The cover letter – a formality that your career coaches make you write, or a crucial part of the hiring process? It’s something you’ve probably wondered before as you strive to create one that strikes just the right tone with just the right information.
The good news is that all of the time and effort you put into writing cover letters will pay off – they’re a key part of the hiring process. Cover letters don’t have to be frustrating or confusing at all. We’re going to show you all about the cover letter basics and teach you how to write an outstanding one, complete with cover letter samples.
What’s a cover letter, anyway?
If you want to write a great cover letter, you first need to understand exactly what is a cover letter. There’s a popular misconception that hiring professionals don’t actually read them, or that they’re outdated and irrelevant.
Don’t listen to that. A great cover letter, paired with your resume, can get you a job interview, and those interviews are the door to getting hired. A cover letter is essentially a note telling the would-be employer that you are interested and qualified for the job. You might be thinking, “Isn’t that what my resume is for?” Well, yes. Think of it as the job-hunting equivalent to a social media bio – a summary that shows who you are and what you’re there for.
Maybe you’ve read advice from recruiters or hiring professionals who claim they don’t read (or barely read) cover letters. While that might be true of some, it’s not true of many, many people in charge of hiring. In fact, neglecting to submit a cover letter may take you out of the running in the minds of many hiring managers – even if your qualifications are stellar. Don’t miss out on a great job opportunity just because you don’t want or don’t know how to write a cover letter!
A letter covering…what?
Let’s start off with some cover letter basics: figuring out what its purpose is. There are three main goals you want to achieve: introducing yourself, expressing your interest in a particular position and company, and explain why you’re qualified for the position in question. In essence, your cover letter gives context to the experience conveyed in your resume.
The resume is usually the most formal part of your job application. It avoids first-person language and generally sticks to standard formats, which is useful for conveying information but doesn’t let you show a lot of personality.
That’s where the cover letter comes in.
In your cover letter, you get the chance to tell the stories that are connected to your experiences. This allows you to outline what you learned from key experiences or prior jobs and how that relates to the job you’re currently seeking. This is where you get to tell your professional story, with context and key details that make you more than just a list of job titles and volunteer experiences. It’s about telling your story as a professional.
The beginning, middle, and end
What’s the one thing all stories have in common? They have a beginning, middle, and end. In the case of a cover letter, this takes the form of an introduction, body, and closing.
Your introduction should:
- Briefly state why you’re writing this letter.
- Give an overview of who you are.
- Be tailored to the company and position you’re addressing.
You’ve probably heard that many cover letters start with some variation on the phrase “I am writing to apply for X job at Y company.” While this is a tried-and-true standard, it’s also something that hiring managers read a LOT of. You want to stand out in a good way, so try an introduction that’s a little more personal. As long as it’s professional and appropriate, it’s okay to be a little creative here!
You also want to be sure that the reader knows you did your research, so include a brief mention of why you’re applying to the company – even just a few words about how it connects to your interests, experience, or knowledge.
The body of your cover letter is where you can discuss your relevant experience and draw connections to the requirements in the job description.
Draw on specific examples of your work or other experience and describe how it would allow you to be successful in the job for which you’re applying. If you have experience collaborating with a team and you’re applying for a job that requires excellent interpersonal skills, talk about that! The key is to draw that line between your existing experience and the functions of the job.
It’s like gymnastics, all the fancy tricks in the air only go so far if you don’t stick the landing. A strong conclusion will summarize why you’re qualified for the position. Finally, express gratitude for the reader’s consideration and time.
With this structure, you can put together a professional cover letter that shows off your strengths and emphasizes your enthusiasm for the potential job – both of which are crucial to hiring decisions!