How to Craft the Perfect Cover Letter
You have composed the perfect resume, and you’re ready to send it to your prospective employer. But wait—you aren’t quite done yet! You need to craft a superb cover letter to make the best first impression and pull ahead of the competition. The cover letter is what helps you stand out, and a well-written one can land you the job.
While not all hiring managers read cover letters, the simple fact that you went to the trouble to write one can give you an edge over similarly qualified applicants. It’s good practice always to include a cover letter unless the job posting specifically says not to do it.
Many people dread writing a cover letter, but if you follow the simple steps below, you’ll find it isn’t that tough. Hiring managers are likely to take notice of the combination of an exceptional resume and a first-rate cover letter, so the effort is well worth it. If you need additional help designing and editing your resume or cover letter, reach out to our expert team.
The cover letter: What it is and why it matters
A cover letter is usually a one-page document that you submit with your resume when you apply for a job. This is where you can expound on your skills and knowledge and let the company know how you will add value to it. This is where you make your first impression and give the hiring manager a taste of your personality and abilities. Whereas resumes are cold and impersonal, just listing off your qualifications and experience, the cover letter allows the person behind the application to shine through.
Many candidates ask if they really need to include a cover letter. The answer is a resounding yes, whether the company asks you to attach one or not. If it is required, you don’t want to make the mistake of ignoring this requirement. The recruiter will immediately see that you don’t follow instructions or pay attention to details, and your chances of getting hired by the company will evaporate.
If the job posting doesn’t state that a cover letter is required, it is still a good idea to include one. The hiring manager can get a better feel of whether you’re a fit for the company culture, and you will be able to elaborate on any career changes or employment gaps. In the quest to land a great job, the cover letter is such a valuable resource that it simply doesn’t make sense not to leverage it.
If other candidates don’t submit a cover letter, it could also put you at an advantage. You are showing your ability to go above and beyond—something all employers look for in a tight job market. In addition, a well-written cover letter can demonstrate strong writing and communication skills, which are an asset to any business. If the hiring manager has to decide between you and another applicant with similar qualifications, your cover letter could become the tie-breaker.
So, get busy crafting an impressive cover letter. It won’t hurt your chances to include one, and it might even put you at the top of the interview list.
Essential elements of a cover letter
In addition to following the steps below, you want to include information that isn’t in your resume or elaborate on specific skills and experience. Don’t just summarize your resume—then there’s hardly any value in submitting a cover letter. Keep it concise and no longer than a page; hiring managers read through tons of cover letters and resumes, and they appreciate it when candidates get right to the point.
Also, use a proper format. It’s fine to use a template, but always tailor your cover letter to the job you are applying for. If you follow a template, be certain to make any changes that involve specific names, the company name, and any aspects that directly relate to each job. You’ll want to change some of the wording, too, because if you’re using a common template, the recruiter may have already encountered it, and they won’t be impressed to see it again.
Also, include any significant keywords used in the job posting. This will show the hiring manager that you’re familiar with all aspects of the job and will help you get past any applicant tracking systems in use. These are programs that process resumes before they make it to the hiring manager, filtering out those that they deem irrelevant to the job. This means that even if you’re qualified, when you don’t use the right keywords, your application may never land on the recruiter’s desk.
Don’t forget to show your personality in your cover letter. You don’t want to appear stiff or overly formal, but don’t be too casual, either. Channel the polite, professional version of yourself.
1. Set up your heading and greeting
Begin by placing your name and contact information at the top of your cover letter. Include your full name, phone number, professional email, LinkedIn, and any social media sites that pertain to the position you’re after. Be careful with social media—you’ll want to make sure you’ve already deleted or hidden any posts the recruiter shouldn’t see.
After that, you can include the hiring manager’s name and, if needed, their company name and address. This is no longer as important as it was in the days when everything was sent via post. Add the date in this section as well.
Do your best to find the name of the hiring manager. They will note you took the time and effort to search for it. If the name is not included in the job posting, your best bet is to check the company website or LinkedIn profiles. You can also run an online search to see if you can come up with any hits. Failing that, don’t be shy about calling the company and asking to whom you should address your cover letter. If you still can’t get the name, don’t use “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” These are both dated and frowned upon now. Instead, it is fine to use “Dear Hiring Manager” or address the department head.
2. Write your introduction/opening paragraph
Try to capture the attention of the hiring manager right away. Be personal and tell them what you know about the position and the company. It’s OK to brag a bit. Mention your top achievements and how they will translate into helping the company. This is where you want to make sure you tailor your letter to each individual job. Be careful to focus on how you can help the company instead of just touting your achievements.
If you know someone who already works there and has suggested that you apply, go ahead and mention their name. It’s always a good idea to note that a current team member deems you worthy of employment there—this can give you an important advantage.
3. Let them know why you could be their perfect candidate
The second paragraph of your cover letter should delve into what you can do for the company. This is where you elaborate on any achievements, skills, education, and experience that are of value to the business. Refer to the job posting and, if possible, cover every skill that is mentioned. You can always mention previous experience, internships, and even classes if you have recently graduated. Again, the focus should be on how you can add value.
In this section, it is extremely important to show the hiring manager that you are both qualified and one of the top applicants. This is also the appropriate place to explain anything in your resume that may raise questions. If there’s an employment gap or a career change, address it in this section.
4. Tell them why you would be an ideal fit for their company
In this paragraph, you want to let the hiring manager know how you will help the company solve any specific issues and problems. After all, it’s hiring someone for a reason!
This is also a good place to tell the recruiter how you will fit into their company culture. Check out the official website and see what the company is working on, what’s in its future, and even what charities it supports. Let the hiring manager see your passion and excitement both for the job and the company.
Google is your best friend when it comes to researching a company. Besides the corporate website, look at the employees’ LinkedIn profiles. It will also be impressive if you can find any recent news articles about the company and tie them in. Supplying information that is not common knowledge will be quite a boon to your application. This is the ideal way to demonstrate your passion, drive, and ambitious nature, all of which are traits companies appreciate.
5. Craft a closing paragraph and a formal sign-off
Thank the reader for their time and then insert an appropriate call to action. Don’t simply say, “I look forward to hearing from you.” Either tell them you will check in next week (or at a suitable time) or let them know you are available on a certain day to meet or talk. Inform them that you’d love to discuss the position and your abilities in more detail. They will notice your confidence and may decide to put you on their list of those to be interviewed.
Lastly, sign off. You can simply use “Thank you” or a professional “My best,” “Sincerely,” or “Respectfully.” Once you sign your name, you’re done!
One last piece of advice: Go through your resume again and again. Let a trusted colleague look over your cover letter and resume, and then have them professionally edited. You want to make sure you have eliminated all errors and are presenting yourself in the best possible light. If you need help with that, contact our highly skilled team.