This post is about how to write a cover letter, what’s important, what’s not, and we’ll give you a template to follow. This is one you may want to read now, but then bookmark for later when you actually have one to write!
Full disclaimer, I’m not a huge cover letter fan. Everyone has a slightly different opinion on this topic, but for me personally, I rarely find them necessary (the experience on your resume trumps almost anything in the cover letter) and I think even though they are commonly requested, they’re not always read.
Regardless, they’re still important in the hiring process (for now) and it’s a part of the job/internship process that is very daunting for people. So here’s a little tutorial on how to write a good cover letter.
First, let’s explore the key elements of a cover letter:
This is the part of the cover letter where you are going to explain “basics” (who you are & what you’re writing them about). Don’t over-think this part.
You really just need to say something like “I’m writing to express interest in the X role posted on Y” and then give a 1-2 line intro “about you” (kind of like your headline). This can be something like “I’m a recent graduate of X University with a passion and desire to work in the X industry”.
Your introduction paragraph can be pretty brief (just a few lines). This is the part where you set the stage.
2. Bringing your skills & experiences to life
The next section is probably the most important one. This is where you are going to bring the most important skills/experiences from your resume to life. Of course, you probably have a lot to choose from but you only want to include a few things to keep the cover letter really focused.
First think about what your big strengths are. You’ll want to tell the reader exactly what you can bring to the table and how your strengths will help you on the job.
Then (based on the job description) you’re going to highlight a few things you’ve worked on in the past that are really relevant to the job you are applying to. So if the job calls for “developing innovative social media strategies to increase online community” you might want to say something like “In my past internship at X company, I managed the Twitter and Facebook accounts and increased readership by X% through X strategies.”
3. Why you’re interested in the job/the company
This section of the cover letter is really important. Companies want to know that you’re not just blindly applying to jobs, but that you’re being really thoughtful about it.
This is where you need to do your company research and incorporate it to tell the story of “why you want to work there”. The good news is, you’re going to need to know this for the interview anyway, so consider it good practice!
This paragraph should always be customized to the job and company you are applying for/to. You might want to say something like “Through my research I learned that the company has a passion for X. This is really important to me because…”
4. Wrap up/next steps
This last paragraph is a more “technical” one. You basically just want the company to know any pertinent details about your situation. If you have any parameters around timing you might want to include them here (i.e. “I will be available to start working anytime after May 1”). You can also let them know the best way to reach you even though your contact details should already be on the page (i.e. “I would welcome the chance to discuss this role further and can be reached at…”)
So there you have it, the basic structure for the cover letter. As always, the more customized you are, the better so start with this “template” but feel free to deviate from it as well.
A few other tips to wrap up:
Don’t write your life story, your reader is busy! – One page should be more than enough for a really solid cover letter. I’m a big one-page fan for all application materials to be honest because I know how busy recruiters can get. Most people don’t have the time for super long/hard to follow docs.
Keep formatting clean & easy to read – Similar to my advice on resumes, don’t get too fancy and keep your cover letter easy to read. Times New Roman is always a safe choice. I also like keeping the header on your resume and cover letter the same (just so your materials look very aligned and consistent).
If you have a contact, address it straight to them – If you know who is handling the recruiting process (and will read your cover letter) do address it to them. Otherwise to “To whom it may concern approach” is fine.
Good luck with your cover letter writing and leave a comment if there are any questions we can answer on this topic!
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If you’re going to include a cover letter, make sure it includes these 3 things
Let your resume set ‘em up, and your cover letter knock ‘em down.
Recently, we discovered that the cover letter is just about dead. It’s not completely obsolete yet, but we learned from recruiters that they spend precious little time reviewing job candidates’ materials—and according to a 2015 survey, only 18% of hiring managers consider the cover letter important.
Even so, many jobs still ask you to file a letter along with your other application materials. And even if it’s optional, you might take the opportunity if they’ve asked. “The cover letter provides you the opportunity to connect the dots for the human resources staff,” says Vickie Seitner, executive business coach and founder of Career Edge One in Omaha, Nebraska.
So if you’re going to submit one, first, make sure each letter is tailored to the job you’re applying for and references the position. Second, make sure each cover letter you write includes these three elements.
Proof that you’ve done your homework
Recruiters and hiring managers want to see that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s important in the early sections of your cover letter that you refer to the job, its title and the company in some form.
And don’t be afraid to do a little flattering. Impress your potential future boss with an acknowledgement of a major company success. Bonus points if that success relates to the team you’d be joining.
Management expert Alison Green, in a 2007 post on her Ask A Manager blog, gives an example of how you’d sneak this info into your cover letter narrative. This is an excerpt from her sample cover letter, which would be included as part of an application for a magazine staff writer job.
I’m impressed by the way you make environmental issues accessible to non-environmentalists (particularly in the pages of Sierra Magazine, which has sucked me in more times than I can count), and I would love the opportunity to be part of your work.
The writing is informal, flattering and shows the job applicant knows the ropes.
An explanation of how your skills relate
Your cover letter is also the written explanation of your resume as it relates to the job. So it’s important you explain in the letter what exactly it is you can do for this company and this role based on your previous experience.
Here’s one revolutionary approach that accomplishes this without boring the reader to death. Darrell Gurney, career coach and author of Never Apply for a Job Again: Break the Rules, Cut the Line, Beat the Rest, asks the job candidate to write what he calls a “T-Letter.”
This is a letter with a two-sentence intro followed by two columns: One on the left headed, “Your Requirements” and one on the right headed, “My Qualifications.” Bye-bye big, boring blocks of text.
Using the job description, pull out sentences that express what they are looking for and place those in the “Your Requirements” column. Then add a sentence for each to the “My Qualifications” column that explains how your skills match those.
It’s an aggressive, bold approach. But one that could set you apart from the rest.
“You have a short-and-sweet, self-analyzed litmus test that they will read,” Gurney says. “It is pointed and has them, at minimum, think that this person has at least looked to see a congruent fit.”
Of course, you can also do this in a more traditional way—simply stating how your skills connect to the job.
Your excitement about the position
Here’s an exercise: Think about yourself in the job you’re applying for. What do you feel? You’re probably pretty pumped, huh.
Now harness some of that excitement and put it down on paper.
For example, if you were applying to a web design or UX job, you could write, “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in how the digital world works and how users interact with websites. Website design is not only my career, it’s my passion, which is why I hope you’ll consider me for this great role on your team.”
This has feeling and emotion; a far cry from the dry form letter you thought you had to write.
As we said, HR staff and hiring managers have limited time and a lot of resumes to sort through. Don’t put them to sleep. Create something they’ll remember you by. It just might be the difference between your application ending up in the trash or the inbox of the boss.
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