You’ve just found a job that you find interesting, and you have decided to hit “apply.” Upon reading the application, you realize you are expected to produce a cover letter as well as a resume. What should you do?
Employers often ask applicants to submit a cover letter. Cover letters give you an opportunity to explain how you can add value to the employer. They also help the employer evaluate the candidates and decide who deserves an interview.
In this guide, we explain what a cover letter is, why you need one, and how to format it. We’ll also provide an example cover letter that will help write your own.
What is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter is a document, typically one page in length, sent as part of a job application. In a cover letter, you discuss your skills, past qualifications, and what makes you the right candidate for the job.
While some employers do not ask for a cover letter in the job application, sending one never hurts. Cover letters give you an opportunity to sell yourself. Whereas resumes merely list your qualifications, you can use a cover letter to delve deeper into how those qualifications make you a good fit for the job.
What Goes Into a Cover Letter?
Cover letters have been an essential part of the hiring process of many companies for decades. As a result, there is a standard format you should use. Let’s discuss the main elements that go into a cover letter.
Date and Contact Details
Cover letters start like any other letter: with the current date and your contact information.
The information you list in this section will depend on whether you are sending a physical or virtual copy of your cover letter. If you are sending a physical copy, you should list your address as well as other relevant contact details.
Here is the structure that you should follow to open the cover letter if you decide to send a physical copy:
May 20, 2020
123 Main Street
San Francisco, CA, 94127
+1 (123) 456 7890
If you are sending a virtual copy, you can leave your address out.
The next part of the cover letter is the greeting. This is where you address the person that will be receiving the letter.
Before you set out to write the letter, find out the name of the person responsible for making hiring decisions at the company advertising the job. This will typically be the hiring manager. You can usually find this information on the company’s website, or you can directly ask the company to whom you should address the letter.
Here is an example greeting for a cover letter:
Dear Ms. Richards,
The first paragraph in your cover letter is your hook—an opportunity to grab the attention of the reader and make a positive first impression.
There are a few things you should say in your opening paragraph.
First, introduce yourself in one or two sentences. You don’t need to go into much detail at this stage because you will spend the next few paragraphs talking about your work experience.
Then, explain why you are applying for the job.
What interests you about the job or the company? Do you think it is a great fit based on your skills? Or do you like one specific aspect of the company’s culture? You should try to provide a specific reason—this shows you have done your research.
Once you have finished the opening paragraph, you are ready to tackle the main body of the letter. Here you discuss your experience and skills in depth.
In this section, you should list your most impressive accomplishments and skills that qualify you for the job. If you are struggling, read over the job posting and consider the main skills highlighted there. Then, ask yourself what experiences you have that align with those needs.
You should not list all your accomplishments, awards, and educational history in the main body of your cover letter—that’s what you do in a resume. Instead, you should focus on one or two points. This ensures you only highlight what is relevant to the employer and keeps the letter short and to the point.
Closing Paragraph and Signature
In the closing paragraph you thank the hiring manager for taking the time to evaluate you as a candidate. You may also want to write a brief summary of your qualifications. This will help the hiring manager develop a clearer narrative of who you are and why you are the right candidate for the job.
Following your closing paragraph, you should write a complimentary close and affix your signature. Here is an example of a complimentary close:
Example Cover Letter Template
Now that you know the main components of a cover letter, you may want to start writing. To help you out, here is a cover letter sample that uses the structure outlined earlier:
May 20, 2020
123 Main Street
Scranton, Pennsylvania 18503
Dear Ms. Carlisle,
I am writing to you to apply for the role of Administrative Assistant, currently advertised on your website. I have been working as an administrative assistant for two years, and enjoy the responsibility of organizing documents and speaking with new people every day. I read on your website that you won an award for having the best work culture in the Scranton area, and I believe that your corporate values align closely with my own.
Previously, I was employed by the Peter Michaels Paper Company in Scranton. During this role, I was responsible for managing the schedule of the office manager, and tracking all correspondence going to and from the office manager’s desk. My position required me to exercise organizational skills on a daily basis to ensure that my manager was able to keep track of all her tasks and scheduled events.
I was also responsible for answering the phone on behalf of the office manager. This was my favorite part of the job, as I enjoy interacting with different people and building new relationships. This responsibility helped me refine my skills, including listening to other people, identifying their needs, and figuring out how to best support them.
Your company’s commitment to social responsibility in the Scranton area is especially meaningful to me, as a local resident. I would love to apply my administrative assistant skills in your organization to help you become more efficient and organized, and achieve your broader community and business goals.
I have attached my resume for your perusal. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Cover letters are one of the first impressions you’ll make on an employer. Although you may not be asked to provide one, writing a cover letter is a good way to draw attention to your main accomplishments and explain how your experience qualifies you for the job.
There is a standard format most cover letters follow, which we have discussed above. In general, cover letters should not be longer than a page, which means each section should be short.
By following the cover letter format in this guide, you should have no trouble writing a letter that exemplifies your skills and makes you stand out from other candidates!