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Writing an effective cover letter takes know-how and practice. If your resume is a snapshot of your professional achievements, then your cover letter provides the details of your accomplishments. A well-written cover letter elaborates on the parts of your background that are most relevant to the role at hand.
Here, we show you in six simple steps how to write a cover letter that will get you noticed.
Step 1: Understand cover letter basics
A cover letter is a document that accompanies your resume to provide details and context.
No more than one page in length, a well-written cover letter should be customized for the job you are applying to in order to shine a spotlight on the most relevant parts of your professional background.
While not every employer requires applicants to write a cover letter, doing so can set you apart from the competition.
Providing a cover letter shows employers that you understand the role at hand, that you are able to communicate clearly and concisely, and that you are willing to go the extra mile.
Step 2: Do your research
To write a great cover letter, a little legwork goes a long way. Personalize your cover letter each time you apply for a job. Here are three items to research in order to accomplish this:
Study the job ad
This helps you to determine the skills and experience the employer deems most critical and to make a list of these. Note critical keywords, skills and required qualifications. These should be addressed in your cover letter.
Research the company culture
Understanding the vision and values of a company can also help you focus your cover letter. For example, if a company places a high value on community service, you could add a line or two about your own volunteer experience to show you share that value. Or, if the company website emphasizes free meals, staff outings and other perks, you might get the sense it is a more relaxed, casual environment. Knowing these details can help you set the tone of your letter.
Find the name of the hiring manager
Look at the job posting to see if the name of the recruiter is listed. If the name of the hiring manager is not listed in the job ad, do some research on LinkedIn and the company website to identify the right person. Whenever possible, avoid the generic "To Whom It May Concern" greeting.
Step 3: Prepare to personalize
Now that you have done your research and know the skills and experience the employer considers most critical to the role, write notes about your background that address each of the requirements outlined in the job ad.
Specifically, jot down examples from your professional past where you have used the skills to accomplish a goal. For example, if "project management experience" is a requirement, think about a project you have successfully led that required the coordination of multiple departments, skills or processes to achieve a goal. If you have little to no work experience, consider using examples from school, sports or volunteer work to accomplish this.
Step 4: Choose a cover letter template
When learning how to write a cover letter, the look of the final product counts. For that reason, choosing the right cover letter template is a critical part of the process.
Here's how LiveCareer's cover letter templates can help your application stand out:
- Quickly change designs.
You may be applying for the same role across multiple industries — for example, a receptionist role at a beauty salon and another at a CPA's office. While the content of your letter will be similar, the design of your cover letter would be different for a casual environment and a more conservative setting. Our cover letter templates make it simple to switch designs and edit your text to customize each letter to each role at no additional cost.
- Manages formatting.
Formatting a cover letter is a major headache for many job seekers. Our cover letter templates do all the formatting for you to ensure your letter looks great, every time.
- ATS-friendly designs.
While not every ATS scans cover letters, some do. Which is why in addition to being attractive, our cover letter templates are designed to be free of any images and design elements that could confuse an applicant tracking system.
Step 5: Write the 5 sections of your cover letter
The header of your cover letter contains your contact information. In addition to your telephone number and email address, many job seekers like to include links to their LinkedIn profiles, personal websites or online portfolios.
If you are mailing your cover letter, you'll need to include the name and address of the person you are sending it to in the upper-left-hand corner. However, even if you are emailing your application materials, make an effort to address it to a specific individual. (See Step 2 for more information.) If that isn't possible, at least target the proper department in your greeting, such as "To the Senior Editor." Avoid generic greetings at all costs.
The opening paragraph of your letter should outline why you are applying to the job and entice the recruiter to continue reading. Concentrate on making this paragraph succinct, but include a teaser. If you are applying for a customer service position, for example, you might write, "Your ad on Craigslist for a Customer Service Manager caught my eye. As a customer service representative with XYZ Telecommunications, I have spent five years improving operations and perfecting the art of resolving conflicts with unhappy clients. Having acquired these skills and many others, I feel ready to move into a management role." For additional inspiration, check out our customizable cover letter opening paragraphs for college students, new grads, internships and more.
The body of your cover letter is its largest and, arguably, most valuable real estate. As such, these paragraphs should complement your resume rather than repeat the information found there. Use this space, which should be two or three short paragraphs at most, to expand on your experience and qualifications. In addition to examples of how you've used the relevant skills and experience you've noted in Step 3, use data and relevant metrics whenever possible to show the impact of your work. For example, if strong written communication is listed as a required skill, you might write, "Responded to an average of 34 customer inquiries per hour via email to answer questions and resolve issues."
Your closing paragraph should summarize the contents of your letter and reiterate the value you'll bring to the company if you are hired. Keep your tone professional but don't be afraid to express enthusiasm for the role. In the last sentence, be sure to thank the reader for reviewing your credentials.
Step 6: Proofread and send to a friend
Simple mistakes can ruin all of your hard work. As a last step, always use a grammar and spell-check tool before sending out your cover letter. Then, read it from top to bottom out loud to make sure everything makes sense. As an extra safeguard, send your letter to a trusted friend for a second look with a fresh set of eyes.
8 Cover letter writing do's and don'ts
- Study the job ad. This will allow you to focus the content of your letter on the skills and experience that matter most to the employer.
- Use tired language. Recruiters receive many cover letters every day which means they read the same overused words and phrases over and over again. Avoid cliches like "fast learner" or "team player." Instead of relying on these overused platitudes, paint a picture by giving potential employers examples from your past that demonstrate your achievements.
- Add data and metrics. To pack a punch in your cover letter, add numbers to show employers the impact your work has had on past employers.
- Add personal information. Including details like your age, marital status, religion or political beliefs can invite unconscious bias into the hiring process and is never recommended.
- Focus on the employer's needs. The content of your cover letter should focus on your skills and experience and what you can do to add value to the company. Adding information about your professional goals could give the employer the impression that the role you are applying for is merely a stepping stone.
- Lie or embellish. Everything in your cover letter should match your resume and be 100% true. Untruths or exaggerations will almost always be discovered during a background check, so keep your information honest.
- Use a positive tone. Keep the tone of your letter professional and upbeat, especially when writing about a current or past employer. However, don't make jokes. What is funny to you could be off-putting to a recruiter.
- Discuss salary. Unless you have been asked specifically to state your desired salary, don't mention money. Some states have made it illegal for recruiters and hiring managers to ask about salary history, so never include information about your current salary.
Use our builder to craft a better cover letter builder
LiveCareer's professional Cover Letter Builder can help you craft a better cover letter by walking you through the writing process step-by-step. With professionally written text suggestions and keyword tips for every section, our builder makes it possible to write a standout cover letter in a matter of minutes.