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How to write a cover letter

Learn to plan, format, and write an effective cover letter.

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What is a cover letter?

A cover letter introduces you, makes your sales pitch, and proposes further action. Typically, you provide a cover letter when responding to a job listing, sending a cold email to a recruiter, or responding to a referral. Often overlooked, it’s one of your most valuable tools for contacting employers. To get the interview, you must tailor every letter to the unique job you want.

Cover letters, which “cover” your resume, should:

  • Clearly state how your skills and experience will help the employer.
  • Leave an impression on the employer to land an interview.
Note: Employers may not require a cover letter to apply. Even if optional, a cover letter is a good way to stand out among other candidates.

Formatting your cover letter

You should format your cover letter like a business letter and include the following sections:

  • Contact details and date in the header – include your full name, email address, phone number, and current date.
  • Salutation and hiring manager’s name – address the recruiter or hiring manager by name. If you cannot find a name, you can use “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Hiring Team.”
  • Introductory paragraph – introduce who you are, what position you’re applying for, and how you found the job listing. This is your chance to grab their attention and include why you’re excited about the job.
  • Supporting paragraphs – explain the value you can bring to the company while highlighting relevant experiences and transferrable skills. Elaborate on what makes you uniquely qualified.
  • Closing paragraph – thank the reader for their time and prepare them for your follow up. Include your contact information again.

Planning your cover letter

Research the company

Ten minutes on the company’s website goes a long way. Look up the company’s history, examples of their work, or recent news. Mentioning something from your research in your letter or an interview helps you stand out.

Find a current employee to mention

Can you find someone who works at the company whose name you can drop? Be sure to ask for their permission.

Read the job listing

A cover letter is your chance to show that you know what the company needs. The best way to do that is by understanding what they are asking for in the job listing.

Writing an effective cover letter

Get their attention

Your first sentence is the most important. Use it to grab the reader’s attention. If someone referred you, mention that person’s name and title in the first sentence.

Make it unique

It’s okay to reuse cover letters when applying to multiple employers. But make certain sentences unique to the exact job. This shows you’ve made an effort and understand the role. You can even use exact words or phrases from the job listing that a recruiter might be looking for.

Sell your value

Your cover letter shouldn’t simply repeat your resume. Instead, it should convince an employer how your experience will help them. This gives you a chance to add context to your resume and show that you’ve done your research. For example:

“I have received two awards for my friendly customer service to patients, doctors, and coworkers alike. I’ve also been asked to conduct in-service workshops on the topic. My emphasis on customer satisfaction and my joy in helping others dovetail perfectly with YYY’s focus on client care.”

Notice how the sentence above ties their experience back to the employer? It shows both the candidate’s achievements and their attention to the company’s values.

Keep it short

Generally, your cover letter should be between half a page and one full page in length. Divide it into three or four short paragraphs and include a strong opening sentence for each paragraph. That way, if someone scans it, they can quickly learn the main points.

Remember, less is more. If an employer receives hundreds of applications, reading every cover letter requires considerable time. Respect their time and hit your main points effectively.

Get feedback

Share your cover letter with a few trusted sources, both to proof for spelling errors and grammar, as well as content. Then address the feedback if you feel it's necessary.

Note: If you’re changing careers, don’t be afraid to mention it. Your previous experience means you bring something unique to the table.
Use simple, positive language

Use direct, simple sentences that make it easy to follow and understand your value. Avoid negative language that could come across the wrong way.

Prepare to follow up

To close your letter, ask the employer to call or email for an interview at their earliest convenience. If you don’t hear back from an employer in two weeks, politely reach out to confirm they’ve reviewed your resume and cover letter.

How to make a resume

Learn more
How to prepare for an interview

Learn more