In today’s competitive job market, a well-crafted cover letter can be the difference between getting an interview and having your application ignored. According to a study by ResumeGo, applicants who submit a cover letter are 3 times more likely to get a job interview than those who don’t.
But what exactly is a cover letter, and how do you write an effective one? This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know, from understanding the purpose of a cover letter to structuring and optimizing your content. Whether you’re a student seeking your first professional role or a seasoned expert exploring a career change, follow these tips to create a polished cover letter that makes recruiters take notice.
A cover letter is a one-page document you submit with your resume when applying for a job. It expands on your qualifications and experiences outlined in your resume and explains why you’re an ideal fit for the role.
Unlike a resume, which is a factual summary of your background, a cover letter allows you to showcase your personality, connect with the hiring manager, and demonstrate your passion for the company’s mission and values.
Why Is a Cover Letter Important?
In the age of applicant tracking systems that filter and rank candidates based on keywords, a human touch can distinguish your application. A cover letter is your chance to make a strong first impression and get the reader excited about meeting you.
Here are some key benefits of writing a compelling cover letter:
- Explains why you want the job: A cover letter allows you to reveal what motivates you professionally. You can explain why the role excites you and how it fits into your career aspirations.
- Highlights your achievements: While a resume lists what you’ve done, a cover letter can expand on key accomplishments that would make you an asset. Quantify your achievements and demonstrate how they would translate.
- Shows you understand the company: Researching the company and incorporating details on how you align with their mission builds personalization. Hiring managers want people passionate about their goals.
- Provides writing sample: Your cover letter is a sample of your communication skills. Strong writing is invaluable in any role, so it’s a chance to stand out.
- Beats the ATS: Applicant tracking systems try to filter candidates just using resumes. A cover letter can get you past the technology gatekeepers and to human eyes.
- Positions you as a solution: Rather than just stating your background, use the cover letter to show how you can solve challenges and add value. Come across as an asset.
In summary, a cover letter humanizes you as an applicant and helps you build rapport with the hiring team. Leaving it out means missing an opportunity to connect on a personal level and demonstrate your fit.
Understand the Purpose of a Cover Letter
Before delving into how to write a successful cover letter, it’s important to understand how it differs from your resume and its distinct purpose.
How Is a Cover Letter Different Than a Resume?
While a resume is a fact-based outline of your professional background, skills, and accomplishments, a cover letter is a narrative that connects the dots for the hiring manager.
Here are some key differences:
- Purpose: A resume summarizes your qualifications, while a cover letter explains why they make you the best candidate.
- Content: Resumes list factual details on experience and education. Cover letters highlight achievements tailored to the target role.
- Style: Resumes use short phrases and keywords. Cover letters leverage full sentences and stories to showcase writing skills.
- Customization: Resumes maintain consistent formatting across applications. Cover letters allow personalized content for each position.
- Personality: Resumes are devoid of personality and emotion. Cover letters convey passion, enthusiasm, and cultural fit.
- Length: Resumes are typically 1-2 pages long. Cover letters are shorter, usually 3-5 paragraphs.
In essence, the resume shows that you can do the job while the cover letter shows that you want to do the job. They work hand-in-hand to position you as a well-qualified, enthusiastic candidate.
The Emotional Connection of Cover Letters
Hiring managers don’t just look for skills and experience on paper. They want to get a feel for candidates as people. A resume rarely provides that human connection, but a cover letter builds rapport.
Great cover letters establish an emotional bond by:
- Using an enthusiastic, friendly tone that’s still professional
- Demonstrating passion for the company, role, and industry
- Showcasing how your values and personality align with the culture
- Highlighting what motivates you and what you care about
- Revealing your character beyond just credentials on a page
Rather than coming across cold, cover letters present you as someone the hiring team would be excited to work with. Make recruiters feel like they know you and want to meet you in person. That emotional engagement makes you memorable.
Know Your Audience
One of the most important cover letter tips is to always keep the hiring manager in mind. Thoroughly research the company, position, and person you’re addressing to tailor content accordingly.
Research the Company Culture and Values
Go beyond just reading the “About Us” section of the company website. Look for any press coverage on the business, as well as reviews on sites like Glassdoor. Follow their social media accounts to get insight into their mission and voice.
This will reveal:
- Company history, vision, and competitive advantages
- Organizational culture and workplace environment
- Tone of communication and branding
- Pain points or challenges they aim to solve
- Current priorities and future strategic goals
You can then directly speak to these elements and convey shared passions or perspectives.
Understand the Job Requirements
Carefully read the job description and note the must-have qualifications, skills, and experience they seek. Highlight keywords or key phrases you want to incorporate in your cover letter.
Look for specifics like:
- Job duties and expected outcomes
- Technical expertise required
- Software, tools, or systems used
- Types of projects you would manage
- Communication and collaboration needs
- Any related credentials preferred
Addressing the concrete needs of the role builds a strong case for your candidacy.
Know Who You’re Addressing
Make sure you’re directly addressing the appropriate hiring manager or recruiter by name in your salutation. If a contact is not listed in the job ad, call or email to ask who will be reviewing applications.
Personalizing with a name makes your letter much more powerful than a generic “to whom it may concern” greeting.
Structuring Your Cover Letter
While each cover letter you write will be unique, there is a conventional structure to follow that covers all the key components.
Cover Letter Header
The top of your cover letter should include:
- Your contact information (name, phone, email, LinkedIn)
- City and state (or full address if appropriate)
This header establishes your identity just like a resume. However, you can afford to be slightly more conversational in tone if desired.
Cover Letter Greeting
The next section is your salutation, where you address the hiring manager or recruiter by name in your greeting.
Dear [First Name] [Last Name],
Or if you don’t have a contact name:
Dear Hiring Manager,
Avoid overused openings like “to whom it may concern”, which lacks personalization.
Your opening paragraph should quickly communicate:
- Which position you’re applying for
- Where you found the job listing
- Why you are excited about the role and company
- A summary of your most relevant qualifications
This introduction grabs attention, establishes enthusiasm, and builds immediate interest in your candidacy.
As a Content Marketing Specialist with five years experience driving lead generation through engaging content, I was thrilled to see your opening for a Senior Content Marketing Manager on the Anthropic careers page. I have been impressed with Anthropic’s groundbreaking AI technology and rapid growth since its founding in 2021. With my cross-functional skillset spanning content strategy, thought leadership development, and campaign management, I believe I could make an immediate impact on the team.
Cover Letter Body
The body paragraphs should highlight your qualifications, achievements, and competencies that are most relevant for the target position. Focus on:
- Past accomplishments and awards, quantified with numbers
- Key projects or initiatives you spearheaded or contributed to
- Specific skills and knowledge required for the role
- Personality traits and work values that align with the company culture
- Why you’re passionate about the company’s mission and customers
Back claims up with evidence and real examples. Align each paragraph around how you meet the needs outlined in the job description.
Cover Letter Closing
Wrap up your cover letter with a closing paragraph that reiterates:
- Your enthusiasm for the role and interest in contributing to the company
- How your skills would provide value and help achieve strategic goals
- Next steps you look forward to in terms of interviews or meetings
- Gratitude for their time and consideration
End by respectfully signing off with “Sincerely” or “Best” before your typed signature.
Cover Letter Signature
Below your closing paragraph, leave several spaces and type your full name. This signatures the letter.
You may also optionally include your phone number and/or LinkedIn URL underneath your name, which makes it easy for the hiring manager to contact or learn more about you.
Key Components to Emphasize
Now that you understand the standard cover letter format, it’s time to tackle the content inside each section.
Tailor Content Specifically for Each Position
Resist any temptation to develop one generic cover letter template to blast out with every application. Recruiters can immediately spot form letters that weren’t personalized.
Instead, approach each cover letter as a brand new story you’re crafting specifically for that role at that company. Thoroughly research the position to identify which aspects of your background are most relevant to highlight.
Lean heavily on the job description for guidance on what content to emphasize and keywords to incorporate. Quantify achievements using the same metrics they care about.
Show how you already excel in the key requirements, rather than just stating you have those skills. Clearly demonstrate why you’re a great fit.
Showcase Your Unique Value Proposition
Given that the hiring manager will review many qualified candidates, you need to stand out. Develop a unique value proposition that spotlight your specialized strengths.
What makes you better than other applicants on paper? Do you have niche expertise, rare credentials, advanced education, or specialized training? Quantify results you’ve driven that showcase concrete value you would bring.
Maybe you already have familiarity with platforms or tools the company relies on. Or you could share success stories implementing strategies the role will own. Anything that reduces potential learning curves builds a persuasive case.
Demonstrate Culture Fit Through Shared Values
Today’s top talent analyzes company culture as much as compensation. A cover letter provides space to convey personality and values beyond your resume.
Look for overlaps between your own passions, principles, work style preferences and the organization’s culture. Then work those connections into your letter subtly.
For example, if the company prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion, briefly share how those values resonate with you. Or if they aim for transparent internal communications, mention how you gravitate toward openness too.
Showcasing aligned mindsets sparks an immediate emotional connection. It positions you as someone who would thrive in and contribute to their culture.
Common Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid
While there are many components that make up a winning cover letter, there are also pitfalls to avoid:
Using a Generic, Template-Based Letter
Sometimes job seekers try to save time by developing a standard template cover letter they lightly edit for each application. This lack of personalization is obvious and prevents you from making a unique case for why you’re a great match for that particular position.
Instead, write each cover letter from scratch to incorporate specific details on the role, company, your achievements, and cultural fit. This takes more time but is the only way to create a targeted, compelling narrative.
Typos, Grammatical Errors, and Inconsistencies
Your cover letter absolutely must be error-free. Since it serves as a writing sample, any typos or grammar problems suggest carelessness and undermine your credibility.
Be sure to carefully proofread your cover letter before submitting, and also review formatting for inconsistencies. Ask someone else to double check too. Don’t let easily avoidable mistakes sabotage your candidacy.
Overly Verbose or Vague Language
Cover letters should be concise and direct using clear, tangible language. Flowery language with excessive adjectives can sound disingenuous. On the flip side, being too vague fails to make a case for your value.
Aim for clarity and sincerity. Share just enough detail to form a connection without rambling or using unnecessary filler words. Omit any exaggerations of your abilities as well. Hiring managers see through fluff.
Negativity About Past Jobs or People
Never include negative commentary about previous roles, companies, co-workers, managers, or organizational cultures. This comes across as disgruntled even if those feelings are valid.
Keep your letter 100% positive by focusing on the capabilities and value you will bring to this exciting new opportunity. Now is not the time to air grievances.
Tips for Making Your Cover Letter Stand Out
Beyond avoiding missteps, there are proactive strategies you can use to make your cover letter remarkable:
Use Active Voice and Strong Action Verbs
Passive sentence structures weighed down by excessive prepositional phrases sound dull. Instead, emphasize clarity and confidence through active voice:
Passive: The quarterly sales quotas were exceeded by me through rapid relationship-building with top partners.
Active: I exceeded quarterly sales quotas by quickly building relationships with top partners.
Sprinkling in powerful action verbs like “spearheaded”, “catalyzed”, and “streamlined” also builds energy.
Incorporate Specific Quantifiable Achievements
Back up any claims about your successes and capabilities with real metrics and data points. These add credibility while also grabbing attention:
- “Increased website conversion rates by 115% within 9 months by optimizing landing pages.”
- “Saved $350K in operational costs by devising a new supply chain strategy.”
- “Expanded social media follower base 520% through viral content campaigns.”
Show how you drive tangible business impact, not just competencies.
Keep It Concise and Scannable
Resist the urge to make your cover letter overly long in an attempt to showcase everything you can offer. Cover letters should be less than a page.
Break content into concise paragraphs with plenty of space. Use bullet points to call out key details. Make it easy for the busy hiring manager to quickly scan and grasp your value proposition.
A well-written cover letter is your secret weapon to get noticed by recruiters and demonstrate passion for the target company and position. Rather than being a chore, view cover letters as opportunities to expand on your resume and forge an emotional bond.
The strategies and best practices covered in this guide equip you to develop personalized, polished cover letters tailored to each application. By avoiding common pitfalls, quantifying achievements, and showcasing cultural fit, you’ll connect with hiring managers on a deeper level.
Remember that conveying enthusiasm through your cover letter gives you an edge over other qualified applicants who failed to take the time. Be genuine, be personable, and let your passions shine through. With persistence, you can land the interviews for exciting roles that advance your career aspirations.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cover Letters
Are cover letters always necessary when applying for jobs?
In most cases, yes. Submitting only a resume without any cover letter looks bare and incomplete. The exceptions would be some online applications where cover letters can’t be included or jobs like freelance gigs that only require a resume. For professional roles at established companies, expect to provide both.
How long should a cover letter ideally be?
Cover letters are best kept to 3-4 paragraphs or around 300 words maximum. This concise length forces you to zero in on the most salient points. Anything longer risks rambling or diluting your core message. The hiring manager wants to be able to digest the essence of your value quickly.
Can I use the same exact cover letter when applying for multiple jobs?
Never submit the same cover letter verbatim to multiple companies or roles. While it’s fine to reuse some language around your qualifications, each letter should directly address how you would excel in that particular position. Thorough customization and personalization is required to show you understand each opportunity and audience.