Nowadays companies have a computerized system that sends résumés through an online scanner that automatically rejects some applicants and forwards other applicants based on their qualifications.
What does this mean for you as a job seeker? Well, the cover letter that came with your application is more important than ever.
Have you been asked to include a cover letter with your application? Maybe you have a hard time writing one that does an interview, or you have no idea what that is.
Whatever your situation, we’ve created this ultimate cover letter guide. You’ll learn how to read one that’s read, what to include, and browse tons of templates for inspiration.
Are you ready to get the job of your dreams through a perfectly crafted cover letter?
You can dive right in or jump to the section you want to read.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a one-page document that is used to get a hiring manager to an interview. They are more detailed than traditional resumes and explain why you are well suited for the job. Cover letters are used in conjunction with a resume and are required for applications in various industries.
How long should a cover letter be?
Okay so you’re all excited and ready to start creating the hiring manager dream cover letter. That’s great! But how do you strike the fine balance between profound and overwhelming?
A good cover letter is long enough to communicate why the recruiter should choose you … but not long enough to bore them long enough to need a strong coffee.
One page is usually enough to cover everything you need to add without losing the recruiter’s attention and tossing your cover letter in the trash.
Let’s take a closer look at these points:
Your name and address
Start your cover letter by adding your name and address to the document.
This step is pretty self-explanatory, but it allows the recruiter to easily tie your cover letter to your resume (especially if they are in print).
Your name and address also make it easier for the recruiter to contact you with a job offer. And that’s the aim of our letter, isn’t it?
Your name and address
Likewise, be sure to include the name and address of the company or person you are writing to.
This shows that you’ve done your research and allows the hiring manager to receive your letter when it is sent to a general corporate email address.
The date of writing
Make it easier for the recruiter to apply by including the date in your cover letter.
Even if you don’t succeed this time, the company can save your letter and refer to it if they hire another job!
Why are you writing the letter
We know the goal of a cover letter is to convince the hiring manager that you are the best fit for their job. But make sure to open your letter strongly, with 1-2 sentences that grab their attention and quickly let them know that they are reading a cover letter.
Something like this will usually do the job:
“I’m writing to discuss the role of the content strategist at HubSpot.”
Why you are perfect for the job
The next section of a cover letter structure is the fun part – this is where you’re convincing the hiring manager that they should hire you – rather than the person whose résumé lies behind you.
In this section, answer these questions:
- Why should this company hire you?
- What skills do you have that will help you do the job better than anyone else?
- What makes you a good employee?
- What additional qualifications do you have that are relevant for the position?
Once you’ve answered these, the recruiter will have a solid understanding of who you are and (hopefully) be confident to hire you!
What you can offer the company
Have you ever heard the advice to always sell yourself in an application? This concept can be applied to cover letters, but remember that recruiting is not just about you.
Companies measure success by results. Anyone looking for a new employee would like to know what they bring with them and how they will shape the future of their company. New candidates are rarely brought on board simply because of the soft skills listed in their résumé.
Therefore, this part of your cover letter is arguably the most important.
Show the company what you can do in less than two paragraphs – and prove you’ve done it before (ideally with examples).
Not only does this give you an opportunity to demonstrate your skills, but the company can also imagine the success your hiring will bring to their business.
In the marketing world, we’re always told how important a call-to-action can be. Don’t leave them to your blog posts, however: explain your availability to the person reading your cover letter so you have the best chance of a follow-up call.
Great cover letters end with a short section about the candidate’s earliest starting date. You can also indicate your availability for an interview and let them know that you are happy to answer any questions they have.
How to address a cover letter
We have already mentioned the importance of addressing the hiring manager by name and address. This proves that you’ve done your research and ensures that the cover letter lands in the right place.
Personalized content scores 42% better than non-personalized content, so providing the recruiter’s first name can go a long way.
But in a world where privacy is very important to us, you may need to do a little research before revealing the name to which your letter will be addressed.
Fortunately, you can use the power of the internet to do this. To find yours:
Go to LinkedIn and find the company’s profile page. They can do this by typing their name in the search bar or by looking for a link to their LinkedIn page on the company’s website.
Then click the number of employees to see all of the employees who are on LinkedIn:
You will then be greeted with a list of everyone (with a LinkedIn profile) who work for your target company. Simply work your way through this list to find the most relevant contact or search for one
- personnel manager
- HR manager
- Recruiting Manager
… to find the right name for your cover letter.
The address of the company you want to apply to can be found on the company’s website under the About Us or Contact Us page.
This should be in your navigation bar, but it can also be found by Googling your URL and “Contact”.
You should find an address for the company on this page. If not, don’t worry. Simply call one of the numbers listed or send an email to the support team. Ask for the company’s general career email address and include it in your cover letter.
Open cover letter
Well done! You have dug up everything it takes to write a cover letter. It’s easy from here.
Now that you’ve addressed the cover letter to the most relevant person, we need to start the cover letter with something relevant.
“Dear Mrs. H.Spot” (with your own initials of course) will keep it professional.
However, if you are having trouble revealing the hiring manager’s name, stick with “Dear Sir or Madam” or “Dear Hiring Manager”.
How to include a cover letter
After you’ve followed the cover letter structure above and stated your availability, it’s time to finalize it.
When you have addressed the letter personally, finish with “Thank you”.
If not, select “Sincerely”.
Then sign the cover letter with your full name.
Should you include salary requirements?
Talking about money is a sensitive subject. Some may feel uncomfortable talking about wages the first time they contact a company, so it is best to avoid the salary requirements on your cover letter unless stated as a requirement.
Including salary requirements in your cover letter might sound bad. Instead, let your letter demonstrate your skills and make a compelling case as to why they should hire you.
Save yourself the money talk until your interview!
Are cover letters necessary?
Cover letters are often a mandatory field for online applications. But do you really need to provide one when it’s optional, emailing your resume, or applying in person?
A few years ago the answer was not clear, but today cover letters are more important than ever.
In 2017, only 26% of recruiters considered cover letters important in their decision to hire an applicant. That means they had an impact on hiring decisions, but not significantly.
However, according to a 2021 study, 83% of recruiters agree that a well-written cover letter gives you an opportunity to show that you are a good fit for the company you are applying for, although it is not strictly necessary. In addition, 83% of respondents stated in a separate question that a good cover letter can secure you an interview even if your resume is not good enough.
If these statistics aren’t enough to convince you of the importance, 74% of hiring decision makers prefer applications that include a cover letter in addition to résumés. And even if submitting a cover letter is optional, 77% of recruiters prefer candidates who have sent a cover letter.
With 69% of surveyed workers believing it will be a lot or a little more difficult to find a job in 2021 than in previous years, adding a cover letter to your application is a great way to stand out from the crowd.
Especially since only 35% of applicants include a cover letter with their application if this is optional and only 38% of applicants submit a cover letter if this is necessary.
Writing a cover letter gives you the opportunity to communicate with the hiring manager. You have more space to tell them why you are a perfect fit for their job, which means you don’t have to rely on bulleted lists on your resume.
Cover letters also help build your personal brand. By going the extra mile (even if it isn’t required), you demonstrate key skills like hard worker, good communication, and initiative.
In short: cover letters are not absolutely necessary, but they have clear advantages. If there is an option to upload one when applying for a position, do so – even if it is not required!
How do I write a cover letter
Writing a cover letter can be difficult. Even the best writers can struggle to get their skills across in the right way, but these tips will help you create an in-service document.
The structure of your cover letter is probably the most important thing when writing a cover letter.
Not only will a good structure help you organize your points effectively, but it can also help a hiring manager quickly review the details you have shared.
Recommended Resource: 5 Free Cover Letter Templates
Download these free cover letter templates to help you write a great cover letter.
7 tips for writing great cover letters
So you’ve created a cover letter and you’re almost ready to send.
Now wait a minute …
Before you attach your resume and hope for the best, use these seven tips to make sure your cover letter is as good as possible:
1. Don’t babble.
Before that, we mentioned how the best cover letters strike the perfect balance in length.
Our best tip for writing cover letters is to avoid any chatter. Don’t add fluff that doesn’t add anything of value. Not only are you wasting your time writing, you’re wasting the hiring manager’s time too.
You want to keep the recruiter’s attention, which is easy to get lost in chatter. Cut off the jargon and corporate language that hiring managers have heard before. (Like “leverage” and “thinking outside the box”.)
Yes, professionalism is important, but be tough and critical when working on your cover letter. If a sentence doesn’t add any value, let go of it!
2. Customize it for the company and position you are applying for.
The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t go well with cover letters.
You’re applying for different positions at different companies, but don’t just get a name and address change.
Remember that a cover letter should explain why you should be hired for a specific position rather than someone else. It is very unlikely that multiple companies will hire the exact same position. So take some time to personalize your cover letter for each position you are applying for.
3. Add more value to your resume.
While cover letters are used in conjunction with resumes, don’t fall into the trap of making copies of each other.
Cover letters that reflect everything that has already been explained on a résumé are useless. Instead, use the documents to complement each other by:
- Including new skills.
- Explain how your qualifications would help you in the role.
- Share how specific experience gives you an edge over other candidates.
If you need to be the same in both documents, please add “as listed on my resume …” instead of copying and pasting the same content.
Put yourself in your recruiter’s shoes: Reading the same thing over and over would be annoying, wouldn’t it? (Remember, we don’t want to bore you!)
4. Add data-driven examples.
If you refer to experiences from your résumé, use your cover letter as an opportunity to explain in detail – with examples.
Using examples, the company can imagine the success you could get if they hired you, rather than the person next on their résumé pile. But data-driven examples offer an additional benefit.
Let’s take an example. Which of these options is more impressive?
- I’ve increased the leads for the company.
- I increased leads by 35% in a month from a single blog post, which has become the company’s biggest source of income.
It’s option B, isn’t it?
5. Tell a story.
Following the previous step, you can further elaborate on your data-driven examples by telling a story.
Storytelling helps with the attribution and gives an indication of your personality in a cover letter. The recruiter also remembers your cover letter amid a host of other one-page documents in their review pile.
However, this cover letter tip has a warning: don’t overdo it and make it relevant. Do you remember what we said about the chatter?
A story about how you adopted your house cat is unlikely to make anyone hire you. On the flip side, is a story about how you developed a company’s blogging strategy to get your data-driven results.
6. Get a second pair of eyes.
Even the best writers occasionally make mistakes, but some hiring managers can be strict with grammatical errors – even if you’re not applying for a position where writing is a big part of your day-to-day duties.
That’s why our sixth cover letter tip is to cast a second pair of eyes on it.
Email it to a friend or ask a family member to review it before you hit the send button. Ask them to highlight spelling mistakes or suggestions to improve communication with the person reading it.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Since a cover letter is one of the first documents a recruiter sees, try to get it perfect!
7. Be unique.
After all, you make your cover letter unique.
When applying for a creative position, experiment with colors, subheadings, and layouts.
If you’re applying for a more traditional position, be careful. Not everyone is a fan of bright, bold cover letters, but you can push your limits by getting a feel for their company culture.
Are they strict and professional or does the company like to have fun? (You can usually see this on their website or on their social media profiles.)
Testing uniqueness can be a trial and error. If your cover letter doesn’t get a good response, revise it and try again.
Examples of cover letters
We know that inspiration can go a long way. For this reason we have created a one-stop-shop for cover letter examples, which you can view here.
You can also browse our collection of cover letter examples for additional inspiration on formatting your cover letter and to learn from those who helped find dream jobs.
Congratulations! You now have a fantastic cover letter!
Don’t forget to send it with your resume for each position you apply for.
You will soon be flooded with responses to your application – including compliments on the content of your cover letter, job offers or invitations to job interviews!
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2018 and has been updated for completeness.