How to Write a Cover Letter for a Job

Today’s job market is a strange place. Low-level jobs abound, but competition for salaried jobs can be challenging. Hybrid offices make work more accessible for remote workers, yet finding those jobs across the country isn’t always easy.

More than 373,000 jobs opened up in June 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate is low at 3.6%. That means most people are staying put, but plenty of jobs are available for those who know how to apply for them. Most job gains are in the healthcare, professional, business, and hospitality industries. 

Those seeking a job will find that a professional cover letter may get their foot in the door. It is always the first thing a potential employer looks at, and, sometimes, it’s the one thing that separates your resume from the pile of others. 

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What is a cover letter?

A cover letter, also called an application letter, is a document sent in with your resume and job application. It briefly introduces yourself to the employer and highlights your skills and professional background. It is also a way to showcase your personality in a professional manner.

What is the purpose of a cover letter?

A cover letter is a way to get the employer to pay attention to your resume and application. In that sense, it’s a marketing tool. It is also how you express to the employer that you are interested in the job posted and want to work for their company. It also should let the employer know you have skills or knowledge to help advance the company. 

Employers read cover letters first. Sometimes, they pay more attention to the cover letter than the resume because the cover letter shows them something more of the person than the resume, which lists only work experience and accomplishments. This is why you need to craft an effective cover letter.

Example cover letter format

Cover letters have a specific professional format, and you should stick to that in order to show your ability to meet professional standards. Employers notice when a cover letter doesn’t have certain information or has it wrongfully displayed. 

A cover letter should have the following:

Contact information

This is the top of the letter with your name, phone number, email address, and home address. Often, this is primarily featured as a letterhead so that it stands out to the potential employer. The contact information section also has a block on the left margin of the page where the name of the hiring manager or executive, their title, company name, and address are listed. It should include a phone number and an email underneath the company address.

Salutation

The salutation is where you address the person to whom the letter is addressed. It starts off with a greeting of “Dear” or “To whom it may concern” and includes the person’s name. Depending on the situation, you should use Mr. or Ms. in front of the name but using their complete name if you are unsure of gender is perfectly fine. 

The paragraph under the greeting is part of the salutation. It is the most important part of the letter because it is what will grab the employer’s attention. It should state the job you are interested in and summarize your experience in that job.

Body of letter

This is a couple of paragraphs summarizing your skills and expertise. It should identify how your employment can benefit the company. 

First paragraph

The first paragraph needs to grab attention. Hiring managers are busy, so they might not read the entire letter, which is why the first few sentences are so important. Write about two or three accomplishments that pertain to the job or specific work history that correlates with the job post.

Second paragraph

The second paragraph should explain why you’re the right candidate for the role. Review the requirements listed for the job and explain how you meet, or exceed, each one. It’s okay to include a bulleted list for this section. It keeps your letter organized and makes it scannable for the reader.

Call to action

Your letter is, in effect, a sales pitch to sell your skills to a company, so you should include a call to action paragraph at the end. This should be a strong statement that lets them know you deserve the job without sounding arrogant. It should position them to invite you to an interview.

Closing paragraph

Offer a brief recap of your most impressive qualities and express your interest in the job one last time. Be sure to end the paragraph by thanking the reader for his or her time, attention, and consideration.

Sign off

This is where you end your letter with “Sincerely” and sign your name. You should both sign your name and have it typed out underneath so they can spell it out. It looks more like an executive when it’s both signed and typed. See How to End an Email.

How long is a perfect cover letter?

A cover letter should be between a half page to one page. It can be anywhere from 250 words to 500 words. It should never spill over to a second page.

8 Steps to write a cover letter

Writing a cover letter isn’t complicated, but it does take some skill and creativity to draft one that grabs attention while remaining professional. Here’s a little cover letter help:

1. Make a list first to help you organize the letter.

The list should include what you would bring to the job, why you want the job, and how you can help the company. This should also show that you know something about the company. That will get their attention.

Example:

I’m inquiring about the general manager’s position at your South Cobb We Love Sports store. I have six years in retail and have been an assistant manager at a similar sports store for two. I understand you are adding additional stores across the United States and would love to be a part of a thriving company.

2. Look for action words to put into the letter. 

An SEO engine can help, but so will an online thesaurus. Action words include things like selling, leading, expanding, and growing.

Example: 

My internship over the past year expanded my knowledge of how new tech in IT can lead companies into new territories and advance against the competition. I want to be a part of a growing industry, and I think my skills can help your company navigate these new areas.

3. Do a rough draft. 

Outline what you want to include and mark out what you feel is unnecessary. Don’t put in too much information about yourself because your resume will be attached. Summarize your transferable skills and experience.

Example: 

I spent three years working for a notable company to restructure their software management system before taking courses to learn new tech applications. My knowledge will help your company move ahead of its competition quickly in both its online presence and internal organization.

4. Find a good cover letter template to use. 

Some software applications like Google Docs have one, but there are others online. Pick the type of cover letter builder that suits your personality but is considered conservative and standard. Many builders also have resume templates, which may come in handy too.

5. Insert contact information into the template. 

This is just a matter of typing in contact information like your name, address, phone number email. Then type in the recipient’s name, title, company, address, phone number, and email. That portion should look like this:

Example:

Mr. John Smith
Vice President of Operations
EFG Company Inc.
1222 Palmora Way
New York, NY 10022
202-555-5555
[email protected]

6. Write the salutation, opening paragraph, and body of the letter.

The salutation should address a person directly, but if you can’t find that information, you can go with “Dear Sir or Madam” or “Dear Hiring Manager.

The opening paragraph should dive right into your work experience, and the body should elaborate on it. State your years of experience and how the company can benefit from your skills Write with the intent of making a good first impression. Don’t try to oversell yourself either. Be sure to mention how you find the job listing during your job search.

Example:

Dear Leslie Kirk, 

I came across the position of marketing director for Best Inc. on ZipRecruiter and would be highly interested in interviewing for it. My experience includes three years as a junior copywriter for a content marketing company, but I also have built web pages. My skills include SEO training which can help improve your company’s search engine ranking from the second page to the first page.

My role at JR Marketing has taught me a lot, and my skill set is now advanced enough to coordinate a team. I have successfully worked with a team of four in this job in scheduling marketing campaigns and setting deadlines, and I know I’m capable of handling an office of marketing professionals. 

Best Inc. has risen in branding over the past two years and I think my knowledge and skills can help take it to a new level. It is a company I can see myself working with for many years to come. I look forward to hearing from you about an interview time and will make myself available at your convenience. Thank you for considering me for this position.

7. Write the final paragraph and the sign-off.

Your final paragraph should include a call to action. What do you want to reader to do? Set up a meeting? Call you? Write out the desired action.

Example:

I’d like to discuss this opportunity with you further. When is a good time to meet?

The sign-off portion should be simple with a “sincerely” and your name like below. You can also include a link to your portfolio, your LinkedIn profile, and your social media accounts if it makes sense.

Example:

Sincerely, 

(Signature here)
Cathy T. Trust

8. Run it through a spell and grammar check.

You should proofread it several times and ask someone else to read it for you too. You may want to use a free advanced program like Grammarly after running it through your computer’s program.

Cover letter do’s and don’ts

Job seekers make common mistakes in their cover letters that could cost them the opportunity. Here are some do’s and don’ts that provide additional cover letter tips:

Do:

  • Read sample cover letters before crafting your own.
  • Address the right person, if possible. Call to find out the hiring manager’s name.
  • Emit confidence but also remain humble. 
  • Summarize your skills, experience, and accomplishments.
  • Be polite. 
  • Use bullet points to make your resume scannable
  • Focus on the employer’s needs
  • Compliment the company.
  • Say thank you.

Don’t:

  • Start every sentence with “I.”
  • Oversell yourself. 
  • Criticize the company.
  • Fill up a letter with words but no substance.
  • Criticize the company you currently work for.
  • Try to be funny.

FAQs

You will follow the same format as above, but the content in the salutation and the body will change. First, state why you are interested in the job and why you are seeking a career change. Then state that you have many skills that will meet the challenges of the job. 

Conclude the letter by stating that you know there is a lot to learn, but you will bring a lot to the company, will be a loyal, dedicated employee, and seek to make this a long-term position.

Two things make a great cover letter: Confidence and actionable words. Employers like people who can hit the ground running. A level of confidence indicates what will happen if they hire you. Actionable words inspire others and give the impression you are a doer.

You should include a summary of your experience and skills. A cover letter is a great way to expand on your skills and knowledge that is limited in a resume. You can also research the company website, review the job description, and take a look at other cover letter examples to make sure you include an accurate summary of your skills and talent.

It’s all about word choice. To tout a recent award, you might say something like, “I was honored last year when I received sales manager of the year for the company. It means a lot to me to lead others in ethical sales standards and your company leads the way in that effort but with a  larger territory and a full team that would be underneath me.”

Most people send a cover letter by email, but some can be attached to an online application. You can send one in the mail, but that may be too slow for you to get the job. Generally, you send the cover letter as stipulated by the company. That is usually listed on the job posting with the human resource recruiter’s name. You can include the job title in the subject line.

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