Your cover letter can be the difference between getting an interview for your dream job and being tossed into the reject pile. While it can be a little intimidating to try to pour all of the reasons you're perfect for a job into a few paragraphs, it doesn't have to be difficult.While there has been debate about the value of a cover letter, we stand by their importance.
Think about it this way: when a recruiter is trying to distinguish between you and a candidate with similar qualifications, they will often turn to the cover letter. This means that a well-written cover letter could give you an edge over a candidate who submits a poorly written document – or no cover letter at all. And since research shows that 45 percent of applicants forgo a cover letter altogether, you'd be silly to pass up this opportunity to shine.
Learning how to write a cover letter is easy. There are five basic sections in a cover letter: the header, the salutation, an opening paragraph, body paragraphs, and a closing paragraph.
Here's what should be in each paragraph of a cover letter:
Even though they're not sentences, the header is still an integral part of your cover letter. It may be tempting to add graphics or color blocks as a way to set yourself apart visually, but a contemporary style with black and white text and easy-to-read fonts is the best way to go. Besides, you don't want to waste valuable writing real estate on visuals.
Make sure the header includes your name and full contact information — a phone number and a professional email address are a must. If you have a website, also include the URL and a link to your LinkedIn profile. Keep it simple and only use phone numbers and email addresses that you check regularly.
When it comes to the salutation, the more specific you can be, the better. Hiring managers don't like to see "To Whom It May Concern," so it pays to do a little digging to find the name of the hiring manager. If you're not sure, use the name of the company's HR manager.
It may be tempting to add graphics or color blocks as a way to set yourself apart visually, but a contemporary style with black and white text and easy-to-read fonts is the best way to go.
3. Opening Paragraph
The purpose of this paragraph is to capture the reader's attention and ensure that they want to read the rest of the letter. The two big things to communicate in this part are your excitement for the position and how you can help the company.
Many applicants make the mistake of starting off with a generic line or with how the job will benefit them — better opportunities for advancement or a more appealing work environment, for example — but the person reading your letter is looking for someone to help them. Kick off your letter with a line or two the shows you've read the job ad and have an understanding of what the company does.
4. Body Paragraphs
This part of your cover letter is your chance to really explain the details of your experience and illuminate points you've made in your resume. The body section should be two paragraphs for most people, but one paragraph is okay, too, especially if you have limited work experience. Think of the cover letter as a preinterview interview. You want to make sure you're really selling yourself as a candidate and not just the repeating basic facts that appear on your resume.
What you include here will be specific to your experience and the position you're applying for, but some good places to start are:
- Numbers and metrics are key. For example, if you increased your previous employer's social media following by 300 percent, write that instead of simply stating, "Under my direction, we gained a significant number of new followers." You'll also want to include the how. Did you design a totally new campaign or institute A/B testing? Giving details lets the potential employer start to picture how you will fit in the new position.
- Job-related challenges you've overcome. Whether it was a potentially demanding client or a huge project that needed a quick turnaround, including pain points shows how you deal with challenges.
- Why you're interested in this particular company. Cover letters should always be tailored to the specific position and company. Putting in a few sentences on why the company is a perfect fit for you gives you the opportunity to show off your knowledge of the company.
When you're deciding what to include, focus on the aspects most relevant to the position you're applying for and try not to go over one page. You want to make sure you're not making it so long that the reviewer gives up halfway through, but you want to make it clear what you will bring to the table as an employee.
5. Closing Paragraph
The closing paragraph for a cover letter should wrap everything up nicely, communicate your enthusiasm for the position (again), and give the reviewer a reach to reach out to you. Instead of just thanking them for the opportunity — and you should definitely do that — add something like "I'd love to talk with you more about how I could help Company X increase brand awareness," and let them know you'll follow up in a week or so if you haven't heard anything.
Whether you're applying for your dream job or putting your resume out there to several companies to see who bites, the cover letter is one of the most important parts of your application. Taking the time to craft a stellar cover letter to accompany your resume is an investment in your career and your future.
Need more help writing your cover letter? LiveCareer has a bevy of resources to help you make your cover letter sing!
- Cover Letter Samples
- Cover Letter Examples by Industry and Job Title
- How to Write Your First-Ever Cover Letter
- 1How to Start Your Cover Letter