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How to write a Cover Letter: A guide with everything you need to know

How to write a Cover Letter: A guide with everything you need to know

Artwork by: Alexandra Shevchenko

  • What is a cover letter?
  • Preparing to write a cover letter
  • How to write a good cover letter: structure
  • Cover letter examples
  • Key takeaways

You’ve created a spot-on resume, but that isn’t necessarily all you need. Combining that resume with a targeted, well-written cover letter could be what lands you an interview over an equally qualified candidate. It’s easy once you know the structure and steps.

Writing a cover letter can be a tricky task. Likely you have put all your energy toward creating, updating, and polishing your resume to perfection. You then realize that you need to find some more creativity to write a cover letter that is equally compelling!

Another issue is that the value of cover letters is hotly debated. Many blogs and sources say that cover letters are outdated, that only a small handful of HR professionals still care about them. If this is the case, then why bother?

The answer is that hiring managers are not all the same - for every one that ignores cover letters there’s another that will read every word, and this will influence who they invite to an interview. Since you have no way of knowing which type of professional you’ll get, it’s better to be safe than sorry and learn how to create a strong cover letter every time.

In this article we will explore how to write a cover letter and provide a guide with everything you need to know, including:

  • What is a cover letter?

  • Preparing to write a cover letter

  • Cover letter structure

  • Cover letter examples

Statistical Insight


According to an article by Forbes, 48% of hiring managers will throw out a cover letter that’s not customized, and 49% will toss out a cover letter with spelling errors. 

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a brief (usually one page) note that you write to a hiring manager that is sent with your resume and application. This letter should outline your skills, experience, and achievements relevant to the job you are applying for. It should present you as the best person for the job.

Done well, this letter can set you apart from the crowd and gives you the chance to show that you are likely to be a great addition to the team. A cover letter can also encourage the hiring manager to learn more about you by reviewing your resume, so this can be another step toward a potential interview.

Remember to avoid generic cover letters since they are not as impactful as targeted versions. This is because many candidates tend to regurgitate the same content from their resume (which becomes repetitive) and/or talk about what they want from the job, which isn’t too appealing to a recruiter either. 

Clearly it’s worth investing some time creating a compelling, targeted cover letter so you have an edge over the competition.

Preparing to write a cover letter

Before you sit down to write your cover letter, collate all the information you need in advance. Here’s how to start that process.

  • Recall where you learned about the job opening. Was it advertised and, if so, where and when did you see it? If it came from a personal contact, then note down the person’s name, title, and company as a referral. It’s also a good idea to review the job description for any specific instructions you need to follow when writing your cover letter.

  • Consider your skills, experience, achievements, and any talents that relate to the specific role and what you know of the hiring company. Then focus on highlighting these as much as possible in your cover letter.

  • Think about what attracted you to the company in the first place. Conduct some research about the company and find out about their mission, vision, and values. Are you impressed by their culture and brand? Check out sites like Glassdoor where you can learn about the experiences of existing or former employees. 

  • Double check the name of the person you are writing the letter to. Address them by the name and title if it’s a specific person. If not, it’s probably best to address the letter, “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Human Resources Manager.”

With this information in hand, you are ready to get started on writing a killer cover letter!

How to write a good cover letter: structure


Cover letters follow the same format as a standard business letter. Follow these six steps to create a professional and interesting cover letter.

1. Letter header 

Select an impactful visual template for your cover letter to make a great first impression, with your name in a larger sized font so it stands out. Include your contact information at the start of your cover letter; below that add the recruiter or hiring manager name and title and then the company address and the date.

Here’s an example of the information to include:

Header Example


John Smith

5 Bay Road, San Francisco, CA 

(123) 456-7890 | [email protected] | LinkedIn UR


Anna Brown

Human Resources Manager

ABC Company

341 City Walk San Francisco, CA


5 January, 2024

For some professions, it’s a good idea to include some additional details in the letter header section:

  • Social Media Platforms - Including a LinkedIn URL is a pretty standard social media platform to detail on your cover letter. If you work in a creative profession, i.e. a writer, you may want to link to your portfolio page or a profile on Medium. Developers may have a GitHub profile.

  • Personal Website - Add your personal or business website if it adds value to your application. If you are a content writer, you may want to include a link to your samples page.

2. Greeting 

Conduct some research to find out the name of the person who is reviewing applications. This may well be on the job advertisement or you could do a quick search on LinkedIn to find the head of the department that you are applying to. If in any doubt, it’s better to address the letter to the hiring manager.

Greeting Example


- Dear Anna Brown,

- Dear Hiring Manager,

3. Opening paragraph

A cover letter’s opening paragraph needs to hook the reader and encourage the hiring manager to read on. Recruiters receive a high volume of applications so it’s crucial to catch attention with this paragraph in order to stand out amongst the competition.

The most common problem with opening paragraphs is that they can be very generic, so once a recruiter has read one or two they will all blend into one and become instantly forgettable. Expressing your strong interest in the specific role and showing that you have researched the company are key ways to avoid falling into generic oblivion. 

Opening Paragraph Example


“I’m excited to apply for the role of Marketing Associate at ABC Company as advertised on Jobs Online. I understand the company is launching a brand new product line, and I believe my skills in storytelling and product orientation will provide a major advantage at product launch. I’m a huge supporter of your brand, and I’d love to bring my creative outlook and my passion for your beauty products to the company.

4. Career highlights relevant to the job

The second paragraph should outline your background relevant to the job opportunity, with particular focus on key achievements, skills, and expertise. Focus on two or three specific details that highlight your successes, including facts and figures where possible to back up the skills being put forward.

The job description is the best thing to review to give you great keywords to include in this section. Try to focus on more recent experiences, using bullet points to break up the information, improve readability, and make any achievements stand out.

Career Highlights Example


“As Territory Sales Manager at Harper Smith, I was a key sales leader and successfully drove vast improvements in B2B and B2C sales as well as motivating the 50-member sales team. Prior to this, I steered direct sales, business development, and key account management for a business start-up in the FMCG sector. Selected contributions include:


- Consistently achieved 60% above average sales target in current role and recognized as top ranking converter in the last 12 months.



- Delivered engaging and informative product training and education sessions to customers – thereby attracting clients and growing the client base by 15%.



- Established strong client relationships and partnerships, adopting a consultative approach that leads to long-lasting relationships based on trust, honesty and integrity.

Do

Don't

Keep your cover letter direct, succinct, and impactful. Balance a conversational tone with a formal approach and let your personality shine through to make a good impression.

Be apologetic about a lack of experience. Avoid saying things like, “While I don’t have any experience in direct sales…” Focus on highlighting transferable skills instead. 

5. Closing paragraph


Finalize your cover letter with a strong closing paragraph. Try to avoid being repetitive in this paragraph in terms of your resume and earlier content in the cover letter. 

Aim to outline a special achievement, skill, or anecdote that makes you the perfect person for the job. This could be a transferable skill or experience if you are changing careers or just starting out on your career following graduation.

Closing Paragraph Example


“Establishing top-performing teams is my priority. As HR Manager, I reach out to a diverse and skilled talent pool, deliver high-quality onboarding programs, and provide many CPD opportunities. These approaches drove improvement in staff engagement in my current role, with productivity rising by 25% and staff turnover declining by 15%. I always look for ways to continually improve the team and service delivery, and I am confident that I can apply these skills in the role of HR Manager with ABC Company.”

6. Professional signoff 

Your cover letter should end with a professional signoff that outlines why you have applied for the role and why you would be the perfect person for the role. This conclusion doesn’t need to be a long paragraph. Mention that you are looking forward to hearing from the employer about next steps, then end with your signature.

Signnoff Example


“Thank you for taking the time to review my application. I look forward to learning more about the retail position and Shop&Go. I am focused on delivering an optimal customer experience and excited about the possibility of joining the market-leading team at Shop&Go. 


Sincerely,


(Enter Signature)


John Smith

Cover letter examples

Here are some examples of cover letters across different levels to give you some inspiration!

#1 College Student Cover Letter



John Smith

5 Bay Road, San Francisco, CA 

(123) 456-7890 | [email protected] | LinkedIn URL


Anna Brown

Human Resources Manager

ABC Company

341 City Walk San Francisco, CA


5 January, 2024


Dear Ms. Brown,


I am writing to express my strong interest in the summer internship opportunity with ABC Company. I learned about your company from my university career center, and after visiting your website I am impressed by your significant advances in the field of engineering. 


I am currently in the final year of my degree in Chemical Engineering, majoring in Environmental Engineering, due to be completed in spring next year. I have acquired a strong understanding of engineering design principles and process design, with emphasis on natural resources engineering. In my studies to date, I have achieved excellent results including a place on the Dean's List, and this has confirmed my passion for developing a career in the environmental engineering field.


Following graduation, I would love to work for a forward-thinking company like yours, where I can increase my experience, deliver support to key clients, and eventually progress to a management role. I believe that choosing the right opportunities, working with reputable clients, and focusing on my professional development will enable me to achieve these goals. 


I previously completed an internship at another engineering company, which provided me with valuable transferable skills in project management, communication, and client relations. Responsibilities included project planning, data analysis, progress monitoring, and technical reporting. This opportunity enhanced my technical capabilities in the field of environmental engineering, and I feel this would be of interest to you as you advance in this field.


I look forward to meeting with you to discuss this exciting opportunity and my qualifications in detail. I can forward details of recent research projects if these would be of interest, so please let me know if you require any additional information.



Sincerely,


John Smith

#2 Management Cover Letter



John Smith

5 Bay Road, San Francisco, CA 

(123) 456-7890 | [email protected] | LinkedIn URL


Anna Brown

Human Resources Manager

ABC Company

341 City Walk San Francisco, CA


5 January, 2024


Dear Ms. Brown,

As a talented project manager with 10 years of experience, I am writing to express my strong interest in the program management opportunity advertised on your website. Having acquired the majority of my experience in the FMCG sector, I am confident that I would be an ideal addition to the team at ABC Company.


Across my project management career, I have secured strong skills in project scoping, progress monitoring, budgeting, and Agile methodologies. I have consistently ensured that projects are delivered on time, in budget, and to exacting specifications via effective leadership of project teams. An engaging and articulate communicator, I clearly convey complex information and propose novel solutions to build consensus with key project stakeholders.


Recent areas of focus include: 


- Generated high-volume revenues following project management of large-scale product roll-outs—with individual contracts ranging up to $300K.


- Harnessed technology to benefit the business, deploying a new OMS that boosted cost-efficiency, performance, and operations management.


- Tracked performance of commercial projects, applying lessons learned, best practices, and Agile approaches to ensure continual improvement.


I am impressed by the mission and vision of the organization, particularly in terms of continually optimizing products and the customer service experience. I consider my strong relationship-building skills and leadership experience will enable me to contribute to your continued success and business growth.


I would love to meet with you and discuss this position in more detail. Should you need any further information, I am available by phone or email at your convenience.



Sincerely,

John Smith

#3 Senior Executive Cover Letter



John Smith

5 Bay Road, San Francisco, CA 

(123) 456-7890 | [email protected] | LinkedIn URL



Anna Brown

Human Resources Manager

ABC Business

341 City Walk San Francisco, CA


5 January, 2024


Dear Ms. Brown,


As Chief Operations Officer for a leading retailer, I have achieved proven success steering operations, enhancing client satisfaction, and establishing top-performing teams. This includes experience with high-profile multinationals as well as the successful launch of new retail concessions. 


Holding over 20 years of experience driving revenue growth and profitability, combined with a focus on operational and performance improvement, I am confident in my ability to be a valuable addition to the leadership team at ABC Business. This includes oversight of significant transformation projects, deployment of best practice approaches, and development of high-quality training programs.


Please consider the following career highlights:


- Transformed a siloed, underperforming operation to a team-driven, profitable enterprise with COGS reduced by 6% in 2022, DSO decreased by 7.5 days, and 100% client retention achieved during tenure.


- Steered operations for a $75M+ retail concession, including the successful launch of 100 new concessions across the US and an increase in profit margin of 25%.


- Spearheaded talent development and succession planning initiatives, with 25 staff transitioning to supervisory and leadership roles in the past two years. 


Having completed my MBA and acquiring an extensive background in brand, sales, and business development in the retail industry, I consider myself an ideal candidate for the role of COO with ABC Business. I look forward to having the opportunity to speak with you further and learn more about the position and company. Until then, thank you for your time and consideration.


Sincerely,


John Smith

#4 Career Switch Cover Letter



John Smith

5 Bay Road, San Francisco, CA 

(123) 456-7890 | [email protected] | LinkedIn URL  | Portfolio Link


Anna Brown

Human Resources Manager

ABC Education

341 City Walk San Francisco, CA


5 January, 2024


Dear Ms. Brown,


As a trained teacher, I am excited to apply for the Education Content Writer role at ABC Education. I have been a registered teacher for 10 years, with the last five years working at Bay City High School. This role has provided me with strong skills in curriculum development and lesson planning, which I am confident will be a great asset to your team.


While I have enjoyed my time as a teacher, I have always had a passion to pursue a career in content writing. I completed a content writing course earlier this year and have gained experience in educational writing via several freelance projects which you can view via the portfolio link provided. I believe this new career path will make the most of my teaching expertise while also enabling me to hone my content writing skills as I help the company to increase its market presence.


I was interested to read about your mission to build brighter futures for children and young people by working with local charities. This goal really resonated with me, and I would enjoy helping the team to achieve this mission. I look forward to having the opportunity to speak with you further and learn more about the position and company. Until then, thank you for your time and consideration.


Sincerely,


John Smith

Key takeaways

  1. Cover letters need to be short, sweet, and impactful. Try not to go over 400 words and make sure you include an attention-grabbing hook in your opening paragraph.

  2. Tell the company the key reasons why you are the perfect person for the job and why you have a strong desire to work for their company.

  3. Focus on achievements and transferable skills. Reviewing the job description will provide you with key information that enables you to target your cover letter and resume to the specific job opportunity.

  4. Use the same format as a standard business letter and follow the six steps outlined here to create a professional and interesting cover letter.

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