Ch. 3: How to Write a Cover Letter
In the previous section, Ch.2: Cover Letter Format, we covered how to professionally build your cover letter to meet the expectations of recruiters. Here, we'll discuss how to write your cover letter, section-by-section to create the best letter possible to land an interview.
Knowing how to write a cover letter is key to coming off as a professional and landing the job interview you want. Since it's the first impression a prospective employer will have of you, make sure the document is clear and concise and conveys how you want to be received.
Luckily, writing a cover letter has become very standardized, which means there aren't that many differences when it comes to format. However, fitting your qualifications and achievements into three small paragraphs can be much more difficult than writing something long-winded.
While learning how to write a cover letter, be sure to keep in mind that you can only include so much, so only include the most important, most relevant factors to get your point across.
How to Write a Cover Letter:
A strong cover letter is comprised of 3 components: the introduction salutation, the body paragraphs, and the conclusion, including salutation, signature, and other information.
1. Introduction Salutation
Show them you did research and know whom you are talking to. If you can, used social media outlets like Facebook and LinkedIn to find out who'll be receiving your application and address it to them. You'll catch their attention much more efficiently by stating their name, giving your application priority over others.
2. Body Paragraphs
This is where you should let your uniqueness shine. Use the body section to show where you came from, what you've achieved, and what skills you have to meet their need. Write about situations that are relevant to the job and highlight a skill they're looking for without restating the information on your resume.
Give them great examples and tell compelling stories, engaging their attention. Highlight your key accomplishments and show them how you can fulfill the job position. Give them something they want.
The first paragraph should remain relatively short and concise. Use it to grab them with a strong introduction, introduce yourself, and explain why you're contacting them. Include your name, the position you're applying for, and where or how you found out about it.
If you know anybody that works at the company (or any person you can name drop) list them and tell how you know them or that they referred you. Referrals have much more impact on employers than blind-hires.
The second paragraph is where things can become more difficult since it's the heart of your letter. Use this section to show how you can meet the need they have as a company by showing how you've addressed similar situations in the past using specific examples and instances from prior experience.
Highlight aspects of recent work that relate to the position you're applying to, and how you've gone above and beyond to accomplish goals relating to it. You're free to use experience from education, work, or volunteer/charity as long as you don't simply repeat what's on your resume.
Use this section to elaborate on accomplishments that your resume might not speak to. You want to use this paragraph to highlight your strengths and make a good impression to your employer. Also, this paragraph can lead into the third paragraph where you can tie everything together and start wrapping up your message.
Tie everything together and show/explain how you're the best candidate for the position with the third paragraph. Further tailor yourself to the position and summarize your accomplishments in a way that casts you as the candidate who will solve their problem. This is what the main objective of the third paragraph is. Tell them how you can help.
You can elaborate on aspects of your qualifications that don't directly relate to your experiences as well, but would be beneficial to the employer. Think outside the box here and be creative with the connections you make. Everything in this paragraph should show them how you can solve their issues.
Lastly, tell the employer that you look forward to hearing from them and specify a date in which you intend to follow up on your application. It is important that you tactfully ask for an interview in the closing. Which leads into the final section of the letter content.
3. Closing Salutation & Signature
Ask for the interview. There is one reason for writing a cover letter and resume, and that's to get an interview. Thank them for their consideration in advance. Let them know you would like a follow up and put a future meeting on the table.
Don’t drag it out. Be clear and concise. Rewrite your phone number and give them an invitation to call you anytime to schedule an interview.
Cover letter conclusion example:
Cover Letter Tips - Dos:
Writing your cover letter with these three blocks will set the foundation for your document, but it is important that you follow a few rules to enable your cover letter to hit a home run. Up next are six things you need to consider while writing.
1. Know your audience
It is vital that you know whom you are talking to. Just like you resume, you want to draft your cover letter with a prospective employer in mind and write for them. Do research on the company you want to work for and determine the gate-keeper.
Write for them and focus on what their company needs. It doesn't matter what you want as a job seeker so much, as it does what you can do for them to meet the needs of the company. Use your cover letter to demonstrate how you can help.
Researching your company is easy with today’s technology. Google and LinkedIn are powerful tools for researching anything you need regarding the job market. You can find the company's website and specific individuals who work for there. It is good to research both the company and specific people.
You can use the company’s website to find the name of the person you want to write to, their exact title, what they need--really anything you need to know. If you can’t find what you need on the company’s webpage, you can search Google for online directories--usually just typing in the name of your company can pull up all kinds of documents and archives on your prospective employer.
Be friendly, professional, and enthusiastic about the field you are applying to. Nobody wants a robot that churns out blanket statements and boring sentences. Show that you want to work in your field and that you are good at what you do and that you love it.
Be engaging. Ask questions your prospective employer probably asks themselves and answer them with examples of how you tackled obstacles and accomplished similar tasks that align themselves with what the company needs.
3. Be Compelling
Don't be boring. Most people remain too stuffy in their letters and use the same cliche statements; "I'm responding to...; I can do...". Instead, tell about interesting adventures that demonstrate skills you can bring to the table. Talk of your travels and combine that with lessons you learned that also apply to the position.
Tell a story to demonstrate your skills instead of just saying you have the skills. It is more interesting and memorable to tell about the time your skills were put to the test and how you rose to the occasion.
4. Be Concrete
Avoid the abstract. Give specific accounts and tell about actual stories that tie in with concrete skills and accomplishments that are relevant to what the company needs for the job. Don’t use flowery language and give very specific examples on why you are great and can help the company be great.
5. Be Concise
Employers go through roughly 200 cover letters per position, so to have the best chance of staying out of the trash, keep it short and sweet. Avoid being redundant in your cover letter. It is important to be direct and cut to the chase.
Don’t drag the cover letter out and don’t add too much irrelevant personal information. The whole document should stick to the three blocks and be about three paragraphs—try to stay about one page long, three-quarters if possible
6. Sell Yourself
A well written cover letter enables you to make a great first impression and is meant to highlight your strengths and to sell yourself to your prospective employer. Don’t sound too haughty, but it’s okay to brag on yourself a little—as long as you have concrete instances to demonstrate your skills.
Highlight your successes and reinforce your resume; don’t repeat it, but back it up with examples of why you are the best at what you do. It really sound expound upon the achievements in your resume, or add some depth that your resume can't convey.
Among all things, be sure to use strong verbs and strong examples-- remember, be compelling. Knowing what to avoid can be as important as knowing what to do. You can avoid mistakes that can potentially land your document in the trash can.
Cover Letter Tips - Don'ts:
1. Don’t Be Dull
Spice it up a little. Don’t write like a robot and show some personality. Try to compel them and sell yourself. Show them how you fit the ticket and butter them up. Tell them what a great company they are and demonstrate how you can contribute to that greatness.
2. Don’t Talk About Salary
Just don't do it. You don't want want the main reason you want the job to be about money. It’s not important at this juncture and any talk of it can hinder negotiation tactics. Wait until you get an offer to negotiate salary--unless they bring it up before hand.
3. To Whom It May Not Concern
"To whom it may concern" is old and outdated, and it shows that you did no research in discovering who you will be talking to or who handles new hires. Find out who you are writing to; they will be more impressed if you call them by name in your letter--everyone loves hearing their name. It makes them feel important.
Use psychology to give you leverage of situations like this. It is important to show you did research and calling them by name makes it personal. If you can't find out who will be receiving your submission, omit the line altogether. It's redundant and wastes space that can be used on an example to strengthen your application.
4. Don’t Write Blanket Cover Letters
Tailor each one for a specific job so you can highlight specific skills that can fill the need of each job. You are twice as likely to get the job if you tailor the cover letter to the job you are applying for. You can adapt your stories to highlight specific requirements of a certain job. You never want to be sending the same cover letter for a fast-food job you would for a nursing job.
Each position is unique and so should each cover letter. Even though your stories might be the same, you can emphasize different points of them to highlight individual skills. To save time, you can create cover letters for categories of positions.
For example, create one cover letter for nursing and one for physician's assistant, and then change small amounts of information depending on the job you're applying to. This approach makes your job search much more efficient and saves a lot of time in the long run.
5. Don’t Use “I” Too Much
I, I, I, I. It gets redundant and sounds like you have no other words in your vocabulary. While your cover letter should be about you, you don't have to keep reiterating that. We already know it's about you, so try and come up with different subjects for your main sentences.
Try making some of the subjects about the prospective company, past companies, past experiences, and accomplishments. If you keep saying "I" it will make your cover letter dull and uninteresting.
6. Don’t Over Do It
Be clear and concise. Say what you need to and wrap it up. Like right now, with this guide. Remember that a cover letter is a document that, coupled with your resume, demonstrates your skills and highlights stories that enforce why you are the perfect fit for the position. Be clear, concise, and know to whom you are talking.
Sell yourself and demonstrate how you can meet their need. Spice up your writing and engage their attention. Show them you know how to write a cover letter. Always edit and make sure to be confident in your abilities and show it in your writing. You are the best fit, so demonstrate that to your prospective employer.
You cover letter should consist of an introduction salutation, three body paragraphs, and your conclusion salutation. For formatting the dates and contact information, check out Ch. 2 Cover Letter Format. To write a great letter, find out who your audience is and tell them, through examples, why you're the best candidate for the position.
Keep things streamlined, concise, and easy to interpret so that the reader can quickly draw information from it. Clutter may cause your application to be dismissed. Remember, they have a problem and are looking to solve it. Be the solution and you'll have no problem scoring an interview.