A cover letter is a chance to explain your specific interest in a company and why you’d be a strong fit.
When you apply for a job, you can submit a cover letter in addition to your resume and any other requested materials. While it’s not always necessary to include one, doing so can expand upon your unique professional story.
Whereas your resume covers important information, like the dates of your past employment and the skills you’ve developed, your cover letter is an opportunity to dive more fully into your motivation for applying in the first place. In writing a cover letter, you should aim to answer two primary questions:
Why are you interested in this role at this particular company?
Why are you a strong fit?
In this article, we’ll go over how to write a strong cover letter and when to include one.
What is a cover letter, and when do you need one?
A cover letter is a one-page document, around four to five brief paragraphs long, that goes into more detail about your career. It can be especially useful when your application makes it past an applicant tracking system (ATS) and into the hands of a hiring manager, or if you’ve been asked to email your application directly.
There’s no strong consensus about cover letters: some recruiters and hiring managers prefer them, while others pay more attention to your resume and don’t review your letter. Still, there’s evidence they have impact. In an experiment from ResumeGo, 16.4 percent of applicants who submitted a tailored cover letter landed an interview compared to 10.7 percent of applicants who didn’t include one. Customized cover letters also led to more interviews compared to generic cover letters.
When should you include a cover letter?
Cover letters take time to craft because you’ll need to research the company and role, building a specific explanation about why you want to work there. As such, you may want to reflect on whether it’s a good investment of your time to complete one.
It can be helpful to include a cover letter when:
You’re especially interested in the job or company
You’ve been referred by someone
You’re changing careers and want to explain your reasons further
If you’re unsure about whether you should submit a cover letter as part of your application, err on the side of caution and write one, so a recruiter or hiring manager has more information about you.
Cover letter sections
There are five main sections included in a cover letter:
Header: At the top of the document, include your contact information, such as your name, city and state, phone number, and email address. Leave space after that information and address your cover letter to the hiring manager once you conduct further research and identify the appropriate person. If you can’t find a specific name, go with a generic greeting: “Dear [Department] Hiring Team.”
Intro: In the first paragraph, demonstrate your fit. Explain who you are, what excites you about the role, and what you hope to accomplish in your next career move, whether that’s more responsibility, moving into a new but relevant area, or something else.
Body paragraphs: In the subsequent two or three paragraphs, spend time discussing your experience. Don’t simply restate what you’ve already shared through your resume. Instead, talk about any notable effect you’ve had, such as increasing profitability or performance or when you went above and beyond.
Conclusion: In your final paragraph, restate your interest in the role, remind the hiring manager why you’d be a good fit for their team and company, and state what you want.
Signature: Include a signature line, using a formal farewell like “Sincerely” along with your name.
3 tips before writing your cover letter
Whether you’re drafting an entirely new cover letter or updating a previous version for a new application, there are a few steps worth taking before you begin writing:
1. Research the company.
Visit the company’s website and pay close attention to the “About Us” section. If the company has a careers section, read over any information about workplace culture. Consider what interests you—either about what the company does or how it does it—and note it to include in your letter.
2. Review the job description.
Compare the job description to your work history: What have you done in previous roles, and what areas of growth particularly excite you? A hiring team will want you to have many of the skills necessary to handle the job’s responsibilities, but you can also highlight the kind of growth you’re seeking and how the role feeds into that.
For example: While I’ve regularly contributed strategically to my team’s output, I’m excited to take on the opportunity to lead strategic development.
3. Reflect on your transferable skills.
Transferable skills are those you take with you from job and job, like problem solving and an ability to work collaboratively. These can be beneficial to point out in your cover letter, showing a recruiter or hiring manager how you approach work so they can think about how well you’d fit their team.
3 tips for writing your cover letter
Once you begin writing, follow the steps below to craft and review your letter before completing your job application:
1. Grab the hiring manager’s attention with a strong opening.
Cover letters used to be more formal, often beginning with a dry introduction like, “I am writing to apply for X.” Now, you can infuse more personality into the introduction, speaking about your passion, interest, and enthusiasm about the opportunity. Think back to your research about the company and role, and integrate that information into your intro.
For example: I’m a seasoned UX designer who appreciates a challenge. I’ve been especially impressed with the app redesign XYZ Company recently launched, and I’m interested in joining your team’s efforts to make users more engaged.
2. Align your tone.
Much like how you might tailor your outfit depending on where you interview, it can be useful to tailor your tone in a cover letter. For example, formality might seem rigid if you’re applying to a tech start-up, but it might be expected at an established financial institution. Think about the tone the company conveys through its website and other communications, and strive to align your writing without overshadowing your personality.
Take time to proofread your letter before you send it, making sure it’s error-free. If possible, find someone to review it for you or try reading it aloud, which can often help you catch any tangled sentence constructions or issues.