Learning how to write a cover letter is key to anyone taking the job search seriously. Those who have had to hunt for a job before—which is practically everybody—know all about the importance of the resume, a generalized document that covers your entire work history, experience, and education. What is often tragically overlooked, yet deemed by many as just as important as the resume, is the cover letter.
The cover letter is, as you might guess, a letter, and it is written directly to the head hunter, recruiter, or any individual you are hoping to target within an organization. This is often our first contact with a new company or group, and there is truth to the importance behind first impressions; in fact, a poorly written cover letter (or one that is ignored entirely) can lead to your resume being tossed in the trash without even being skimmed.
Because this letter is so incredibly significant to the success of your networking or job hunting efforts, we are happy to share the ins and outs of how to write, format, and send an amazing cover letter that will draw the reader in and get them to contact you.
What Is a Cover Letter and What Is It For?
Your cover letter is your introduction, and it is the first thing the recipient will set eyes on before opening your resume. Today, these letters are most often read in the body of an email, though sometimes they are inserted into a form on a webpage, and historically they were once mailed in the snail mail on printed paper.
A well-written cover letter should give your application laser-like focus, ensuring your correspondence is perfectly tailored to the anticipated position or job. This tailoring requires every unique job to have its own personal cover letter to be rewritten, in order to show that you have done your research and exemplify how you are qualified for what they are looking for.
Recruiters and hiring managers will sift through cover letters before they even glance at resumes, as they sort through applicants to decide who they will hire and who they are not interested in seeing. As a result, your cover letter should showcase your talents, explain your experience or potential employment gaps in advance, and even intrigue the reader so they want to get to know you more as an individual.
How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?
The general answer for a cover letter is no longer than a single page. The truth is, hiring managers are busy people, and they admire strong concise writing that doesn't take up their time over long and detailed letters every single time.
Beyond that, pay attention to any information they give you about what they want from a cover letter. One survey said that almost half of potential employers prefer a cover letter that is only half of one page, and almost 25% requested letters that were as short as possible.
Various Cover Letter Types
There are five major types of cover letters, each with its own style and format specifics, so be sure you understand exactly what kind of cover letter you are writing before you get started, so you don't waste your time later on doing the wrong activities. Of course, keep in mind these are only the most common types of letters, and others do exist as well. See below, so that you can get familiar with how to write a cover letter in each of the five types.
- Application Letter: This pertains to letters applying to a specifically advertised job posting or opening.
- Referral Cover Letter: If someone has referred you to a network or organization, this letter can help the target audience gain interest in what you have to offer.
- Letter of Interest : Otherwise known as a prospecting letter, this letter inquires after any possible job openings at the company in question.
- Networking Letter: These letters are usually written in order to request job seeking advice or assistance, and often go out to colleagues or professionals you have previously met at industry events.
- Value Proposition Letter: These are simple and brief statements that assert why you, as a candidate, are unique.
Cover Letter Format
Whether you are printing your letter for hand delivery, you are attaching a word document to a form, or if it's going into the body of an email, there are a few key tips to formatting the letter correctly that shows you are professional and know what you are doing in the industry.
First, the font should be legible, and usually can be one of the following: Arial, Calibri, Verdana, or Times New Roman, and the size should be 12 point (11 point for Calibri). Margins should stay at 1 inch all around the letter, and make sure your text aligns to the left side of the page.
Leave an extra space between paragraphs, as the extra white space allows for easier readability on a computer or phone screen. Also leave extra white spaces after your salutation and before the signature.
For more detail on specific templates, look up your specific cover letter type and you'll find sample cover letters.
Do's and Don'ts of a Cover Letter
- Do address your letter to a named individual whenever possible, and use gender-neutral salutations when it isn't possible.
- Do write a custom letter to every application.
- Do use straightforward sentence structure and simple language, and eliminate every unnecessary word used.
- Do avoid any negative comments or phrases.
- Don't ever send a resume without a cover letter to help gain attention.
- Don't waste words with a boring introduction paragraph, but grab attention right away with your qualifications.
- Don't forget to request action from the employer at the end of your letter.
- Don't simply rehash your resume, but take the opportunity to enhance the information for personalized detail that is relevant to the position.
Finalizing a Cover Letter
Never, ever send out a cover letter without proofreading it first, and remember that spell check won't catch all errors, such as the difference between “their” and “they're”. Give it the extra boost of excellent proofreading and have a friend or family read over the letter as well, letting fresh eyes catch any small errors you might have missed.
Last, make sure all your formatting is excellent and high quality, and that the overall letter looks friendly and appealing to read. At this point, your letter should be ready to send, congratulations!
Cover Letter Examples
If you ever feel stuck or uninspired, the internet is a practical treasure trove of templates and sample cover letters to help you get the words you need out onto paper. Websites such as The Balance offer some incredible samples to give you that boost of inspiration. You can also find templates to help you know what information to put where at sites like Hudson.
- Take advantage of keywords in the job posting and be sure to insert them into your cover letter verbatim. This ensures that, even at a glance, you will match the requirements set forth by the hiring manager.
- Go the extra mile and explain how you will add value to their company, as opposed to just stating your past experience. This helps the reader easily envision how you can make an excellent difference in their company.
- Edit, proofread, and edit some more to ensure you have crafted an air-tight and solid piece of writing that you are proud of. Remember this is your first impression.
- If your cover letter is in an email, keep your subject line concise and explicit. For example, use the job position and your name, like “Office Assistant Application by Jane Doe”.
Write a Perfect, Attention-Grabbing Cover Letter
It is clear that cover letters are essential to standing out in the crowd, and with these tips along with online resources, you can be sure your cover letter is the best you can make it to be. An excellent cover letter will make the difference between landing in the trash pile, and landing that dream interview you have been wanting. Now that you know how to write a cover letter, it's time to take action and begin crafting the letter that will land you an interview for the job you want.