How To Write A Cover Letter
Want to learn how to write a good cover letter? This guide is for you.
As a job seeker, you'll frequently have the need to send cover letters along with your curriculum vitae as a way of introducing yourself to potential employers and explaining your suitability for the desired positions.
You're probably here because you have a job application that requires a cover letter. Right? Well, before you start writing a cover letter, you should understand what a cover letter is and familiarize yourself with the document’s purpose.
This guide will walk you through the basics of cover letter, why you need one and how to write a perfect cover letter.
Let's get started!
What is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter, sometimes called a motivational letter is an introductory letter attached to or accompanying another document such as a resume to provide additional information on why and how your skills and experience qualify you for the job you are applying for.
Think of your cover letter as a sales pitch that will market your credentials and help you get the interview. As such, you want to make sure your cover letter makes the best impression on the person who is reviewing it.
Purpose of a Cover Letter
The purpose of the cover letter is to introduce yourself to an organization, demonstrate your interest in the company or a specific vacancy, show that your skills and experience match the skills and experience needed to do the job, draw attention to your resume and motivate the reader to interview you. Often this letter is the first contact you have with a prospective employer.
A neat, concise, well-written covering letter can entice the employer to read your resume with greater interest and will improve your chances of getting an interview.
Types of Cover Letter
There are three main types of cover letters:
- Application cover letter
- Prospecting cover letter
- Networking cover letter
Short introductory emails (we call those “Non-Cover Letter Cover Letters”) alongside your resume are also considered cover letters.
Application Cover Letter
This is the standard cover letter used alongside a resume during a job application. The application cover letter is geared toward a certain job, and it is tailored to the skills and specifications listed in the job posting.
Don't confuse the application cover letter with a proper application letter. This type of cover letter and a proper application letter are slightly different because an application letter can stand alone unlike the cover letter that is usually accompanied by the CV. However, it is common place for the cover letter and the application letter to be used interchangeably in our society. So when you are asked to submit an application letter along with your CV as a requirement for a job application, then you can submit the cover letter.
In this article, you'll learn how to write this type of cover letter.
Prospecting Cover Letter
Like the application cover letter, the prospecting cover letter is written by a job seeker to a company of interest. However, this type of cover letter inquires about open job positions in general. It is not a response to a specific job posting.
Networking Cover Letter
This type of cover letter is the most casual and tends to be the shortest. It still comes from the job seeker, but rather than being sent to a company, it is sent out to former colleagues, mentors, friends and other contacts. It informs the recipient of the person’s status as a job seeker and asks them for help in their job search.
The “Non-Cover Letter” Cover Letter
This cover letter is simply an introduction to your resume. It is professional but very short. This type of cover letter is great to use when a formal cover letter is not requested in the job posting.
The “Non-Cover Letter” cover letter does not follow a specific format. It usually includes a greeting, simple body explaining your experience and your interest in the company and a closing with reference to any attachments such as your resume, portfolio, samples or any other requested documents.
If you are emailing your resume, it is always a good idea to write a quick, professional email to go along with it. It should be short--a couple of paragraphs is sufficient--and the tone should remain casual but professional throughout.
Writing a Perfect Cover Letter
You should write a new and unique cover letter for every new job you apply for. No generic templates. No duplicate contents. Don't be lazy! The content of your cover letters should always match the skills, experience, company and the industry of the specific job you’re applying for.
Again, don't cut and paste your resume into your cover letter -- rather, try to re-word the information in your resume. Include specific information on why you’re a strong match for the employer’s job requirements. A cover letter should complement, not duplicate, your resume and should never be more than one page (3 to 5 paragraphs are typical).
Since a cover letter is a type of formal letter, while writing one, you must adhere to all the stipulated rules of writing a formal letter. For example, you must ensure you use an accepted formal letter format and layout among other things. The most commonly used letter layout today is the full-block style.
Basically, a cover letter is comprised of several parts:
- Contact information (Your contact and employer contact),
- A Salutation,
- Body of the cover letter,
- An appropriate closing, and
- A Signature.
The first section or header includes your contact information: name, address, phone number, and your email address. If you're sending an email cover letter, I recommend you set up an email signature
and list your contact information there.
You can also include the employer's contact information: the name of the hiring manager (if you know it), their job title, company name, and full address. This is most appropriate to include in a hard copy cover letter submitted by hand. If you are sending a cover letter by email or through an employer’s online application system, it is not necessary to include the employer's contact information.
It’s best to personalize the greeting of your cover letter. Always address the hiring manager by name. If you don’t know it, consult the company website or give the company a call to find out. Sometimes you can even find the name of the hiring manager in the job posting.
It’s also possible that after making your enquiries, you'll still be unable to figure out to whom you are addressing your letter. In that case, avoid "To Whom It May Concern:" which is a generic greeting and demonstrates a lack of effort to learn more about the job or the employer. Use preferred alternatives like: "Dear Hiring Manager:", "Dear Director of Human Resources:" or less frequently: "Dear Sir or Madam:".
Please be aware that the most formal way of ending a salutation is with a colon. So instead of “Dear Mrs. Johnson,” you should write “Dear Mrs. Johnson:” and then continue with the body of the message.
In some cases, it's okay to use a comma at the end of the salutation. You might be writing a business email where the utmost formality is not necessary, and in that case, the colon is not required.
If you’re unsure, play it safe and end with a colon.
Body of the Letter
The body of your cover letter lets the employer know what position you are applying for, why the employer should select you for an interview, and how you will follow up. This section of your cover letter includes:
- First paragraph - The beginning of your letter should capture the employer’s interest by identifying the position for which you are applying or your career objectives, indicating where you heard about the job, and describing your interest in that particular job opening.
- Second paragraph - This is where you lay emphasis on what you have to offer the employer.
- Don’t sound like everyone else.“Hi, I’m ___. I’m a detail-oriented, multi-tasking, natural-born leader and I am perfect for your company.” That's too cliche. Hiring managers are going to read the same basic cover letter repeatedly, so adding a little variation and creativity helps you stand out against other applicants.
- Draw on your key competencies from your resume and highlight examples of work performed and achieved results. Include a brief summary of how your skills and experiences match the job description. A short bullet list is fine. If you're applying via a job advertisement, there may be a position description that lists ‘essential’ skills and experiences required for the job. It may also have a list of ‘desirable’ skills and experience. Your cover letter needs to respond to all of the items on the ‘essential’ list. You should also respond to as many items as you can on the ‘desirable’ list. Remember that if you say you have a skill or experience, you need to show how you've used it or how you got it (for example, if you say you've got java programming skills, mention some jobs where you've used them).
- Avoid overusing the word “I”. For example, instead of saying “I have enclosed a copy of my resume” you can restructure sentences to use “you” more often. The result would be “Enclosed, you will find a copy of my resume.” A rule of thumb is to try not to use “I” more than twice per paragraph.
- Don’t ever include your salary requirements unless otherwise directed by the potential employer.
- Third paragraph - Enthusiastically express your knowledge of the company. Show that you did your research and know something about the business and how you can contribute to its mission.
- Fourth paragraph - Since your objective is to secure an interview, you want to establish a flow of action that produces an invitation to do so. In this paragraph, you should suggest what you would like the prospective employer to do or what action you plan to take to maintain contact. This may take the form of a request for an interview and/or a statement of your intent to follow up in the near future with a phone call.
Finish your letter with a formal closing like "Sincerely" or "Yours truly". If the letter begins with Dear Sir/Madam, you can use “Yours faithfully“. If the letter begins with a personal name, e.g. Dear Mrs Robinson, use “Yours sincerely“. Remember, a cover letter is a professional correspondence, so don't use informal closings like "Cheers" in the letters you write to apply for jobs.
How you sign your cover letter will depend if you're sending a paper or email letter. If you're sending a paper letter, leave a space for your handwritten signature immediately under the Closing, then type your name after your signature. If you're sending an email cover letter, type your name and contact information after your Closing.
When you are done writing, don’t forget to spell check and proofread your letter before you send it. Ask a second person to review it for you. It’s always good for another pair of eyes to take a look because it’s hard to catch our own mistakes. Grammarly, a free online tool, can help you proofread your work too.
Cover letter Sample
Here's an example cover letter for the position of an Administrative Assistant. First, read the job description
below, then read the cover letter that follows.
Job Position: Administrative Assistant
- In this role, you will be supporting managers and other senior-level personnel by managing their calendars, arranging travel, filing expense reports, and performing other administrative tasks.
- Strong interpersonal skills, attention to detail, and problem-solving skills will be critical to success.
- 5+ years of experience providing high-level admin support to diverse teams in a fast-paced environment
- High school diploma or equivalent work experience
- Excellent Microsoft Office Skills with an emphasis on Outlook and Excel
- Self-motivated and highly organized
- Team players who work well with minimal supervision
13 Allen Avenue,
Ikeja, Lagos State.
24th August, 2010.
Mrs Sarah Penelope,
The Hiring Manager,
Dear Mrs Penelope,
I am writing to express my interest in the opening for an administrative assistant at [Company Name].
I am drawn to this opportunity for several reasons. First, I have a proven track record of success in administrative roles, most recently in my current job as an administrative coordinator. A highlight from my time here was when I proactively stepped in to coordinate a summit for our senior leaders last year. I arranged travel and accommodation for a group of 20 executives from across the company, organized meals and activities, collaborated with our internal events team, and ensured that everything ran according to schedule over the five-day summit. Due to the positive feedback I received afterward, I have been given the responsibility of doubling the number of attendees for the event this year and leading an internal team to get the job done.
I am also attracted to this role because of the growth opportunities that [Company Name] provides. The research that I’ve done on your company culture has shown me that there are ample opportunities for self-motivated individuals like me. A high level of organization and attention to detail are second nature to me, and I’m eager to apply these skills in new and challenging environments.
I am available for interview at any time and should you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact me on 080xxxxxxx. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Notice how the writer in the example above uses specific phrases from the job description and includes them in the cover letter while matching his experience with the skills and expertise that the job requires. When writing a cover letter for a job, be sure you actually have the skills and experience to back up your claims if invited for an interview.
In conclusion, writing an impressive cover letter for the first time could be really challenging, however, using the tips outlined in this guide will help you write a perfect cover letter that can nail your dream job.
If you'd rather not start from scratch, you can explore over a thousand cover letter templates available for free. Using a cover letter template makes it easy for you to edit and personalize your cover letter.
Good luck in your career!