Writing Effective Cover Letters
As the document that personally introduces you (and your resumé), a cover letter can be a powerful tool in a job search.
The primary purpose of a cover letter is to get the reader’s attention, and ultimately, to get you an interview. However, a cover letter serves many other functions, as well it allows you to:
- Tell the story behind specific skills and achievements to give them more explanation or to add color to your background
- Describe exactly how you could contribute to the success of the team/company
- Show your knowledge of the company/industry
- Point out a mutual connection
- Build rapport and likeability by offering a small window into your personality and motivations
- Demonstrate strong communication skills
- Explain something unusual on your resumé, such as a gap in employment
Cover letters vs. resumés
- Shows employer you write well and can organize your thoughts into complete sentences.
- Focuses on your accomplishments in a concise, concentrated format.
- Is a stand-alone document — it should mirror your resumé for consistency and in the event the resumé is lost.
- Is a stand-alone document — it should mirror your cover letter for consistency and in the event the cover letter is lost.
- Includes why you are interested in the organization/role and additional relevant experience.
- Focuses on how your skills and abilities relate to the position.
- Should always be provided if requested by the employer. However, even if it isn’t required, consider submitting one in these scenarios:
- You are referred
- It’s for your dream job
- You’re re-entering the workforce
- You’re making a major career change
- You’re seeking your first professional role
- You have a history with or connection to the company
- Should always be provided. If you are asked to fill out an application, do so and attach your resumé. Do not put “see resumé” on the application.
How to Write a Cover Letter
Know Your Audience
Successful candidates demonstrate a match between what employers want and the background, education, and experience they bring to the role. Below are steps you can take to learn what employers want for the roles you’re targeting.
- Examine the job description to identify requirements for the role
- Research the company’s mission, culture, and current challenges
- Talk to people in the role and companies you’re targeting by conducting informational interviews.
Next, determine how you meet the requirements. Here are some questions to consider:
- When have I performed the exact same tasks required for the job? (e.g. past job, internship, volunteer position, etc.)
- When have I performed tasks that are related to the key responsibilities of the role?
- What knowledge and skills do I possess that align with the role I am targeting?
- What job-relevant knowledge and skills have I developed through my coursework? What projects have I completed?
- What outcomes am I expected to deliver for the role? What kind of outcomes have I produced in my career?
|Job requirements||How I meet the requirements|
Anatomy of a cover letter
Use the same header as your resume with your name and contact information
Phoenix, AZ 85013 | 602555 5565 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Business Letter Format + Greeting
A best practice is to address the letter to a specific company contact and use a business format. If there is no company contact, use the following:
- “Dear [Department] Team”
- “Dear [Company Name] Team”
- “Dear Hiring Manager”
Include a job reference number for tracking purposes.
|Contact’s name ( full name or Mr., Ms., Dr., Miss or Mrs. and last name|
|Contact person’s title (find out the exact title)|
|Company’s street address|
|Company’s city, state and ZIP code|
|“RE:” followed by the exact job title and job reference code (if available)|
This paragraph is a well-researched perspective about the company or the principal reason for your interest. It can also serve to drop a name of a networking contact or employee referral you have within the company. This can dramatically demonstrate that you have taken the extra time to get to know the staff, and that contact can serve as an internal advocate throughout the recruitment process.
|Dear _____________: (Use Mr., Ms., Miss or Mrs. And last name. Using the first name is too friendly. If all attempts to find the hiring manager or recruiter fail, your best opening greeting would be to open the letter with Dear Hiring Manager.)|
|The purpose of this paragraph is to give the employer a frame of reference. Why are you contacting her, for what position are you applying and how did you hear about it?|
Main Body Paragraph(s):
This is the most important section of the cover letter and the section that is often read first. A bulleted style allows the reader to focus on the top three reasons to proceed with the applicant whereas a paragraph style presents important stories from the applicant’s background. Make sure your information is central to the job requirements and is chosen based on the top three pieces of information you want to present. Include specific examples and numbers-driven accomplishments to prove your case.
|This paragraph provides you with an opportunity to highlight some of your qualifications. Match those you possess with those the employer is specifically seeking. Refer to your resumé and explain why you are a good match for this position. Use action verbs.|
Thank the employer for her time and the consideration of your qualifications and resumé. Affirm your interest in the position and organization.
This is the “sales close” portion of a cover letter. Use confident language in the closing paragraph. It is tricky to find the right balance between suggesting a next course of action and forcing a next course of action (interview). The only time you would want to be more aggressive is possibly for a sales position where the expectation is to try to set the appointment with a hiring manager.
|This paragraph is your final sale wrap up your qualifications and indicate your interest. Clearly indicate that you plan to follow up and do so (provide your phone number and email). Make sure to thank her for her time.|
Your typed name (You would want to include any initials behind your name that helps to remind the hiring manager of your certifications or education level. This recommendation is specifically for graduate degree designations or above, such as
MBA or PhD, or critical certifications for the job, such as PMP, LPC or CPA.)
Enclosure (Include your resumé and any other requested materials the employer has requested. Do not enclose any documents that have not been requested.)
In this section, we provide information about each type of paragraph and an opportunity for you to create your parts of a cover letter.
Paragraph I — Introduction and frame of reference
Start with an attention-getting hook that conveys why you are seeking this opportunity and what type of position you are seeking in an enthusiastic tone.
“As the son of a retail store owner, I understand firsthand the challenges that small business owners face managing day-to-day tasks while also trying to drive growth. That’s why I’m excited to help other entrepreneurs succeed as your next Small Business Success Coach.”
“Jane Smith, who works in your Accounting Department, informed me that you are seeking a payroll representative. I was excited to hear this, as Jane tells me that INC Group is a wonderful place to work. I would love to be considered for this opportunity and believe I would be a good fit with your team.”
Paragraph 2 — How your skills fit the company’s needs.
- Do reference how you meet its specific qualifications.
- Do explain your specific interest in the company, if possible, based on your research.
- Do focus on what you have to offer.
- Do not point out areas where you do not meet its needs.
- Do not mention basic information about the company: “I would like to work for JP Morgan, as you are a large bank.”
Paragraph 3 — Optional
This can be used to further explain your life experience as it relates to your application.
You can use your cover letter to explain career changes or gaps in your resumé but remain positive and brief. Be honest about your situation, but don’t provide too much information. Remember, you can always explain further in an interview.
- Summarize why you are an ideal candidate for the job.
- Express gratitude for the employer’s time and consideration
- Ask the employer to contact you (e.g. I welcome the opportunity to discuss my qualifications further in an interview)
- Consider follow-up.
Review these do’s and don’ts before sending out your cover letters.
- Write content that demonstrates a researched and informed perspective on the company.
- Open a cover letter with “Dear Sir or Madam,” “Ladies and Gentlemen” or “To whom it may concern.”
- Include the exact job title and job reference code (if available) somewhere in the cover letter. There may be several positions with the same title, and a reference code will help distinguish the position.
- Use more than five paragraphs to get your point across. Limit your letter to three to four paragraphs and keep it to one page.
- Have someone proofread your cover letter for spelling, punctuation, grammar and overall tone and whether it meets the job description.
- Include any information of a personal nature (e.g., marital status, children or disabilities).
- Reference volunteer or other nonpaid assignments to help bolster your experience.
- Use colors, fancy bullet styles or multiple fonts.
- Use the same page margins, header, font style, and font size in your cover letter as your resumé. You want both documents to look like they belong together.
- Use cover letter language that is unnecessarily complex or superfluous. Keep your terms simple and to the point. A hiring manager will not bother to look things up in the dictionary to read your material.
- End a cover letter with “Faithfully yours” or some overly personal closing remark.
- Mention any negative press you may have read about the company.
COVER LETTER SAMPLES:
BULLET FORMAT COVER LETTER
701 West Third St. • Rochester, NY 14699 • 585-555-5545 • email@example.com
June 30, 2018
Mr. John Smith
Small Business Success Coach Manager
140 West St.
New York, NY 10007
Re: Small Business Success Coach
Dear Mr. Smith,
As the son of a retail store owner, I understand firsthand the challenges that small business owners face managing day-to-day tasks while also trying to drive growth. In the last three years, as a customer of your software, Company X’s automated marketing solutions have tripled revenue for our family business while freeing up our time. Now, I want to help other entrepreneurs succeed as your next Small Business Success Coach.
Some of the strengths I can bring to Company X include:
- Proven Automation and Sales Pipeline Techniques: Using Company X software, I established an automated series of emails to follow up with website visitors of our family business, which increased sales leads and conversions 120%. This is the kind of expertise your small business customers will love.
- Small Business Management: Taking over the previous production manager’s role, I inherited a group of 5 employees with fragmented screen-printing processes that slowed production. I quickly implemented a new operational structure combined with daily motivational team meetings that returned production levels back to baseline in just 7 weeks.
- Relationship Building: Your customers will appreciate that I genuinely enjoy getting to know them and learning not only about their needs as clients, but also who they are as people. This kind of customer centered approach is why 80% of my new commercial clients came through referrals.
Mr. Smith, I’ve witnessed how Company X’s product can help small businesses succeed and welcome the opportunity to bring the same smart solutions to new and regular customers alike as your next Small Business Coach. I’m confident my experience in automated sales processes, small business management, and relationship building would bring excellent value to your clients. I welcome the opportunity to discuss my qualifications further in an interview. I will follow up with you in a couple of weeks in hopes of scheduling a meeting.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
PARAGRAPH FORMAT COVER LETTER
1206 Ashlyn Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85003,
602-555-1212 · firstname.lastname@example.org
June 30, 2018
Mr. Robert Wagers
Principal Crockett Elementary School
456 Sandy Springs Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85003
Dear. Mr. Wagers,
I am writing to express my interest in the first-grade teacher position posted on the Maricopa County Schools website. Wendy Yates, a current fourth-grade teacher at Crockett Elementary School, suggested that I apply to the position based on my experience as a substitute teacher with Maricopa County Schools and my recently achieved Elementary Education Certification. I am excited at the idea of being able to teach first-grade students and instill within them a love of learning.
During the past few years, I have focused heavily on preparing myself to become an elementary school teacher. While achieving my Bachelor of Science degree in Education/Elementary Teacher Education, I gained a great understanding of the diversity of student needs, as well as best practices for managing classroom conflict, motivating students and using technology to enhance learning. I was able to put the knowledge I gained into practice as a student teacher and substitute teacher.
Additionally, working with kindergarten to fifth-grade students has allowed me to strengthen my understanding of the developmental levels of students, giving me the ability to optimize the learning environment for each classroom. Every student is capable of learning if they are given a learning environment that fits their needs. I am confident that I can provide that for your first-grade students.
I am ready to take the next step in my career as an elementary school teacher, and I would welcome the opportunity to further discuss the qualifications that I will bring to Crockett Elementary. My background, love of learning and desire to help students succeed would allow me to be a great asset to your school. Thank you for your time and consideration.
COMBINATION FORMAT COVER LETTER
Seattle, WA | 555-555-5555 | JoeSchmoe@domain.com
June 30, 2018
Supply Chain Manager
ABC Logistics Inc.
123 N. River Run Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85003
Re: Supply Chain Intern
Dear Pat Rogers,
I have been following your company for the past two years as a supply chain operations major at XYZ university. Your ability to deliver products to any major market in the U.S. within one hour is so fascinating, I often choose your company as my research project. That’s why I would like to join your team as a Supply Chain Intern.
I am confident that I can add value to your team for these three reasons:
I am well-informed about ABC Logistics Inc.’s innovative approach to supply chain efficiency.
- During my freshman and sophomore year, I wrote 4 research papers about the company’s growth strategy. Through your investment in warehouse robotics, autonomous vehicles, and cutting-edge software apps that enable the “Uberisation” of your freight transportation operations, ABC Logistics Inc. is on the fast road to automation. The blending of technology services and logistics is the future. This is why I am particularly interested in learning more about your recent efforts to develop digital freight matching solutions that offer cargo matching in the long-distance road transport sector.
I value teamwork and know how to collaborate with others to get things done.
- Three out of five of my supply chain courses required semester-long projects that required work done in teams. I learned that teams only work well when there is fluid communication, clearly identified individual roles and responsibilities, and a system for feedback. Putting these practices in place enabled me to work with people who had highly different work styles. I know ABC Logistics Inc. relies heavily on effective team collaboration, and my experience will allow me to join those teams seamlessly.
I am diligent and learn very quickly
- My instructors have recognized me for my ability to learn concepts quickly. For example, I learned how to visualize data on maps from Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software within the first five weeks of my course, which was not typical for second-year students. I used the data to assess the risk of sourcing raw materials from a supplier in a region prone to natural disasters in my final project.
ABC Logistics Inc. is a forward-thinking company on the cutting edge of supply chain operations, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss how I may contribute to your continued success. As an intern, I will bring my company knowledge, value for teamwork, and ability to learn quickly to contribute to your team goals in any way I can. I appreciate your time and consideration.
T-FORMAT COVER LETTER
1234 S. River Street, San Francisco, CA | 415-555-6565 | Jessica.Hernandez@domain.com
April 15, 2019
Re: Job # 1234
Dear Acme Inc. Hiring Committee:
I am enthusiastically applying for your (insert job title). I know I would be an asset to (name of dept.) for I’ve devoted my education and work experience to (list your values here and how they align with the job ad employer needs…)
My previous professional experience, combined with my (list your degree in progress or completed), aligns well with the requirements for your position. Additionally, my (list strengths that the employer needs here from the job ad) would contribute to a culture that thrives on employees who work together as a group to achieve unified goals. While my attached resume details my previous experience, I would like to provide a few highlights.
|Your Requirements||My Qualifications|
|Bachelor’s Degree in (insert field)||MBA in progress and bachelor’s degree completed in business|
|Ability to travel (15%)||Frequently traveled nationwide in previous role (50%) and available to do so in this role|
|Microsoft Office, Word, Excel, CRM||Microsoft Office, Word, Excel, CRM, and SAP with a talent for learning new and proprietary software quickly|
|Experience with culturally diverse groups||2 years’ experience working overseas in Asia|
|Customer Service and oral presentations||Retail Customer Service and Toastmasters award winning presenter|
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to speaking with you and learning how I can contribute to your organization.
EMAIL COVER LETTER
Subject Line: Small Business Success Coach (Job ID 1103), Resume of Mike West
Dear Mr. Smith,
Your ad for a Small Business Success Coach is an excellent match for my professional background and personal experience using Company X software in a small business environment:
- Used Company X software to create an automated email marketing campaign that increased sales leads and conversions 120%.
- Managed a small business for 5 years and implemented a new operational structure that returned the business to profitability
- Produced 80% of all new business through word-of-mouth referrals due to outstanding account management and relationship-building skills
I’ve attached my resume for your consideration, which outlines my qualifications in greater detail. I am confident that I would be an asset to your team and would welcome the possibility of discussing my qualifications further. I look forward to speaking with you and will follow up with you in two weeks.
LETTER OF INTEREST
1234 S. River Road | Phoenix, AZ 85003 | 602-555-1234 | email@example.com
September 10, 2018
ABC Sales Inc.
1234 S. Madison St
Phoenix, AZ 85014
Dear Hiring Manager
As a top-performing sales professional with a record of exceeding sales, profit, and market-share goals, I bring expertise in consultative/solution sales in the areas of media sales and digital advertising. Some of my more notable accomplishments include:
- Grew sales revenues 5X in one year, averaging 65% annual growth in an increasingly competitive marketplace
- Secured $400K in digital ad revenue in 6 months despite unfavorable market conditions
- Landed key accounts for a newly launched e-marketing firm that included Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, and H&M
This is the value I bring to ABC Sales Inc. and I am hoping you are in the market for a candidate with my background and expertise.
I would welcome the opportunity to further discuss how I may strengthen and support your team in achieving its long-term goals. I thank you for your time and appreciate your consideration.
COVER LETTER TEMPLATE
www.linkedin/in/janedoe.com • Phoenix, AZ 77770 • (877) 555-1111 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear (Insert Name of the Person):
I was excited to learn about [Company]’s need for a [Job Posting Title] through [way/person]. As a [type of student/graduate] interested in positions doing [type of work], I am submitting my application for your consideration.
In brief, I am a proven performer with expertise in [insert areas of expertise that align with role]. In my career, I have built a reputation as a valuable team member who excels in fast-paced settings while remaining focused and productive. Highlights of my qualifications most relevant to your needs include:
- Highlight one, what makes you different from your competition, what type of education/certifications/training do you have.
- Highlight two, what work professional experience/achievements makes you shine from your competition, use numbers and outcomes to build a visual for the reader.
- Highlight three, showcase your passion for the position and the company, think about what you find fascinating about the company and display your passion or your career story regarding why you want to do this for this specific company.
(Insert Person’s name), I would welcome the opportunity to discuss how my expertise can contribute to (Company Name’s) continued success. I’m enthusiastic about the potential to interview and I am eager to follow up with you in two weeks.