A cover letter is, in short, an introductory letter that highlights your key experiences that suggest you're an ideal fit for a job opening.
Your cover letter is arguably as important as your resume. That's because it serves as a more personalized, descriptive and job-specific extension of your resume.
But with a lot of pressure on you to make your cover letter engaging and attention-grabbing, how do you even start writing one?
Why Is a Cover Letter Important?
Cover letters give you the opportunity to add details about information mentioned very briefly (usually in bullet points) on your resume. Ultimately, your cover letter explains the experiences and skills that your resume simply cannot — such as gaps in your employment history, career changes, accomplishments that deserve more attention and more. They also allow you to differentiate yourself from candidates with similar experience on their resumes by giving you a chance to articulate yourself and your experiences in a way that's specific for the company and job for which it's hiring. At the same time, you can articulate your enthusiasm to work for the company or in that job role — something that isn't said on your resume.
While you don't have to start writing a cover letter from scratch each time (after all, the relevant experiences you include will be largely the same, unless you're applying for jobs across various industries), you should tailor your cover letter to the company and job. This might require some extensive revisions each time, but the efforts are worth it.
If you don't put the time and energy into crafting a cover letter for a specific job and company, it can actually hurt your chances of getting the job — even if you have all the right experiences on your resume. Let it be a warning that a hiring manager and Forbes contributor once admitted that he first gives cover letters a quick glance, discarding those that take obvious shortcuts, for example.
What Should Be Included in a Cover Letter?
What belongs in your cover letter should vary based on the company and job opening. That said, there are several key components that make up all well-written cover letters. Here are the main ingredients:
- An address to a specific recipient
- An intention for the letter (to what position you're applying)
- An introduction (preferably personalized)
- A sales pitch (an explanation of your relevant experience in a way that can be valuable to the company)
- Why you want to work for the company in that role (should be specific)
- A call to action (a line or two stating that your contact information where you can be reached to talk more)
- A signature
With that said, let's dive into some common questions surrounding cover letters.
1. Who Do You Address a Cover Letter To?
Your cover letter should be addressed to the person who posted the job ad. If there is no name listed, do your research and see if you can find out who is behind the recruitment efforts for this job. If you cannot find anyone, you can address the cover letter the company or team.
2. What Is the Best Greeting for a Cover Letter?
The best greeting for a cover letter is a personal greeting while being very specific and intentional about why you're reaching out. First and foremost, you should let the job advertiser know why you're reaching out and how you found the job posting. You might let them know that you're reaching out in regards to their opening for their manager position, which you found on Fairygodboss.
Then personalize the greeting if you can. For example, if you know something about the person who posted the job advertisement — perhaps you admire some of their recent work or you have a mutual connection — be sure to mention it.
After you explain your intentions and engage the reader by making it personal, you can dive into your own introduction and your cover letter's contents.
3. How Do You Introduce Yourself in a Cover Letter?
Introduce yourself by suggesting that you're interested in the job advertisement. You might want to share your current job title if it's relevant, as well. For example, you might say "My name is X, and I'm reaching out in regards to your senior editor opening I found on Fairygodboss. I'm currently a senior editor at Y magazine, and I am confident that my experience will prove valuable to your company."
4. What Are You Supposed to Say in a Cover Letter?
Your cover letter should be clear and easy to read. It should read like a 10-second sales pitch, according to Live Career.
"The main body of the letter should give some specific examples of experience from your previous jobs, and how these skills can help the company," Live Career explains. "The purpose isn’t to brag about your experience, but to show why you’re the right person for this company. Focus on the benefits that you bring to the table."
Having knowledge of the company is helpful in tailoring your cover letter, since you can show how your experience is specifically helpful for that company or the particular position for which the company is hiring. (You should be researching the company anyway if you want to work there.)
Your cover letter should also include specific keywords that you find in the job advertisement. For example, if the job advertisement is looking for a detail-oriented and tech-savvy candidate who has extensive knowledge in code languages like HTML and CSS, you'll want to mention that you're a detail-oriented and tech-savvy candidate who has extensive knowledge in code languages like HTML and CSS.
"Often, hiring managers quickly scan a pile of cover letters and resumes rather than reading each one thoroughly; to overcome this, it’s smart to pepper your letter with a few keywords that fit naturally in the narrative," according to Live Career. "Keywords are specific little words that the employer might be looking for as they read. You’ll often find them in the job description, job requirements or preferred qualification sections of an application. Match cover letter keywords to the language the employer uses to make your cover letter stand out. For instance, if the employer is looking for someone with Microsoft Excel experience, you should mention your specific experience using Excel rather than saying you’re familiar with Microsoft Office products, in general. As the manager scans through your letter, “Excel” will catch her eye and she’ll give your application a closer look."
What Are Some Examples of Ways to Start a Cover Letter?
Here are some examples of ways to start a cover letter.
1. A Simple Cover Letter
2. A Cover Letter to Someone You've Met
3. An Experienced Cover Letter
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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.