Perhaps one of your most challenging questions during you job search process is how to write a cover letter.
In the digital communication era, you can find so much conflicting advice, which makes it hard to know where to start.
Yu might even start questioning whether you need a cover letter anymore!
Yes, covers letters are still needed, and they’re not only relevant for your potential employer, but for you as well.
If you know what you’re doing, and what you want for your career, then it shouldn’t be difficult to write a cover letter. You already have the answers.
Before jumping into the step-by-step guide on how to write a cover letter, I recommend you watch the following TED Talk by Simon Sinek [LINK]. It’s in the top 10 most popular TED talks of all time.
Simon Sinek presents a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership — starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?”
I find this relevant for job seekers, because the questions that you should be asking yourself when you write a cover letter are: Why this specific job? Why this employer? Why you think you’re the best candidate?
Table of Contents: How to Write a Cover Letter
- I. What’s a Cover Letter?
- II. Before Writing Your Cover Letter
- III. Tips for Writing Your Cover Letter
- IV. How to Format a Compelling Cover Letter
- V. After Writing Your Cover Letter
- VI. What About Job Inquiry Letters?
- VII. To Conclude…
A cover letter is a document that introduces you to a potential employer for a specific job position.
It allows your potential employer to understand why you are the right candidate for this particular position and this particular organization.
A cover letter is unique for each position – it should be adapted to the particular position and organization you are applying for.
It’s complementary to your résumé [Link]. It’s NOT a reiteration of everything that’s listed in your résumé. The cover letter highlights a few additional skills and experiences that speak to your interest in and qualifications for the position you’re applying for.
Writing an effective cover letter can take time and lead you to a lot of frustration.
Before starting writing the cover letter, you need to have a clear idea about what you want to say to your potential employer. To help you doing so, I recommend you follow the 3 simple, yet efficient steps:
1. Know The Job and The Employer
What does the employer really need?
Is this job good for me?
- Review the job description closely and identify the skills and qualifications that the employer is looking for. Go beyond the job description. For instance, if the job description is refereeing to specific project, go and find out more about it.
- Find out what’s critical to accomplish the job? This might not be explicit in the job description. Do some research online to see what kind of soft and hard skills are key for the success in a similar position.
- Find out more about the hiring manager, if possible. Check their LinkedIn profile and twitter to learn about their background and their interests. Check if you share with them some common interests, groups, or activities. This will help you to understand the person that you’re writing for.
- Find out more about the employer. Look at their website, their press releases, their social network feeds, their employees’ profiles on LinkedIn, etc. This will tell you a lot about the employer: the challenges they are facing, their culture, their trends in terms of hiring, etc.
This step will help to learn a lot about your potential employer, the hiring manager, and the job itself. This is where you can ask yourself whether this job is still interesting for you or not. You might quickly realize that this isn’t interesting, and decide to stop the process and gain a lot of time.
If you’re convinced that this job is great for you, then the next steps will be pleasant.
2. Know Yourself
What are your skills and qualifications?
What can you offer to the employer?
- Identify your professional experiences that are relevant to this job. If you don’t have any professional experience, you can dig into your academic projects, internships, summer jobs, etc. Every single experience counts.
- Identify your skills and qualifications that can be relevant for this position. This should be an easy exercise. You should simply follow the list that you identified in the previous step, and check what you’re good at.
- Be honest with yourself and ask yourself what can you offer to this job and employer? At this level, focus on what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you.
- Find out how your role would help address the challenges your potential employer is facing.
After this step, you’ll have a clear idea about yourself with regard to the position that you’re interested in.
You might discover that you’re not qualified, and that’s not worth it to waste your time.
If you think that you’re qualified, then you’ll follow the next step to pick the elements that make out of you the best candidate for this position.
3. Match Yourself to the Job/Employer
How are you going to sell yourself?
- Compare the job and employer to what you have to offer. The overlap between what you can offer and what the employer is looking for will help you outline your cover letter. If you make the overlap clear, the employer is more likely to call you for an interview.
- Identify the skills and experiences that you want to highlight in your cover letter. Don’t highlight all your skills and experiences – focus only on what’s critical to accomplish the job.
- You’ve already identified what you can offer to the organization. There’s no need to list everything in your cover letter. Pick only a few specific benefits you can offer and focus on how you can best express them.
By now, you’ve done the most difficult part. Your thoughts are crystal clear. What’s left is just to organize them in a compelling cover letter format. That’s what I’m going to show you below.
I’m sure you’re now convinced that the appropriate content and tone of your cover letter vary according to the position you’re applying for and the employer. Here’re some tips to guide you in your writing process.
1. Be unique!
If your cover letter is just as bland as everyone else’s, it won’t help you stand out.
When you write a cover letter, don’t try to look for existing examples to copy/past. Generic letters available of the Web do little to show why you are a good candidate for your potential employer.
The best you can do is to inject some originality and personality in your cover letter. This will show your potential employer that you are serious about the job application and you really care about joining the organization.
It can make you more memorable and increase your chances for getting a job interview.
2. Be promotional!
Let’s face it. You’re the product, and your goal is to sell yourself to your potential employer.
Your cover letter is a marketing tool to get the buy-in of your potential employer.
Use it to promote yourself and demonstrate why you are a great candidate for the job and a good fit for the organization.
It has flexible format where you can advocate yourself in a positive and proactive way.
Use it to convey your self-confidence and assertiveness.
3. Be Enthusiastic!
Selecting the right words can be a powerful way of conveying enthusiasm. Using action verbs is an effective way to express your enthusiasm. For example, if you believe you can help the organization grow customer base or increase profits, state this in your cover letter.
You can express your enthusiasm about the job and the organization. You can also be proactive and talk about how you can improve things for the future.
Be careful to focus on what you can offer. Don’t focus on what you can gain from this position.
Despite the differences in what constitutes a good cover letter, these suggestions apply generally. I don’t pretend to have the only way of formatting a cover letter. This is one possible way out of several others.
Cover letters typically shouldn’t exceed a single page. Be succinct and go to the point.
Here’s a great example of cover letter from HubSpot. The numbered sections are explained in more detail below.
1. Your Contact Details
At the top of your page, list your contact details:
After the contact information section, leave one blank line, and then type the date.
3. Employer’s Contact Details
Following the date, leave a blank line, and then list the employer’s contact details:
Whenever possible, address your cover letter to a specific individual, by their name and title.
If the job description doesn’t have any contact person details, look at the organization’s website or call them to ask for the name and the title.
Make sure to use the appropriate title (e.g., “Ms.” “Mr.” “Dr.”) of the contact person
[Dear Title Last Name]
e.g., Dear Dr. Smith
If you are not sure about the title, use
[Dear First Name Last Name]
e.g., Dear Steve Ryan
If you can’t find the name of a specific person, you may use one of the following salutations:
To the [name of the department]
Dear [hiring manager]
Dear [personnel manager]
Dear [human resources director]
5. Opening Paragraph
This is your chance to grab the attention of your reader in a positive manner and invite them to read further.
Use this paragraph to introduce yourself (e.g., Sr. Manager, Ph.D. in Computer Science, etc.)
State your reason for writing. Answer the question “why.”
Explain what job position you’re applying for. If you write an inquiry letter, when there’s no open position that you know of, identify the type of position or role you are interested in.
If you learned about the job through a specific connection that you want to highlight, then make sure to state it in this paragraph. E.g., if you learned about the job through a mutual acquaintance, or a specific person referred you, make sure to state their name.
Convey some enthusiasm about the organization and the job. Explain why you’re interested in the job. Explain why you’re interested in the organization.
Add a brief overview of what you have to offer. You’ll elaborate your skills in the body paragraphs.
6. Body Paragraph(s)
This is where you demonstrate to your reader why you’re the best candidate for the job and the organization.
List some of the skills and qualifications that are listed in the job description, and explain how you have developed or demonstrated them. You can elaborate on elements you’ve made in your résumé, but take this opportunity to go into more depth on a few of the particularly relevant ones.
Use facts and evidence. Demonstrate specific and measurable accomplishments that are particularly relevant to the job you’re applying for. Take a look at this guide to learn how to write powerful statements that express your accomplishments [LIKN to CV Write PAR Statement].
Once you’ve expressed your skills and experiences, provide details about how they can impact the employer. This is the core of your cover letter! This is where you make yourself unique and stand out. This is where you show your enthusiasm about things you can improve, KPIs you can increase, value you can add, etc.
For example, if you write that you understand the organization’s objectives and could help achieve them, give specific examples and reasons for thinking so. You can mention that you have developed the necessary skills through the experience X; you have had relevant experience in a similar position, or you have had the same role before with another organization.
If you’re applying for your first job, then you may talk about your academic education and how it has prepared you for this job. You can demonstrate your skills and qualifications through your academic projects, internships, summer jobs, etc.
If you have more than one paragraph in this section, then make sure to arrange the points in a logical sequence: each paragraph should be about a main point.
I recommend you elaborate two paragraphs, whenever it’s possible:
- Paragraph 1: demonstrate why you’re a great fit for the job
- Paragraph 2: demonstrate why you’re a great fit for the organization
7. Closing Paragraph
Use this section to persuade the reader to contact you for a follow-up.
It’s important to finish strong. Reiterate your strong interest and enthusiasm about the position and the organization.
Tell the employer about your availability to talk about the opportunity of joining their organization. This is a polite way to request an interview.
Indicate what additional material is being attached and offer to provide any additional information.
Thank the reader for their consideration and indicate that you are looking forward to hearing from them.
8. Formal Sign-off
The safest way to sign-off is to use “Sincerely,” and finish by writing your full name.
If you’re sending an electronic copy, you don’t need to sign it, unless you have an available electronic signature.
If you are sending a hard copy of your cover letter, leave few blank lines and sign in the space preceding your name.
- Make absolutely certain your cover letter contains no typos or errors.
- Use spellcheckers and a human proofreader to ensure it is error free.
- Keep sentences and paragraphs short.
- Don’t use the same sentence structure everywhere (e.g., avoid starting all the sentences with “I”).
- Avoid using acronyms and abbreviation.
- Make sure that the specific benefits you can offer to your potential employer are clearly expressed
- Make sure that you presented evidence of your skills and qualifications
- Put the letter on the side for a day or two, and then reread it with a different perspective. Put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter or hiring manager, and try to see if there’s matching evidence between the candidate (you) and the job/organization.
- Ask other people to read your letter. Tell them about your purpose and the job and employer, so that they make an accurate assessment.
What I described in this guide is how to write an Application Cover Letter. This is useful where you’re applying for a specific job position that’s already open.
There’re cases where you write to organizations that may be hiring in the future and haven’t advertised job openings yet. In such case, you’ll need to write a Job Inquiry Letter (also known as a Prospecting Cover Letter or Letter of Interest).
A Job Inquiry Letter can help you get noticed by a potential employer who may not be currently recruiting. It’s a powerful way to get your résumé in front of a decision maker and possibly considered for employment even before a job is listed.
This is a great technique to be proactive about your career and influence your destiny.
Since Job Inquiry Letter focuses on your desire to work for the organization in general, not on a specific job, you should focus on what skills and experiences make you a good fit for the organization in general. You can mention experiences that are relevant to the projects or the challenges that the organization is having.
The format of a Job Inquiry Letter is the same as that of the Application Cover Letter.
If the résumé answers the question “who you’re,” the cover letter answers the question “why you’re the best.”
Your cover letter is as important as your résumé. Don’t neglect it. It’s worth it to spend a lot of time writing and editing it. When you get a job interview, you’ll be thankful you did.
Obviously, writing a cover letter is not an easy task, but if you organize your thoughts and ask yourself the right questions, you can make your writing pleasant and efficient.
Do you have any other cover letter writing tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment below and I’ll be very happy to add them.