The first time I ever learned about the concept of a cover letter, I distinctly remember how it was explained to me: “It’s like your resume, but longer.” The reason that moment sticks out to me so much? It’s completely wrong!
Yes, your cover letter should include some of the key skills, traits, and experience highlighted in your resume. But copying and pasting from there into your cover letter will most definitely turn recruiters off. Odds are they’ve already read your resume — why would you make them waste their time reading the same thing over again?
Cover letters are your opportunity to not only show that you have the background and knowledge needed to do the job well, but that you’re also passionate, charismatic, and well-informed. For many people, though, it’s a daunting task. With so much information to convey, where do you get started?
We’ve rounded up some of our top tips on cover letters to lay it out for you in one easy-to-follow guide. Our infographic shares a structure for you to follow, the content you need to share, and some helpful tips on style and formatting.
Take a look below, and start drafting the cover letter that will score you your dream job — happy writing!
1. Contact Info: Don’t make recruiters dig through your cover letter to find your name and contact info — include it up top so they can easily reach out.
2. Greeting: Forget “To Whom It May Concern”. If you can find it, address the recruiter/hiring manager by name.
3. Intro Paragraph:
- Relevant anecdotes, quotes, fun facts, etc. are all good ways to make your opening line stand out.
- Make it clear that you know who the company is, what they do, and what they care about.
- Mention a few roles, projects, experiences, traits, or passions that make you the ideal candidate.
- If someone at the company has referred you, this is the place to name drop them.
4. Body Paragraph(s):
- Incorporate keywords directly from the job description.
- Whenever possible, include concrete metrics that illustrate the results you’ve achieved.
5. Closing Paragraph:
Summarize, don’t plagiarize. Reaffirm your interest, passion, and qualifications from earlier in the letter, but don’t make it sound redundant.
- Cover letters should be clean and easy to read — skip the intricate designs and crazy fonts for party invitations.
- Like a resume, keep the cover letter to one page. If necessary, hyperlink your portfolio, website, or samples of your work.
- Saving your cover letter as a PDF file will ensure the formatting won’t change.
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How to write the perfect cover letter
We spoke to some job search experts to find out what you need to know to write the perfect cover letter.
Your cover letter is typically the first impression you make with the hiring manager, so you’ll want to put in the effort necessary to get it right. We spoke to some job search experts to find out what you need to know to write the perfect cover letter.
Pick your purpose
Of course your goal is to get the job, but there are several kinds of cover letters that can help you achieve that goal — and knowing the kind you want to write will help you get yours right. “They all have a purpose,” says Brenda Collard-Mills, owner of Robust Resumes and Resources. “There is the traditional cover letter to reply to an advertised job, a networking cover letter, a cover letter targeted to recruiters, the direct mail cover letter and the pain cover letter,” which addresses a specific pain point the company may have and how you would be able to solve it. “Research when to use each type and incorporate as many as possible when conducting an active job search.”
Reflect the company’s culture
Go beyond using keywords from the ad and find a way to make your cover letter reflect what the company is all about. “For example, if applying to a data analysis, statistically focused company, your cover letter should be equally quantified and appealing to data-thirsty readers,” says Erik Bowitz, of the nonprofit organization Copy My Resume. “If you are applying for a position in a young, creative company then your cover letter should be more casual and fluid, using words like active, social or even organic to better reflect the ideals of the individuals you are hoping to work with.”
Focus on the organization’s needs
You want a job, but you need to focus on what the employer wants if you hope to succeed, says Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at the D’Amore McKim School of Business. “Be very specific in addressing their needs outlined in the job description and show them how you can address their specific needs.” Presenting yourself as a solution to a hiring manager’s problem can help your cover letter take the right tone. Donna Shannon, president of Personal Touch Career Services and author of “How to Get a Job Without Going Crazy,” recommends providing specific examples of how you can help the company. “A salesperson can discuss how they will increase the revenue of the company. An executive assistant can speak about the problems they solve on a daily basis. The IT professional can write about how they can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the systems, thereby saving the company money. Always think: how can I help this company?”
Sublimate your ego
As you focus on the company’s needs, use the word “I” sparingly, says Sarikas. “The cover is letter is about meeting their needs, so be very careful not to overuse ‘I.’ Do not start every paragraph or multiple sentences with ‘I.’ Think about different ways to get your message across.”