolutely write a stellar letter that gets the attention you want.