A cover letter is a letter of introduction, usually 3–4 paragraphs in length, that you attach to your résumé. It’s a way of introducing yourself to a potential employer and explaining why you are suited for a position. Employers may look for individualized and thoughtfully written cover letters as an initial method of screening out applicants who may who lack necessary basic skills, or who may not be sufficiently interested in the position.
Often an employer will request or require that a cover letter be included in the materials an applicant submits. There are also occasions when you might submit a cover letter uninvited, for example, if you are initiating an inquiry about possible work or asking someone to send you information or provide other assistance related to a potential job. Cover letters usually combine the purposes of information and persuasion.
Cover letters should accomplish the following:
- Get the attention of the prospective employer.
- Set you apart from any possible competition.
- Identify the position you are interested in.
- Specify how you learned about the position or company.
- Present highlights of your skills and accomplishments.
- Reflect your genuine interest.
- Use clear, easy-to-read, correct language.
Meet these criteria by incorporating them into a letter with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Cover Letter Body
In the introductory paragraph, introduce yourself to the hiring manager or recruiter. The paragraph should include four items:
- Why you are contacting them
- How you heard about the position (If someone referred you, mention the name of your contact.)
- How your work experience pertains to your desired or targeted job
- Why you are interested in the position
The middle of the cover letter makes the case for why you’d be an exceptional hire. There are a few ways to make your case:
- Select approximately three strengths and assign each strength to a bulleted section or brief paragraph. Include your best examples of how you excel at each strength.
- Create two strong paragraphs. In one, discuss work experience and connect selected strong skills to the position in which is being applied for. In another, focus on your training, certifications, and/or education and the ways these have prepared you for the position.
In the last paragraph, state the following:
- Reiterate your interest.
- State you would be a strong match because your strengths match the key skills necessary to succeed at the job.
- Say that you will be happy to connect should they have questions or need fuller information.
- Thank your reader for their time and consideration.
The following video explains how to create an strong cover letter.
Initial and Ending Information in a Cover Letter
Note that you need to follow formal business letter format, which means that initial information includes your return address, the address of the person to whom you are writing, and a greeting line, followed by a colon. You can exclude your return address if you are writing on letterhead which has address and contact information; however, when applying for jobs, writers often use plain paper and not their current organization’s letterhead.
example of initial information
In this example, Jane Carruthers is writing a cover letter to the human resources director of International Business Services. The job announcement included only the person’s title and not name.
100 E Maple Street
Saratoga, NY 12866
October 14, 20XX
International Business Services
2024 Circular Street
Albany, NY 12208
Dear Human Resources Director:
An alternative greeting could be the following. Note that if you use an Attention line, you do not need a colon at the end; just use the colon after Attention:
Attention: Human Resources Director
Ending Information in a Cover Letter
Make sure to include an appropriate closing, such as “Sincerely.” After your typed name, you can also include an email address and/or telephone number, as appropriate.
example of ending information
There are numerous cover letter samples, as well as ample additional information on cover letters, available on thebalancecareers.com’s pages on cover letters.
Gail needed to write a really good cover letter to accompany her résumé for a Project Manager 1 listing she found. Here are the first sentences to each of Gail’s three paragraphs. From these three sentences, identify which is the BEST letter.
- I am writing to apply for the position of Project Manager 1 listed on LinkedIn last Tuesday.
- I installed 45 units for State University last year.
- If you want to meet, I am available Tuesday at 2 p.m.
- Thank you for the Project Management 1 job listing on LinkedIn; I hope to be your next Project Manager 1.
- You ad states that you wish to have a PM with five or more years experience and CAPM certification.
- Thank you for the opportunity to apply.
- Your Project Manager 1 listing is a job made for my skills and my passion for easing the transition from one IT system to the next.
- In response to your desire for five or more years of experience, please see the enclosed reference letter describing the seven years I spent with State University’s IT department detailing…
- I would love to join the team and help your clients make smooth transitions.