- The cover letter is an introduction that describes your qualifications and emphasizes how will they fit the employer’s job description.
- Today you’ll be learning how to write a cover letter. Throughout this article, I’ll help you understand what a cover letter is and the importance of it. We’ll then go through the general format and specific content. Lastly, I’ll cover some big picture dos and don’ts when writing it.
- Definition & Importance
- Format & Content
- Dos & Don’ts
What is a Cover Letter ?
- A letter sent alongside your resume to introduce yourself, explain why you are sending in your resume, and provide more information about yourself
- Your formal introduction
- The first read
- A ‘must’ with your resume
So, what is a cover letter? A cover letter is a letter sent alongside your resume to introduce yourself, explain why you are sending in your resume, and provide more information about yourself. This is your opportunity to provide a formal introduction. It is the first read for an employer and is a must with your resume. Even if a cover letter is not specifically requested along with your resume, it is assumed you will include one. A cover letter, written the correct way, will never hurt your chances of being hired.
Why is it important ?
- To get an interview
- Introduce yourself
- To get you noticed: prompts an employer to look at your resume
You may be wondering why a cover letter is so important. First, it’s going to help you get an interview. When you are introducing yourself in your cover letter, you get a chance to further explain your interests, qualifications, and abilities. It will help you get noticed and hopefully prompt an employer to look at your resume to learn more about you.
- Block Style
- All lines start on the left side of the margin
- No indentations
- One page only
The format of a cover letter is called block style. Block style means that all lines start on the left side of the margin and there are no indentations for each paragraph like you would have when you’re writing an essay for class. Your cover letter should only be one page long. You do not want to overwhelm an employer with too much information. Keeping yourself to writing only one page forces you to stay focused on the specific job and company you’re applying to.
If you want to ensure that your resume can be read by every computer system in the world, make sure your font is Times New Roman or Arial.
Your dates can be on the left, right, or center. Once you have chosen a spot for your dates, you need to ensure that they are all in the same place.
Unless you are personally printing out the resume and handing it to the employer, avoid color and fancy formatting. You never know what another computer system will do to your formatting and some color documents are invisible when they’re printed out on a black and white printer. Before you hand your resume out to anyone, it is highly recommended that you show it to other people so that they can check your grammar and spelling. Be sure that you remind people that you are happy with the format and ask only that they give you the advice about grammar and spelling.
- Opening Paragraph
- Middle Paragraph / Body
- Closing Paragraph
- Signature & Enclosure
Now that you understand what a cover letter is, why it’s so important, and the basic format, we’ll get into the details of content. A cover letter consists of two headings, a salutation or greeting, an opening, middle, and closing paragraph, and then finally, your signature and enclosure. To further explain, let’s break down the specifics of each.
- City, State, Zip Code
- Phone Number
- Email Address
- Extra Info: LinkedIn, StrengthsQuest
The top of your cover letter consists of two headings. The first of which is your heading, essentially, your contact information.
First you’ll want to include your name. You want this to be the first thing an employer sees, so make the text size larger than the rest.
Next you’ll have your address, including city, state, and zip code. You’ll want to include the address you are currently residing and checking your mail at.
You also will list your phone number. Since you may not always be available to answer your phone, please double check your voicemail greeting to be sure it’s professional.
Your email address. It’s recommended to use your GCC email; however, you can use your personal account, as long as it is appropriate.
Lastly, if you’d like to get creative with your header, you can add extra information such as the URL to your LinkedIn profile or a list of your top 5 strengths from StrengthsQuest. Items like this might give an employer a little bit more information about you to make you stand out.
Cover Letter Example
Here is an example of what a heading looks like. You can see the name is larger and it lists all the correct contact information. It’s important to note that your heading does not need to look exactly like this one. This is a sample. It is not a template. Feel free to adjust your heading to how you prefer it. You can have your name on the left hand side, or in italics, or underlined. Your address can be on a different line than your email and phone number. The line here is not necessary, or you can make it a dotted line.
There are many stylistic changes you can make and I encourage you to do so. The heading you use on your cover letter should be exactly the same as the heading you use on your resume.
As you can see here, they line up perfectly. This is called branding. It shows consistency in your documents.
- Name of Employer
- Title of Employer
- Name of Company
- City, State, Zip Code
Your heading is then followed by a company heading. Before you begin adding in the company heading, you should always include the date. This is the date that you are sending the letter, not necessarily the date you are writing it.
The company heading then consists of first the name of the employer and the job title of that employer. When deciding who to list as the name of the employer, check the job posting for a contact person.
If no one is listed, feel free to call the company and ask who the point of contact is. If you cannot figure out who the contact is, you can skip including that information.
Below the name of the employer, you list the name of the company, followed by their address, including city, state and zip code.
- Dear Mr. [Insert Last Name]
- Dear Mrs. [Insert Last Name]
- Dear Ms. [Insert Last Name]
- Dear Dr. [Insert Last Name]
- Attention: Name of Employer
- Dear Hiring Manager
After the company heading, you should leave one space and then add in the salutation or greeting.
The preferred way to write your salutation is by using the name of the employer.
You can use Dear Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Dr., whichever is appropriate. Be sure you use the correct one. For example, myself, Jamie Edwards, could easily be a guy’s name. You want to be sure you do not write Mr. to a Ms. or not write Dr. if it is appropriate.
If you’re unsure of the correct salutation, you can use an alternate option of either simply writing “attention” followed by the name of the employer or stating “Dear Hiring Manager”.
In no circumstances should you use the phrase “To Whom it May Concern.”
This is a very default greeting that does not show much concern for who is reading your letter.
Here you can see an example of both headings together followed by the salutation. The date is after your heading, but before the company heading. You can see the name of the employer, their job title, and then the company name and address.
There is a space here, and then the salutation, which ends with a colon, not a comma.
- The position you are applying for
- Where you learned of the position
- Webpage (external or internal), referred by…, radio, LinkedIn, newspaper, etc.
- Express interest for the position
So now you can begin writing the actual letter portion of the cover letter. You will begin with your opening paragraph. In this paragraph, you’ll state the position you are applying for and & where you learned of the position.
You may have found the job posting on the company’s webpage or external website such as indeed.com. In some cases, you may have been referred by a current employee at the company. If that is true, you can include the current employee’s name.
Other examples are the radio, LinkedIn, newspaper, or elsewhere.
Before finishing your opening paragraph, you’ll also add an expression of your interest for the position. This should be a brief introduction of who you are, what you’re currently studying, or where you’re currently working followed by why you are applying to the position.
Here is an example of what the opening paragraph might look like.
You can see the position this person is applying for is listing and where the job posting was found. They then state what they are currently studying and why they’re interested in the position.
Your middle paragraph is the toughest part of your cover letter. Before you can begin writing this section, you much research the company. The easiest way to do this is to google them. Go to their specific website and read their about us section or any information they have on the company. It’s also helpful to read any news articles on the company to see if there’s something worth noting.
The reason for doing the research is because you really want your cover letter to focus on the employer. You do not want to bore the reader with reiterating your past job titles and job responsibilities; they can read about those on your resume.
You really want to explain how your skills and qualifications match the specific job requirements. Use the job posting for this. Read through what will be required in the position and pull out a task you know you either have the experience or the education in order to complete it.
Write that explicitly. You should do this at least twice, with detailed examples of past work.
You will then end your middle paragraph with showing the employer that you really would love this job. You can do this by stating how your values, skills, or abilities align with the company’s mission, vision, or values.
You can take this information right from their website. This is your chance to state why you would want to work for this company and really sell them on it. You could also go the route of stating why you are so passionate about the specific job. Explain what makes you so interested in the position and why this job posting stood out to you.
Here’s an example of the middle paragraph. The job posting this cover letter was written for stated that the employee would have to “provide phone support to 50-70 callers a day.”
Instead of simply stating in the cover letter that their past experience and education have provided them the ability to provide phone support to 50-70 callers a day, the writer got specific.
“My attendance at the conflict resolution, stress management, time management, time management, and communication skills workshops along with my listening skills gained from waitressing, will benefit me as I provide phone support to 50-70 callers a day.” They matched something they’ve done in their past that proves that they can complete a job duty for the position they’re applying for. In the last sentence, you can see that they are quoting a values statement form the company’s website to show they did a little research and are interested in the company.
- Restate your interest in the position
- State your interest in an interview
- Restate your contact information (phone or email)
- Include an action informing the employer of your next steps/follow-up
- Thank them for their time
The closing paragraph is fairly simple. You begin by restating your interest in the position. Then, state your interest in an interview.
You’ll also want to restate your contact information even though it’s written in your heading. Include an action informing the employer of your next steps or how you plan to follow-up.
Will you be calling the company, sending an email, or waiting to hear from them? Be sure whatever you state, you follow through with.
Lastly thank them for their time. Its importance to recognize the amount of time it takes employers to review applicants.
You can read through this example closing paragraph at your leisure. It is very simple and to the point.
- Yours Truly
- SIGN your name then…
- PRINT (type) your name then…
- Write (type) “Enclosure: Resume” or “Enclosure: Resume and References”
The last part of your cover letter is your signature. For your closing, use a professional sign off such as, yours truly, sincerely, or respectfully.
You’ll then leave a space to SIGN your name. When turning in your cover letter electronically, you should scan a signature to your computer and paste it onto your cover letter.
When handing your cover letter to someone, it should be hand signed with the same color ink as your text. Following the space you left for your signature, you will print, or type, your name.
Below your name you’ll have the word “enclosure.” Enclosure means that something else is attached. If you’re submitting your resume at the same time, it would state “Enclosure: Resume.”
If your also submitting your references, it would state “Enclosure: Resume and References.”
Let’s talk some general do’s of a cover letter.
- Customize each letter
- Check grammar & spelling
- Use standard fonts & sizes (10-12)
- Single space
- Print on quality, white or off-white paper
- Save as a .PDF
You absolutely must customize each letter. If you can use the same cover letter for two different job postings, it’s not a good enough cover letter.
Check your grammar and spelling. Small errors can make a big difference when comparing two like candidates. One mistake can put you in the don’t hire pile.
Use standard fonts such as Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri, or others. Do not use very artsy fonts such as comic sans. Using font size 10-12 is typically good. Any smaller will be difficult to read and any larger with look funny.
Cover letters are single spaced.
Print on quality, white or off-white paper. There is paper called resume paper. I would suggest purchasing some for when you’re submitting resumes and cover letters in person or bringing them to an interview. However, most of the time, you’re submitting online.
In that case you should save your cover letter as a .PDF. This eliminates the chances of track changes and red marks showing up when the employer opens the file. .PDFs keep the formatting consistent.
- Use keywords
- Pull from job description
- Helpful tool: Worlde.net
Using keywords throughout your cover letter will help you stand out to an employer. Keywords are words that are commonly used in the field you’re applying to. A simple way to identify them is from the job description.
If you’re reading through the job description and still aren’t sure which words are keywords, here’s a helpful tool. It’s called wordle.net.
Wordle creates word clouds, like this one. Word clouds are essentially words that all revolve around the same topic. To make this tool help you, you should find about 3 job descriptions from different companies all for the same job title. Copy and paste the job descriptions into wordle.net. Wordle will then pull the most commonly used words in that body of text and create a word cloud. You will then have a list of words that are used in the field you’re applying to. Take those words and integrate them into your cover letter.
- Use key phrases
- Action/results-oriented language:
- Increased, reduced, implemented, designed, created…
- Action/results-oriented language:
- Skill-related language:
- Wrote, planned, enabled, built…
- Recognition-related language:
- Honored, awarded, promoted, selected, credited…
- Recognition-related language:
It’s also important to use key phrases. Using action or results-oriented language is helpful. Words like increased, reduced, implemented, designed or created.
You should also include skill-related language, such as wrote, planned, enabled or built.
Another key phrase would be recognition-related language, such as honored, awarded, promoted, selected or credited.
Using phrases such as these helps clarify what you’ve accomplished or learned.
There are also a few don’ts you should be aware of.
- Use slang
- Send without proofing
- Send a generic letter
- Send with wrong contact information
- Make it too short or too long
- Be afraid to ask for help!
Don’t use slang. Stick to sounding professional.
Don’t send without proofing. Like I said before, one error can put you in the do not hire pile.
Do not send a generic letter. The more specific you are to the posting and company, the better off you’ll be.
Do not send your letter with wrong contact information. Sometimes if you are working from an older cover letter you’ve written, you forget to change the name of the employer, company, or job you’re applying for. This is a terrible mistake to make.
Keep your cover letter to one page. You really don’t want to make it too short where it doesn’t look like you have the experience or interest or too long so it looks overwhelming to read.
And of course, don’t be afraid to ask for help.