How to Write a Cover Letter

Yes, cover letters seem basic, but writing them isn’t so basic at all. Here’s what you need to know.

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How to Write a Cover Letter

What’s a cover letter?

You’ll find all sorts of definitions, but here’s ours: It’s a single-page letter that you send to a potential employer that introduces you, highlights your relevant experiences and/or skills and clearly displays your interest in a specific job. It’s also personal, which means a few things: It is addressed and mailed—not emailed—to the hiring manager, shows respect for the company and position, and is written in your unique voice. Oh, one more thing—it’s super important, if you couldn’t tell already!

So, now that we’ve covered exactly what a cover letter is, let’s use parts of that definition to expand on how you should write it.

Make your cover letter one page.

Why’s this a rule? Simple. People have short attention spans… like, shorter than goldfish’s believe it or not. We’re basically trained to be distracted, jumping from one task to another and one screen to another. Time’s valuable and people don’t seem to have much of it—especially a hiring manager. That’s why your letter needs to be well written, easy to read and one page. Got it? OK, great!

Personalize it.

Kind of goes without saying, but make sure to address your letter to the right person. You don’t want Mrs. Smith in accounting to get your letter, when it’s meant for Mr. Smith in operations. True personalization goes much further than that though. Find a way to compliment Mr. Smith, a way to express your admiration for the company. That type of stuff goes a long way.

Introduce yourself and brag a little.

Don’t just say, “I’m Mike” or “I’m Jennifer;” say more about yourself. Something unique about your work experience. Something uncommon—in a good way of course—about your skill set. Maybe even something about your passion for the industry and the company’s contribution to the industry. Here’s the deal. If you do this well, the hiring manager’s more likely to remember you, more likely to say “Jennifer might just be the best fit.”

Say thank you.

It’s not a bad idea to say this at the beginning and end. You especially want to mention it early, in case the hiring manager doesn’t read your entire letter. Yeah, that’s possible, but don’t take offense; blame it on that attention span issue we mentioned. The bottom line is you need to sound genuinely appreciative.

What NOT to Do in Your Cover Letter

Well, basically never, ever do the opposite of what we preached above. Don’t write a letter as short as your next tweet, or as long as your next book (yes, you’re probably not an author, but you get our point). Don’t write one generic, one-size-fits-all letter and blast it out to 20 different companies. They’ll see right through it. Avoid bragging too much as well—it’s not all about you. And please, never forget a simple “thank you.” It’s a common courtesy that your future boss expects.

OK, you’re officially set.

Go ahead! Start writing your next cover letter. Well, line up some job opportunities first, then get to writing. And try it on your own with nothing but a blank document at first. Don’t find a generic template that could hinder your creativity. You might love what you come up with!

Speaking of job opportunities, you can find plenty right here. Take a look and see if any are right up your alley.

Got your cover letter squared away? Check out the next article in our job search series—writing your references.