Writing a cover letter is not an art.
It’s as simple as following a pre-defined formula - kind of like a recipe for making lasagna in the kitchen. In the following you will learn how to use this formula and how to write the perfect cover letter.
This guide will teach you
- How to write a professional and strong cover letter that gets noticed
- Best practices for how to start a cover letter and end it
- Actionable tips and tricks to improve your cover letters here and now
Let’s dive right in.
Your cover letter should complement and reflect your resume
What is a cover letter?
We’ll start with the very basics.
A cover letter is the letter which people in the old days would attach to their printed resume.
Like your resume, it should be no longer than one page long. Which isn’t much at all.
Your cover letter should complement and reflect your resume, not repeat the information from it.
Instead, it’s supposed to provide additional information on your skills and accomplishments.
What to include in your cover letter?
Your cover letter should include detailed information on why you’re the perfect match for the company and the position you’re applying for. Include specific information on why you’re a strong match by using examples from your own work life.
The goal is to add a personal touch to complement the data-oriented facts from your resume.
An effective cover letter will also explain the reasons for why you’re interested in the company and position you’re applying for.
In the following I will go through five easy steps to create the perfect cover letter.
5 easy steps to write a cover letter
A great cover letter consists of just a few paragraphs. A beginning, an introduction, a body, and a closing.
Follow these few and easy steps to write a cover letter for a job application. Remember to keep it short. Like your resume, your cover letter should be no more than one page long.
Throughout the article I will make use of a fictional applicant called Jane, who is seeking a job as Content Marketing Manager.
Below you'll see a breakdown of what makes a professional cover letter. Each step is explained in depth in the following text.
1. How to start your cover letter
Your header should include your and the employer’s contact information (name, address, phone number, email address) and the date. In our cover letter template this information will automatically appear once you’ve filled them out.
Once you’re done with your header it’s time for the salutation. You will find different views on what’s proper and appropriate but our recommendations are these:
Start with Dear [first name of the hiring manager]. That’s right. We recommend using the hiring manager’s first name since this is a proven way of catching the attention of your reader.
When we see or hear our name, we react. You will have created a feeling that this document has been tailored to her (or him) specifically. No one else. It will feel personal. And that’s great as a first impression.
However, it is also more than appropriate to use salutations such as Miss/Ms. [last name], Mrs. [last name], or Mr [last name].
It depends on the corporate culture. In a relaxed and casual company like a start-up you should go for the first name.
For a company with a high degree of formal culture like a law firm it’s sometimes best to go with the last name. You will need to do a bit of research yourself here.
The last part of starting your cover letter is your introduction.
Create a super catchy opening paragraph to grab the hiring manager’s attention. Warning: this part will often determine whether or not the manager will read on or not.
Here are a few tips on how to write a great opening paragraph for your cover letter:
- Highlight your achievements
- Show that you know the employer’s needs
- Base the intro on your enthusiasm
Start out with something you like about the company you’re applying to
One thing to keep in mind when writing your intro is to always put the text in relation to the position.
Show how they will benefit from hiring you. Don’t fall into the trap and tell how you think you would be perfect for the job.
Pro tip: Start out with something you like about the company you’re applying to.
Example of a great intro:
Seeing that Company XYZ was looking for a Content Marketing Manager made my heart skip a beat. I helped grow Company ABC’s revenue with 85% by adding content marketing to our growth strategy and I am confident I can do the same for you.
Example of a bad intro:
To whom it may concern,
I have five years of experience with content marketing and I think I will be perfect in the role as Content Marketing Manager in your company.
Do you see the difference? First of all the salutation using the name is much more engaging than the extremely generic “To whom it may concern”. And instead of just telling about her experience with content marketing (as in example two), the applicant shows it by adding an impressive achievement in example one.
2. How to write a strong cover letter that gets noticed (and gets you to more interviews)
For the first part of your cover letter’s body you will need to know exactly what to include. This means you’ll have to analyze the job ad and see where your skills match the requirements for the position. This is how you do it:
- Highlight all requirements listed in the job ad
- Choose one or two that match your own skills and qualifications the best
- Think of examples where you’ve put those skills into use and note them down
Now start composing the main body of your cover letter. This is the part where you sell your skills and qualifications to the hiring manager.
Show how you will be a success in the position by using tangible examples
Mention the specific skills and qualifications from the job ad and explain - by use of action verbs, power words, and examples - how and why you are going to meet those skills and qualifications. Show how you will be a success in the position by using tangible examples.
In my previous position with Company ABC I worked independently on a project aimed to grow brand awareness by implementing content marketing. This strategy ensured that our prospective customers and partners always felt a strong connection to our company and products and thus I was able to build quality relationships and work collaboratively and professionally with all stakeholders.
A year after implementing the content marketing strategy the results were in:
- 67% increase in overall customer recognition of our brand and products
- 33% increase in brand ambassadors
The job ad had listed these sentences as key qualifications for the position:
- The individual in this position will work independently and will hold a passion for connecting with current and future supporters to help Company XYZ grow its brand
- The professional in this position will build quality relationships and work collaboratively and professionally with business vendors and stakeholders
What our candidate highlighted in her cover letter were the words “independently”, “help Company XYZ grow its brand”, and “build quality relationships and work collaboratively and professionally”. She then used some tangible results from her own work experience to show the hiring manager how she will use her skills to solve the company’s needs.
Pro tip: Use the exact same terms and phrases as in the job ad - this will give you an advantage over the applicant tracking systems, much like when you’re creating your resume.
3. Your motivation for applying to the job
For the second part of your cover letter’s body you’ll want to tell the hiring manager why you’re eager to join their company. Again, the trick is not to fall back on the “me me me” approach but to keep it centered on them and their needs. Here’s how you do it:
- Look through the job ad for a concrete task or project for their new employee
- Tell why you find this particular task or project interesting
- Show how you will use your skills and qualifications to master this task or project
I know that XYZ is in need of a person to oversee the channel-specific strategy and development of all content for the department’s social channels and video platforms. This task is a great opportunity to expand your audience’s knowledge of your content, which I as a Content Marketer is passionate about. Given the chance I would love to use my knowledge of social media and video-editing skills to achieve great results.
This will show the hiring manager that you will actually enjoy the work and tasks in the company if you were hired.
4. How to end your cover letter
We’ve now covered the majority of Jane’s cover letter. She’s showed how she can contribute and add valuable skills to the company. She’s showed her motivation for the position. Now it’s time to seal the deal.
...finish it strong
What’s the worst you could possibly do here in the end of your awesome cover letter? Come off needy. Don’t be.
You’ve just created a killer cover letter, now you need to finish it strong. The magic words here are to keep it nice and short. End it with something like this:
I'd be thrilled to learn more about this job opening, and show you how I can help XYZ grow through a strategic content marketing effort.
And there you have it. The complete cover letter is done. We’ve put it together here so you can see it in full.
5. Proofread proofread proofread
We have now reached the fifth and last step in our guide on how to write a cover letter. Proofreading.
Remember to always always proofread your cover letter at least once before you send it. Preferably more than that.
When you’re sending out several applications a day, it’s so easy to make a mistake and for instance write the wrong company name in the header (which would be a disaster).
So, once you’re satisfied with all paragraphs in your cover letter, it’s a good idea to set it aside for a couple of hours to refresh your head. Then return to it and read every sentence carefully. Another great way of catching those pesky little mistakes is to simply read your cover letter out loud.
Our guide on how to write a great cover letter is almost at an end. But first here are some very actionable tips and tricks you can use if you already have a great cover letter for a job application. Implement them right away to get in front of the queue.
4 actionable tips and tricks
1. Add keywords
Just like on your resume, you will need to add relevant keywords to your cover letter. Keywords in this case (as with resumes) are the exact words from the job ad.
2. Active voice
Look through your resume to weed out any passive worded sentences in there. It is much more engaging to read a text that uses an active voice.
3. Avoid clichés
Avoid using worn out sentences such as “I’m a teamplayer with excellent communication skills”. You may very well be but show it with relevant examples instead.
4. Add a postscript
Adding a postscript, or a PS, is a great way to make a final impression on the hiring manager. If you have an impressive achievement that you could not fit into the cover letter template, a postscript is an excellent place to put it. This will automatically draw the eyes of the hiring manager and will leave her or him with a feeling of getting something extra. The postscript does not have to be directly related to the job ad.
I hope you feel well equipped to start writing your own cover letter.
Pro tip: Use our free cover letter builder to get a strong professional look and feel. You can even match it to your resume template.
To sum up, here are the key takeaways:
- Use the right salutation
- Show, don’t tell. Make sure to use relevant and tangible examples from your own work life. Solidify your text with your results
- Be concise when you explain your interest in working for the company
- Finish strong - don’t come off needy
- Proofread at least two times
- Use keywords, active voice, and avoid clichés
- Add a postscript
PS. Do you also want to know how to write a resume? Check out this article.