Laura Berlinsky-Schine
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Think writing a unique cover letter for every job is a waste of time? Think again. Some applicants believe their cover letters don’t really matter in the hiring process, when in reality, this document is a critical part of your application. Unlike your resume, which lists your experience and qualifications, your cover letter tells the career story of you, conveying your interests, your passions and your personality. It uses much of the same information you present in your resume, but it goes much further, revealing and demonstrating your professional identity and why you are a good fit for a given role.

The cover letter helps employers see how a candidate will mesh with their company culture and the experiences that have shaped them, along with ways they’ll be an asset to the business. It can also serve as a tool to address any questions or issues that might arise when the hiring manager peruses your resume, such as employment gaps.

How do you write a compelling cover letter that will land you a coveted job interview? Follow the tips we've outlined below and use the sample cover letter as inspiration.

How to use a cover letter template: A guide

• Tailor it.

A template is not one size fits all. It’s meant to be tweaked and adjusted depending on your unique situation and voice. Make sure you use language that sounds like you (a real person) and add your own personal touch. The hiring manager will notice if it sounds like you’re sending the exact same letter to everyone with just the name of the company replaced, and they won't look at your application favorably.

• Adjust your tone.

Your tone will probably vary depending on the specific employer and the type of job in question. Try to use a tone that’s consistent with the brand and organization to which you’re applying. Be confident but not arrogant. You will likely need to alter the tone of the cover letter template in order to convey your real voice.

• Proofread it carefully.

This is true of anything you write in a professional or personal context, but when you’re using a template, it is absolutely critical. After all, you don’t want to forget to replace the name of an organization or the hiring manager, and using the wrong one will immediately land your application in the “pass” pile.

• Take stock of other aspects of your application.

Of course, your cover letter isn’t the only part of your application that matters. Be sure to take a careful look at anything else you mention in your cover letter — your website, portfolio or LinkedIn profile, for example — to ensure that everything is carefully proofread and consistent with your resume and cover letter in structure, tone and format.

• Follow the employer’s directions.

Follow any and all directions the employer gives. If the job listing says not to include a cover letter, then don’t include one. If it says applications without a cover letter won’t be considered, you absolutely must send one. In some cases, a cover letter may be optional. Optional isn’t really optional here — they’re much more likely to have a favorable opinion of your application if you include one.

This goes for other parts of your application, too. For example, you may need to include other supplements, such as writing samples. Don't overlook any steps, because this could mean your application will be passed over, even if you're immensely qualified.

Cover letter sections 

Whether you're using a template or not, each cover letter you write should include these sections. 

Header

The header is the first part of your cover letter, appearing at the top of the page. It includes your contact information:

• Full name

• Address (this is becoming optional in the digital/remote work age)

• Phone number

• Email address

You may also choose to include your website or portfolio link and LinkedIn profile (but as a reminder, double-check the links and content).

Below your contact information, add the full date. If you’re sending a physical letter, include the recipient’s full contact information below that; in an email, the name of the recipient, their title and their email address will suffice. 

Salutation

If at all possible, find the right contact (usually the hiring manager). This may require a little research, but often, you'll able to locate it on the company website or LinkedIn. Once you have the name, use the proper honorific, such as Dr., Ms. or Mr., with their last name — again, you should be able to find this information from a LinkedIn profile or other digital materials.

If you can’t find the specific contact name, it’s acceptable to use a general greeting like “To the Hiring Manager.” Avoid "To Whom It May Concern" — this is somewhat outdated, as well as less specific.

Introduction

In your introductory paragraph, succinctly explain your qualifications and why you’re interested in the job. Name the specific job position and the prospective employer (i.e. I’m writing in regard to the marketing manager position at Smith Organization.) You may also explain how you learned about the opening, especially if someone from the organization referred you.

You want to hook your reader here, making your opening engaging so they want to keep reading. Be brief — you don’t want to overwhelm the hiring manager with information; just give them enough to compel them to finish the letter.

Body

The bulk of your letter will usually consist of about 2-3 paragraphs. It will provide a summary of your qualifications, including your applicable experience, skills, credentials and other information that can serve to demonstrate why you’re the right fit for the position to which you’re applying.

Focus on showing, not telling. Illustrate your experience with stories, examples and anecdotes, along with concrete data to back up your claims. This is also a good place to really demonstrate some of the skills that can’t be measured, such as communication and critical thinking, as well as provide ample evidence of how you put those qualifications into action.

Be careful not to just regurgitate your resume here. The hiring manager will have that at their disposal, too, after all. Instead, use your cover letter to highlight the most important points in your resume and provide more context and details about them, bringing them to life and turning them into a narrative, rather than just a list of facts and qualifications about you. Remember — the cover letter is there to show your personality and the story behind these facts.

Additionally, be sure to tie your own experiences to the company’s values, mission and goals. You should aim to demonstrate how your own values and goals could apply well to the organization and further their mission. You’ll need to do some research to demonstrate that you’ve learned everything you can about the company.

Final paragraph

The final paragraph should wrap everything up. Here, summarize your interest in the job and why you’d be a good fit for the role. Name the organization and role again (i.e. I would be thrilled to join Smith Organization as the marketing manager.) Give a soft CTA without being presumptuous or pushy — something like “I look forward to hearing from you in this regard” or “I’m excited to discuss the opportunity in greater detail.”

Sign off 

End with a respectful sign-off. For the most part, this should be formal — “Sincerely” is usually a good bet. Other options include:

• Regards

• Best regards

• Respectfully

Avoid overly casual or familiar sign-offs like “Cheers” or “All my best,” as well as old-fashioned or outdated options such as “Yours truly.”

If you’re sending a physical letter, provide ample space between the sign-off and your full name, and then sign the letter. In an email, simply type your name below the sign-off.

Cover Letter Template Download

Click here to open (in Google Docs) and download the cover letter template. Below, you will find a text version that you can copy and paste, if you'd prefer not to download. 

Sample Cover Letter (text version)

Lisa Jones
123 4th St. #5
Brooklyn, NY 11215
[email protected]
(234) 567-8910

March 1, 2021

Ms. Mary Smith
Director of Marketing, Home Company
567 Barnard Ave.
New York, NY 10018
[email protected]
(234) 123-4567

Dear Ms. Smith,

I am writing in regard to the marketing manager position at Home Company. Hannah Meed, my former colleague at Other Organization, urged me to reach out to you. As an experienced content marketer with over eight years of experience, I am particularly excited about the prospect of working with such a creative and innovative team.

After graduating with a BA in Communication from the University of Maryland, College Park, where I followed my passion for words as the editor for the university’s newspaper, I began my professional career at Other Organization, where I gained experience managing social media channels, developing content and participating in campaigns. 

One project I particularly enjoyed was when I served as the marketing lead for X product. Not only was I able to work with the art department to develop creative, appealing collateral, including email marketing, but I also worked with our social media manager to hone our messaging and increase our follower account by 15% thanks to targeted ads and posts about this product alone.

I’m particularly excited about Home Company’s mission to improve children’s literacy. This has always been a passion of mine; along with my work, I volunteer at the local library, helping out during storytime and tutoring kids to help them develop reading skills. I so admire Home’s support of this important work and hope to join you in furthering it.

I would be so excited to join Home Company as the marketing manager because of my experience and interest in deploying creative marketing methods, as well as our shared commitment to supporting the learning and development of children.

I look forward to hearing from you in this regard.

Sincerely,

Lisa Jones

5 ways to make your cover letter stand out to hiring managers — even if you're using a template

Depending on the position, a hiring manager could receive hundreds of cover letters from qualified candidates. So, how do you make sure yours stands out from the other templated cover letters out there?

1. Convey your personality and enthusiasm.

A cover letter is a formal document, but there is such a thing as too formal. Plus, you don’t want to sound stuffy. This is a place to make your personality shine. The hiring manager isn’t just looking for someone with the ability and qualifications to do the job. They also want someone who will fit in with the company culture and the particular team. 

Make sure to convey your enthusiasm as well. The hiring manager is looking for someone who’s excited about the job and passionate about their work.

2. Do your research.

Don’t just take a cursory look at the company website and call it a day. Study their social media accounts. Search for news about the organization. Read press releases.

The objective is to find out as much as you possibly can about the employer and their goals. This way, you can demonstrate in your cover letter and in subsequent interviews that you share the organization’s values and can be instrumental in furthering their mission. No, you don’t have to memorize every single fact about the business — it’s not a test — but you should know enough to sound competent and informed.

3. Include keywords.

Scan the job description for relevant keywords to include in your cover letter (along with your resume). This will be helpful for getting your application through an applicant tracking system (ATS), which flags cover letters and resumes by identifying keywords that match the ones the employer is looking for in candidates.

4. Use plenty of examples and anecdotes.

Add color to your narrative by using specific anecdotes. This is important for two reasons. First, it engages the reader with compelling stories and makes you sound more human — a real person behind the accomplishments. Second, it shows your skills and experience in action and provides some evidence of your qualifications. 

For example, it’s much easier to see that someone is adept at resolving conflicts when they can show a clear example of a time they’ve been able to handle a dispute with confidence and maturity.

5. Don’t regurgitate your resume.

We’ve said it already, but it bears repeating: never just regurgitate your resume in your cover letter. This is a place to go in-depth and expand on your qualifications, as well as bring yourself to life for the employer and hiring manager. You’re not just demonstrating that you have the talent — you’re also showing them that you have an engaging personality and are enthusiastic about the work.

It may seem tedious to have to write tailored, personalized cover letters to every employer, but once you have a solid template, it won't be as difficult to tweak and adjust it when you need to. It will be well worth the effort when you land an interview.

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