You’ve probably wondered this before:
- “Will anyone actually read my cover letter?”
- “Do people even write cover letters anymore?”
Or maybe you’re thinking “Hmm…I’m still leery about this whole writing a perfect cover letter thing.” Or maybe you’ve heard that who you know is more important than what you write. Hang tight.
I’m going to explain exactly what a professional cover letter is and why you need one. Most importantly, I will share a step-by-step process to help you write an outstanding cover letter.
And the best part?
This article includes full-length cover letter samples. These samples will help you write a solid cover letter from start to finish. Before we jump in, let’s look at what’s included in this article:
Table of Contents
- COVER LETTER BASICS
- COVER LETTER FORMATS
- COVER LETTER TIPS
You probably already know that to secure your dream job, you need to submit a high quality resume and cover letter. If you can prove how you are a qualified applicant, you will receive an invitation to interview. And if you nail your interview, you will receive a job offer.
Believing the myth that cover letters are irrelevant can be detrimental to your success. Your resume and cover letter are central to your success as a job applicant.
What is a cover letter?
A great cover letter tells a company, “Hey, I really, really, really want this job and I’m super qualified.” In a more professional way, of course.
When submitted with your resume, a professional cover letter provides additional information about why you are the best candidate for the job. After the employer reads your cover letter, you want them to read your resume, check out your LinkedIn profile, visit your online portfolio, or better yet, do all three.
Think about it this way:
Let’s say you want to create a new Instagram account. The first thing you do is create a profile and choose a username.
These are important decisions. When you land on an Instagram profile, if you aren’t immediately engaged by an Instagram bio and the photos at the top of the feed, you probably won’t come back. Follow for a follow? No thanks.
This mindset carries into the job search: first impressions matter. Your cover letter acts as your Instagram bio. Your cover letter provides a quick summary of who you are as a professional and what you’re all about.
You may be thinking, ”That’s not always the case. I know recruiters who don’t even read cover letters.” While that may be true, for every recruiter who doesn’t read cover letters, there is a recruiter who bases her entire hiring decision on the content of your cover letter.
In fact, I recently spoke with an employer who was shocked by the number of applicants who didn’t submit a cover letter along with their resume.
She said, “I will never hire an applicant who doesn’t submit a cover letter. It’s not that they’re unqualified, but I can’t put the experience on their resume into context.”
Don’t miss out on a job opportunity simply because you don’t want to write a cover letter. Ignoring the cover letter requirement—because you assume your cover letter is not going to be read—can quickly eliminate you from the applicant pool.
So, what’s the purpose of a cover letter anyway?
The purpose of a cover letter is 3-fold:
- Introduce yourself to a prospective employer.
- Communicate your interest in a specific position and company.
- Explain how you’re a well-qualified candidate for the position.
When written correctly, your cover letter serves an important function. In addition to fulfilling an application requirement, your cover letter provides context to your experience.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the purpose of a resume: to communicate your professional accomplishments to a prospective employer.
Unlike a cover letter, a resume never uses personal pronouns like “I” or “Me.” Because of this traditional formatting, it can be difficult for applicants to convey their personality solely through a resume.
Maybe you’ve even said, “My resume makes me seem boring.” No worries! The misunderstood cover letter is here to save the day.
Let’s say your resume includes the following entry:
Volunteer, Community Food Pantry
- Inspect 100 pounds of food donations per week to ensure they meet safety standards
While that’s a solid bullet point, it doesn’t explain what your experience as a volunteer at the food pantry taught you.
Most importantly, your resume alone doesn’t explain how volunteering relates to the job you’re applying for. Fortunately, you can tell this story in your cover letter.
Let’s assume your volunteer work is relevant to the position you’re applying for. (This is an important detail: what you write needs to be relevant.) Here’s one way you could tell this story in your cover letter:
“As a volunteer at the Community Food Pantry, I discovered how rewarding it is to work at a nonprofit. In my role, I collaborate with 10-15 volunteers to inspect and sort donations. I am committed to ending poverty and hunger and would be thrilled to join Oxfam America as a Corporate Partnership Manager.”
How do I write the introduction, body, and closing of a cover letter?
Like any good story, your cover letter should have a solid beginning, middle, and end. Moving forward, I will refer to these as the introduction, body, and closing.
Step 1: How do I write the introduction?
Every introductory paragraph should include the following:
- Briefly introduce why you’re writing.
- Provide a short overview of who you are.
- Tailor the introduction to the company and position.
An easy way to bore a recruiter immediately is to start your letter with, “I am writing to apply for…”
It’s cookie-cutter and unfortunately, we’re not making cookies. Instead of a cookie-cutter phrase, try something more creative. You can accomplish this by starting with a personal anecdote.
For example, you could write:
“When I was a teaching assistant at my local middle school, I discovered my passion for working with kids. I am committed to…”
“I was the kid who built sand factories rather than sand castles. I should have known I was destined for a career in commercial real estate.”
Don’t feel limited by what “experts” consider standard or traditional. As long as your content is professional, you can be a little creative.
After you engage the reader with your opening line, it is important to prove two things:
- You did your research.
- You tailored the letter to the specific company and position.
Here is a great example of how to do this:
“When I discovered the Outdoor Educator position, I was immediately excited by the opportunity to join a sustainable organization like XYZ Company.”
This sentence indicates your interest, why you’re writing, and demonstrates that you researched the company. By including the single word “sustainable,” the company can infer that you did your research.
There you have it. Those are the building blocks of a quality introduction:
- State why you are writing.
- Provide a brief overview of who you are.
- Tailor to company and position.
An effective introduction encourages the hiring manager to read through your letter. Let’s talk about what to include in the body.
Step 2: How do I write the body of a cover letter?
If you can successfully grab the recruiter’s attention in your introduction, you need a compelling body.
In the body of your cover letter, you should prove your qualifications to the reader. This is where you need to match the job description requirements with your most relevant skills and accomplishments.
Let’s look an example.
My academic background, clinical experience, and interpersonal skills have prepared me well for the Charge Nurse position with your hospital.
- Academic background. Several of the courses that have prepared me for this specific role include Community Health Nursing, Advanced Clinical Problem Solving, and Introduction to Genetics & Molecular Therapeutics.
- Clinical experience. During my BSN program, I participated in several semester-long clinicals. During my psychiatric rotation, I had clinicals 3 times each week and spent 4-6 hours communicating and interacting with patients every day. I completed another rotation in medical/surgery on a postoperative floor with 20 beds. These diverse experiences have prepared me well for the Charge Nurse position with XYZ hospital.
- Interpersonal skills. As a Physician Office Assistant this summer, I took patient medical histories, charted vital signs, and performed EKG testing. Communicating with patients and collaborating with physicians required excellent interpersonal skills. These abilities will prove beneficial when managing a team of nurses and support staff at your facility.
In the body of your cover letter, your number one goal is to demonstrate how you match the requirements outlined in the job description. If you can do that, you will set yourself up for success.
Step 3: How do I write the conclusion of a cover letter?
Finally, like any great story, you need a well-written ending or conclusion. In the closing section, focus on two tasks:
- Summarize why you are qualified for the position.
- Express your appreciation for the reader’s time and consideration.
Here’s a great example of how to conclude your letter:
“My enclosed resume expands on my formal education, communication skills, and leadership experience. As I prepare to further my human resources career, I am eager to join and lead a team of motivated professionals. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.”
That’s it. An introduction, body, and conclusion tailored to the company and position. Prove that you can do the job and share your excitement for the opportunity.
How should you format your cover letter?
Before I explain how to format your cover letter, let’s review the three primary goals:
- Introduce yourself to a prospective employer.
- Communicate your interest in a position and company.
- Explain how you’re a well-qualified candidate for the position.
Let’s look at each goal in more detail.
Goal 1: Introduce yourself to a prospective employer.
The first goal of a cover letter is pretty simple: formally introduce yourself to the hiring team. Below is a great example:
Example: “After graduating in May 2016 with a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Southern California, I began my nonprofit career as a Health and Wellness Assistant Director with the YMCA.”
At a minimum, you should include your current (or most recent) position, along with your degree or major. If your major is unrelated to the position, it is completely acceptable simply to say that you obtained a Bachelor’s degree, rather than a degree in Biology.
Goal 2: Communicate your interest in a position and company.
Second, you need to communicate your interest in the position and company. Here is a solid example:
Example: “When I discovered the Graphic Design position with Habitat for Humanity on LinkedIn, I was excited by the opportunity to brainstorm new ideas and innovative concepts with a creative team of industry experts.”
After you introduce yourself and express your interest in a specific position and company, there is one additional piece of information you must include.
Don’t miss this step:
Goal 3: Explain how you’re a well-qualified candidate.
You must connect the dots for the employer. Explain how your education and professional experiences make you the best candidate for the position.
Don’t be lazy. Avoid phrases like, “I’m the best candidate.” Instead, prove it. Let’s check out an example.
Assume a company wants to hire a Marketing Coordinator. In the job description, the company outlines their minimum requirements:
- Bachelor’s degree in Marketing, Business, Communications, Advertising, or Journalism.
- Understanding of promotions, market research, sales, and distribution.
- Self-starter with ability to work independently and be resourceful under pressure.
Here’s one way to prove how you’re the right pick for the job:
My education and professional experience make me a well-qualified applicant for this position.
- Education. In May 2015, I graduated with a B.B.A. in Marketing from the University of Southern California. I completed courses in Promotion, Digital Marketing, and Market Research. As a result, I excel at conducting research and coordinating promotional campaigns to increase revenue.
- Marketing Experience. For the past two years, I have worked as a Marketing Assistant. I collaborate with our team to design websites and marketing materials for our clients. I am well prepared to work independently as a member of your team.
Cover letter format
Length: Cover letters are awesome because they provide an opportunity to tell your story. But wait a minute. Nobody has time to read a novel. A cover letter should never be longer than one, single-spaced page (typically 200-400 words).
Margins: Stick with standard 1-inch margins when possible. If your cover letter is a little long, you may use margins as small as .5 inches so it all fits on one page.
Font: Choose an easy-to-read font like Arial, Calibri, Garamond, Georgia, Tahoma, or Times New Roman. Avoid curly-cue letters and fonts that only belong on horror movie posters.
Font Size: I recommend using size 10- to 12-point font. This size is large enough to read but small enough to create a professional and polished look. You aren’t writing a children’s book.
Color: Unless you’re a creative professional, black font is usually the safest option. If you’re printing your cover letter, use black ink on white, cream, or ivory paper.
Paragraphs: A cover letter is generally comprised of 3-5 paragraphs. Imagine opening up a book to one solid block of text. You’d be quickly overwhelmed by the prospect of reading it. The same goes for a recruiter reading your cover letter. Break your cover letter into paragraphs.
Alignment: Left align the paragraphs in your cover letter and “Return/Enter” between each one. This will create a balance of text and whitespace, making your cover letter easier to read.
Bullet Points: Use bullet points sparingly to briefly summarize information where appropriate. Bullet points provide an effective way to communicate multiple qualifications, without exceeding the one-page length requirement.
What are the fundamental sections of a cover letter?
These are the fundamental sections of any cover letter: header, date, greeting, company address, and salutation.
Header: A cover letter header is comprised of the basic information at the top of your cover letter: name, contact information, date you’re applying, and the company’s mailing address.
In terms of contact information, be sure to include your email address and a phone number where the company can reach you with follow-up questions, or to schedule an interview. You may also choose to include a URL link to your LinkedIn profile or an online portfolio.
Date: After you include your name and contact information, you should include the date you’re applying for the position. Right-align the date in the space below your header.
Company Address: Although you’re not submitting a hard copy of your resume, after you send in your application, it’s now in the hands of human resources. It may be printed, mailed, or sent to another department. To safeguard against it getting lost, figure out the company name, mailing address, and department (if applicable). Left-align this information below the date.
Greeting: “Dear” is the safest option. It’s also smart to reference the hiring manager or recruiter by his or her name in your salutation. For example, “Dear Ms. Mary Johnson,”.
Salutation: If you search for cover letter examples, you’ll probably find samples that say, “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam.” Don’t copy those examples. For the salutation, do your homework and figure out the person behind the “To Whom.”
Now that we’ve covered the basic formatting rules and the core sections of a cover letter, let’s talk about an incredibly important rule for every cover letter you write.
>>>We’ve written a “Cover Letter Format Guide” that dives even deeper into finding the best format for the job you’re applying to.
How to Tailor Your Cover Letter
It’s kind of like giving someone a present.
Let’s say it’s your best friend’s birthday. While you could safely give a gift of cash, it can come off as impersonal. Why? Because it’s a generic gift. Likewise, you should avoid submitting a generic cover letter to your dream employer.
Yes, tailoring your letter will require additional effort on your behalf, but it’s worth it. To write a unique cover letter, you need to conduct company research and understand the position inside and out.
If you’re thinking, “How would a company even know if I sent them the same exact cover letter I sent another company?”
Here’s the deal:
If your cover letter is so generic that you can submit it to multiple positions, it’s not unique enough. The recruiter will immediately recognize your cover letter as a generic template.
So, how do I tailor a cover letter?
Consider the birthday gift analogy again. When you buy a gift for your best friend, you most likely base your decision on a few things:
- What are they interested in?
- What do they enjoy?
- What do they need?
- What do they want?
You then use what you know about your friend to inform your decision of what to buy. It’s the same when it comes to writing a cover letter.
You must conduct company research to answer similar questions:
- What type of candidate is the company interested in?
- What does the company value and enjoy?
- What needs and pain points does the company need to solve?
- What does the company want from you as an applicant?
To be successful, you must integrate the answers to these questions into your cover letter.
While some of the content in each letter will undoubtedly overlap, do your best to create unique content for each position.
How can I conduct company research?
When you research a company, there are a few key resources:
- Explore the company website.
- Google the company to discover how canidates, current employers, and former employees rate the company.
Take note of the company mission, vision, and recent news. When you research a company, you want to find information that is relevant to the position you are applying for. Also, take note of information that makes you excited about the company.
To illustrate why it’s important to tailor every cover letter, let’s look at a bad example:
To Whom It May Concern,
I am writing in application to a position with your company that I found online. I believe I am the best candidate for this position based on my bachelor’s degree and professional experience. I am the exact candidate you are looking for.
As a recent college graduate, I understand how to use Microsoft Word and Excel. I am passionate, detail-oriented, and hard-working. I am really excited about the opportunity to join your organization. I have attached my resume to this email to explain my experience in further detail.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
In brief, here’s what is wrong with the above example:
- X No header
- X Generic and outdated salutation
- X Cliché and boring introduction
- X No mention of the specific position title
- X No mention of the company name
- X No proof as to why the applicant is the “exact candidate” the company is looking for
- X Too many generic skills (i.e. Microsoft Office and Excel, hard-working, passionate)
I urge you not to write a cover letter like this. You will put the recruiter to sleep.
Now, let’s check out a great example:
123 Client Road
San Jose, CA 12345
San Jose, CA 12345
Dear Ms. Sarah Booker,
When I discovered the Business Manager Position (#12345) with XYZ Company, I was excited by the opportunity to contribute to your innovative organization. In May 2016, I graduated with a B.B.A. from the University of Southern California. I am passionate about developing business-to-business partnerships with eco-friendly companies. My academic background, success as a supervisor, and effective communication skills make me a well-qualified candidate for this position.
Academic background. I studied business administration with an emphasis in human relations. The following courses have prepared me for a role with XYZ Company: Group Communication, Diversity and Inclusion, and Professional Ethics.
Supervision experience. In my current role with ABC Organization, I supervise two part-time interns. I set clear expectations and emphasize the importance of collaboration. I have the necessary skills and experience to lead a team of three communications coordinators with your organization.
Communication skills. Effective communication is central to my work. In the past two years, I have written and distributed bi-weekly, 4-page newsletters to an international team of 435 managers across 8 countries. These newsletters have an open rate of 62% and a click-through rate of 12.5%.
I am excited by the chance to contribute to your organization and would excel at maintaining and developing relationships with prospective clients. My enclosed resume expands on my experience. I would be thrilled to join your diverse team of professionals. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
In brief, this is a great cover letter because it includes the following:
- ✓ Header
- ✓ Tailored salutation
- ✓ Unique introduction that communicates the applicant’s interest and passion in the specific position, company, and industry
- ✓ Specific position title “Business Manager”
- ✓ Company name, “XYZ Company”
- ✓ Use of the term “well-qualified applicant” rather than “best candidate”
- ✓ Unique skills that are relevant to the position
Use this as a model when crafting your letter.
5 GREAT COVER LETTER TIPS AND HACKS
- Follow the instructions. The employer may ask you to answer a specific question, or note your preferred shift in your cover letter. Follow their instructions. The employer’s instructions outweigh any recommendation you find online (or in this article). That said, there are a few exceptions to this rule. It is against the law for an employer to ask questions like, “Is English your first language?” or “Do you have children?” If an employer requests information you feel uncomfortable sharing, do not include it in your application. It may be a red flag, and you probably do not want to work for that company.
- Address the correct person. Always double-check that your salutation is correct. If you submit several cover letters each week, it can be easy to forget. And it’s a terrible feeling when you realize you forgot to update the contact person and addressed your letter to the wrong company!
- Get specific. Avoid fluffy statements like, “I conducted marketing research.” What kind? What were you researching? Instead write, “I used SPSS to analyze survey data.” Generic claims do not add value. Explain what you did and why it matters to the company.
- Focus on results. Let’s extend the above example: “I used SPSS to analyze survey data.” Why did you do that? What was the result? And most importantly, why does it matter to the employer? Here’s a strong example: “I used SPSS to analyze survey data to better understand the target audience. This experience will be beneficial as a Marketing Coordinator with ABC Company.”
- Be succinct. Keep your cover letter to one page. By focusing on the most relevant skills and not regurgitating your resume, you can write a succinct cover letter.
Those are the 5 great cover letter tips and tricks! Be sure to check out our separate article regarding cover letter tips and tricks for more ideas.
Next, let’s review some of the most common cover letter mistakes and how to avoid them.
5 COMMON COVER LETTER MISTAKES TO AVOID
- Typos. This is SO important. And luckily, it’s easy to avoid! Before you submit your cover letter, confirm that there are no typos. Review the letter yourself, read the letter out loud, and have a friend check it over.
- Not tailoring your letter. Phrases like “Dear employer” or “I would love to work for your company” can create a weak cover letter. Tailor every cover letter to each position and company. This extra bit of effort can quickly distinguish you as a top-tier applicant.
- Being cliché. It can be tempting to Google “cover letter sample” and use a ready-made template. This is undeniably the easy way out, but it will hurt your chances of securing a job. If you find a cover letter example online, so can your competitor.
- Rambling. Delete unnecessary words. Refrain from illustrating the same exact skill with different examples. If you want to demonstrate your presentation skills, share a single story.
- Sharing irrelevant information. I get it! You’ve had a lot of awesome experiences, and it can be difficult to decide. But if you want to write an outstanding cover letter, you have to eliminate irrelevant information.
Additional Cover Letter Sample
123 Design Road
Portland, OR 12345
Portland, OR 12345
Dear Ms. Nichole Carson,
When I was 7 years old, I completed my first marketing project: hand-made flyers for my lemonade stand. I am energized by creative work and after speaking with a recruiter from your agency, I am excited by the chance to apply for your open Marketing Coordinator position.
In May 2016, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from University College. I am passionate about innovative marketing materials that communicate a company’s message. My academic background, marketing experience, and design skills have prepared me well for this position.
Academic background. The following courses have prepared me for this role with XYZ Company: Marketing Research, Strategies in Marketing Management, Consumer Behavior, Applied Microeconomics, and Product Development.
Marketing experience. In college, I served as the Marketing Chair of the Aspiring Minority Business Leaders Organization at University College; I coordinated recruitment and social media campaigns. I increased our Instagram following by 2,400 students in the first year and improved our engagement rate by 15%.
Communication skills. Effective communication is central to my work. In the past two years, I have written and distributed bi-weekly, 4-page newsletters to an international team of 435 managers across 8 countries.
I am excited by the chance to contribute to your organization and would excel at developing and implementing marketing and advertising campaigns for XYZ Agency. I would be thrilled to join your creative team of professionals. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Here’s the deal:
People read cover letters. And better yet, a cover letter can help you land your dream job!
You have every tool, example, and piece of advice necessary to write an outstanding cover letter. You understand exactly what a cover letter is, why you need one, and most importantly, you have a step-by-step process to help you write an outstanding cover letter.
Whether you’re applying for your first full-time position, or you’re transitioning from your first post-grad role to your second, you are well prepared.
Take time to write an outstanding letter. It will be easier than you think and more rewarding than you imagine.
That dream position is within reach!