How to Write a Cover Letter: Our Expert Answers 13 Common Questions
The answer remains a solid and resounding ‘yes.’ Cover letters are still critical components of a job application toolkit, with a third of small- and medium-business owners believing that omitting one is a dire mistake. Let’s face it, you just never know if the person evaluating your application gives cover letters a ton of weight or none at all.
Our advice: Don’t roll the dice. Always include a cover letter.
Beyond it being risky not to include one, writing a cover letter can actually add serious value to your candidacy. For one, it could be the deciding factor that hiring leaders look to when choosing between similar candidates. In other scenarios, a cover letter could be your chance to explain a glaring employment gap or peculiar twists in your career path. Most importantly, a cover letter is your chance to really show off your personality and your unique value.
Understanding that you need this pesky document, however, doesn’t make it any easier to sit down and write a cover letter. Not to mention, the large amount of misleading and conflicting information that exists on the internet won’t help you transform that blank page into a shining story of work success.
That’s why we’ve consulted with seasoned and certified resume and cover letter writing veteran Georgina Lozano to get the lowdown of the ins and outs of this much despised but seriously necessary task.
Here are her answers to 13 common ‘how to write a cover letter’ questions. For more guidance, consult our cover letter builder.
1. What Does a Good Cover Letter Look Like?
A good cover letter complements your resume in both content and visual style.
In terms of the former, it tells the employer why you are applying to the position and exactly why you are qualified for the position. It can also do things that a resume can’t, like explain gaps in employment, an extended leave of absence, your decision to make a career change, or a recent or upcoming relocation to a new city.
What’s more, and as anyone who knows how to write a cover letter can tell you, always include the following sections:
- • greeting,
- • an opening paragraph,
- • a “hook” paragraph,
- • a body paragraph detailing your transferable skills or accomplishments,
- • a closing paragraph
Each of these sections should be a few sentences long and with clear breaks between each section. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it short and sweet as long as you get your point across!
Visually, a good cover letter is a business letter, as well as a strategic job search tool. Ideally, your cover letter should have the same header and font size and style as your resume. Further, unlike your resume, which can range from 1 to 3 pages in length depending on your background, a cover letter should be no longer than 1 page.
3 Good Cover Letter Templates
2. What Font Type Should I Use on My Cover Letter?
Because your cover letter complements your resume, the same font type and font size rules apply. Font size should be no less than 10pt and no more than 12pt. If the font is too small, you cover letter will be difficult to read or skim for important information. If your font is too large, it may convey a juvenile or unprofessional image.
Font styles, likewise, should be clean and easy to read. You should match your cover letter’s font to the font used on your resume. It’s also worth noting that some fonts look better smaller, some look better larger, some look bolder, and some require more whitespace to make them readable. Recommended fonts include:
- • Tahoma,
- • Arial,
- • Century Gothic,
- • Bookman,
- • Garamond,
- • Verdana,
- • Cambria,
- • Times New Roman
You should experiment with different fonts to see which enhances your resume and cover letter best.
Good Cover Letter Fonts
This is a good cover letter font Tahoma
This is a good cover letter font Arial
This is a good cover letter font Century Gothic
This is a good cover letter font Bookman
This is a good cover letter font Garamond
This is a good cover letter font Verdana
This is a good cover letter font Cambria
This is a good cover letter font Times New Roman
Bad Cover Letter Fonts
This is a bad cover letter font Brush Script
This is a bad cover letter font Comic Sans
This is a bad cover letter font Papyrus
This is a bad cover letter font Impact
3. What are Some Examples of a Good Cover Letter?
There is no silver bullet solution to crafting a good cover letter, but there are some good cover letter examples out there that you can use as guidance and some general cover letter tips that can make it easier to understand how to write a cover letter.
- • A cover letter needs to be tailored to the company and position you are applying to. If possible, mention a recent accomplishment or development about the company that’s made an impact on you.
- • Capture the reader’s attention by writing a compelling first paragraph.
- • Bring attention to how your qualifications fit with the posted job requirements with examples from your resume.
- • Don’t regurgitate the information that’s on your resume. Remember this is a cover letter, not a resume in a letter format.
- • Include as many relevant keywords as possible.
- • Never include negative information or disparaging remarks about former employers.
- • End your letter by politely requesting an interview and mentioning that you will follow up.
- • Avoid spelling and grammatical mistakes. Proofread! Proofread! Proofread!
4. What Should I Include in My Cover Letter?
One of the most important parts of knowing how to write a cover letter is understanding that your document should include 5 main sections:
- A Greeting:Whenever possible, address your cover letter to a specific person.
- B First Paragraph:Think of the first paragraph as your mission statement. This explains why you are applying to the company, what position you are applying to, and what has motivated you to apply to this specific position.
- C Second Paragraph:The second paragraph is your “hook” and describes what you have to offer the company. In this paragraph, you should make a connection between your qualifications and the company’s job requirements or business needs.
- D Body:Your cover letter’s body should be short paragraphs or a bulleted list of your qualifications, value proposition, or examples of your accomplishments.
- E Closing Paragraph(s):This last paragraph reiterates the type of employee you will be and your goals with the company and thanks the employer for taking time to read both your cover letter and resume. Remember to include information on how you will follow up and how the prospective employer can get in touch with you.
5. Do I Need to Make a Different Cover Letter for Each Job I Apply To?
It is very important to know how to write a cover letter that’s unique to each job posting. In short, you need to tailor your document for every role that you apply for. This not only shows the employer your strong interest in the position, but also allows you to personalize the cover letter by including how you heard about the position and why you are applying to that specific job and that specific company. Tailoring a cover letter shows that you care about the company and are passionate about working for them.
6. How To Write a Cover Letter for a Position That Doesn’t Exist or Hasn’t Been Advertised?
Much like resumes, there are different types of cover letters. There are cover letters for positions that have been announced publically on a job board, letters of interest, networking letters, referral letters, pain letters, and value proposition letters. In each and every one of these letters, it is important to highlight your qualifications and the value you will bring to the company.
When applying to these positions that haven’t been announced, you can send a letter of interest to see ask if there are any current or upcoming positions, a referral letter that explains who told you about the position, or a networking letter to your contact within the company.
Value proposition letters and pain letters are best left for positions that don’t exist because in this case, you are identifying an issue that the company may or may not recognize and offering a solution while explaining why you would be the perfect person to help them reach their business goals.
7. Who Do I Address My Cover Letter To?
Another key ‘how to write a cover letter’ tip is that it’s important to personalize your document as much as possible. Accordingly, try to stay away from generic greetings, such as “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” If at all possible, address your cover letter to a specific person and use a formal salutation that includes “Mr.” or “Ms.” and the hiring manager’s first and last name.
In the case that the hiring manager’s name is not listed on the job posting, do some research into the company and try to figure out who is the appropriate person to address your letter to.
But what do you do when after hours of digging into the company’s background you still haven’t been able to find the hiring manager’s identity? One option is to address the cover letter to the head of the particular department that the position falls under.
As a last resort, you can address your cover letter to “Hiring Manager” or “Search Committee.”
8. How To Write a Cover Letter Opening Statement?
Now that you’ve figured out who your intended audience is, it’s time explain why you’re applying to the company.
There is no “right” way to write a cover letter opening paragraph, but a good opening statement or paragraph names the position you’re applying to and explains what has motivated you to apply to the position and how you heard about the job opening. Think of this section as your mission statement.
You should try and go the extra mile by including something your prospective employer has done that has inspired you to apply to be part of their team. This helps in personalizing your cover letter and also shows your prospective employer that you have done your research into what they offer.
9. What’s the Best Way to End a Cover Letter?
Your closing paragraph should reiterate the type of employee you will be and the value you bring to your prospective employer. This closing section is also a good place to state your personal or professional goals and how being hired will benefit both you and the company.
Most importantly, the closing paragraph thanks the reader for taking their time to consider your cover letter and resume and invites the employer to reach out to you for an interview. If you say you’re going to follow up with them in this final section, make sure you follow up!
10. How Long is a Good Cover Letter?
A good cover letter should not be more than one page long. Remember, you’re writing a letter not an essay.
11. Can I Write a Cover Letter in First Person?
Unlike a resume, which doesn’t include pronouns like ‘I’ and ‘my’, it is perfectly acceptable to use ‘I’ and ‘my’ in your cover letter. Aim to use formal, yet conversational language. This is an opportunity to let your professional persona shine.
12. Do I Need to Sign a Cover Letter I’m Going to Send Digitally?
When sending a cover letter by email, there is no need to sign it. Simply end with a complimentary close like ‘Sincerely’, ‘Cordially’, ‘Warmest Regards’, or ‘Best Wishes’ followed by your name.
13. Should I Mention My Past Salary in a Cover Letter?
Unless specified in the job application instructions, you should not include your salary history. Even when you are instructed to include salary information, it is suggested that you include your target salary. Keep in mind that a cover letter is a strategic tool in your job search. By including a salary history, you may be setting yourself up to be underpaid. More importantly, your salary should be based on the work you’ll be doing, your new company, and the going rate for the position.