Writing Effective Cover Letters

Cover letters are daunting. The format is simple, but it can be tricky figuring out what to put in the letter. The cover letter’s purpose is to introduce yourself to employers and interest them in reading your resume.

Writing Cover Letter

A good cover letter can make the difference in landing your dream job, so make sure you spend time crafting it well. It is a huge mistake to use the same cover letter for each job, so start by researching the company.

After you’ve chosen the job you want to apply for, try to find out who will be receiving your application. You have to address your letter to someone, and it should not be, “To whom it may concern.” Look at the company’s website or job listing and see if you can find a name. If you can’t find a name on your own, call the company and ask who receives job applications.

Once you have a name, address your letter. Put your contact information at the top, followed by the name of the person receiving your letter and his or her contact information.

Be formal in the body of the letter, but try not to be stiff. You need to grab your recipient’s attention from the start, so try to think of an interesting way to begin your letter. One great method is to mention a common contact. For example, “I am writing to you because your colleague, John Smith, is a mutual acquaintance, and he suggested that I contact you regarding the open copywriting position at The Herald.” If you don’t have a common contact, you could try a short, interesting story that explains your interest, such as, “I have been a devoted reader of The Herald, since I was a child.” Whatever you open with needs to be interesting and concise, because you need to get to the real point of the letter.

Next, say why you are sending the letter. “I saw the financial advisor position posted on your website,” or “I am inquiring about any available positions in marketing at your company.”

After that, list your relevant experience and achievements, starting with the most impressive. “I can offer your company two years of experience in financial planning and expertise in…” Use achievements if possible, because generates more interest than simply listing experience. Anything you did to add value to a previous company, honors you received, or changes you might have made to existing processes are perfect examples, because they show a proven record of excellence in your field. When listing achievements, be as specific as possible, and use numbers that measure the impact you made when available.

After listing your experience, close the letter by proposing a meeting and saying how and when you will follow up with the recipient. For example, “I will call in two weeks to discuss any questions you may have about my experience.” Often, recruiters and employers become busy with other things, so by stating when you’ll contact them, you’ve eliminated work for them and shown your enthusiasm for the job. Make sure you follow-through with your commitment. Set a reminder on your phone or computer, and call at the appointed time.

End with your handwritten signature, followed by your typed name in the case of printed letters. In email, eliminate the signature and finish with your typed name.

General Tips

  • Don’t add phrases saying your resume is attached or enclosed, because the recipient can already see that.
  • Keep cover letters brief. Employers are busy, and you just want to generate enough interest for them to read your resume. Do not go over one page.
  • After your introduction, it is acceptable to use bullet points to list your experience, as long as you use complete sentences and make no more than three separate points.
  • Do not copy and paste details from the job description into your cover letter. It is acceptable to list key requirements that you meet, but use your own words.
  • Keep fonts readable and professional. If you do find that you have gone over one page, you may be able to reduce the size of your font, but don’t go below 10 point fonts.
  • Reread your cover letter before you submit it and make sure it demonstrates both knowledge of the position you are applying for and your enthusiasm for the job.
  • Proofread your cover letter before you submit!

Helpful Links for Samples and Advice

Peggy Carouthers

Author: Peggy Carouthers

In a previous life Peggy worked as a human resources and hiring manager for a major national retail chain. Her expertise is in job hunting, hiring, and HR. These days Peggy works as a writer, crafting content for a range of publications.
Peggy Carouthers