It’s a good time to be a job seeker: U.S. job growth is strong, unemployment is on a steady decline, and openings are at an all-time high.
That doesn’t make the search any less daunting. Differentiating yourself from every other job seeker on the market is no small feat, and the monotony of filling out online applications can make the task downright exhausting. That’s where a killer cover letter comes in.
Done right, a great cover letter is like a secret weapon for catching a hiring manager’s attention. Next to your resume, it’s one of the most important, underutilized tools at your disposal.
Here are some cover letter writing tips, and a free, downloadable template, to make yours stand out.
Every cover letter you write should be tailored to the job you’re applying for — just like your resume. Study the job posting carefully, and make a quick list of any essential qualifications.
“Job seekers really struggle with what to say on a cover letter,” says Jessica Holbrook Hernandez, President and CEO of Great Resumes Fast. “Taking a second to think about why you’re applying, and why you’re a good fit for the company, makes the process a lot easier.”
If you’re adding a cover letter to an online application, use a business letter format with a header and contact information. If you’re sending an email, it’s OK to leave out the header, but be sure to provide a phone number (and an attached resume, of course). Make sure you’re clear about the position you’re applying for.
Avoid nameless salutations — it might take a little Google research, and some LinkedIn outreach, but finding the actual name of the position’s hiring manager will score you major brownie points. “Do not start a cover letter with, ‘to whom it may concern,’” Holbrook Hernandez says. “It concerns no one.”
2. Tell a Story
To grab a recruiter’s attention, a good narrative—with a killer opening line—is everything.
“The cover letter is a story,” says Satjot Sawhney, a resume and career strategist with Loft Resumes. “What is the most interesting thing you’re doing that’s relevant to this job?” Use that to guide your letter.
Ideally, the story that drives your resume will focus on a need at the company you’re applying for. If you’re a PR professional, maybe you have a list of clients in an industry the team wants to break into. If you’re in marketing, a successful promotional campaign might be the ticket in. “A hiring manager wants to see results-driven accomplishments with a past employer,” says Holbrook Hernandez. “If you’ve done it before, you can deliver it again.”
If you have a career gap or are switching industries, address it upfront. “If there’s anything unique in your career history, call that out in the beginning,” says professional resume writer Brooke Shipbaugh.
(Here’s a downloadable sample.)
3. Use Bullet Points to Show Impact
Hiring managers are usually slammed with applications, so short, quick cover letters are preferable to bloated ones, says Paul Wolfe, Senior Vice President of human resources at job site Indeed.
“Make your cover letter a brief, bright reference tool,” he says. “The easier you can make it on the recruiter the better.”
Bullet points are a good tool for pulling out numbers-driven results. Job seekers in creative fields like art and design can use bullets to break down their most successful project. Those in more traditional roles (like the one in the template), can hammer off two or three of their most impressive accomplishments.
4. Highlight Culture Fit
It’s often overlooked, but a major function of the cover letter is to show a company how well you’d mesh with the culture.
As you research a potential employer, look for culture cues on the company website, social media, and review sites like Glassdoor. Oftentimes, employers will nod to culture in a job posting. If the ad mentions a “team environment,” it might be good to play up a recent, successful collaboration. If the company wants a “self-starter,” consider including an achievement that proves you don’t need to be micromanaged.
The tone of your letter can also play to culture. “The cover letter is a great place to show [an employer] how you fit into their world,” Shipbaugh says. “Show some personality.”
5. End with an Ask
The goal of a cover letter is to convince the person reading it to make the next move in the hiring process — with a phone call, interview, or otherwise. Ending on a question opens that door without groveling for it.
“You have to approach this with a non-beggar mentality,” Sawhney says. “Having an ‘ask’ levels the playing field.”
Related: What Your Resume Should Look Like in 2018
Top 10 Cover Letter Writing Tips
Advice for Writing a Top Notch Cover Letter for a Job
When you need to write a cover letter to apply for a job, it's sometimes the small things that can make a big difference. The closer to perfect your letter is, the better your chances of getting the interview.
Review these tips and techniques for writing top notch cover letters to send with your resume, including format and presentation, advice for choosing a type of cover letter, writing custom cover letters, how to send, and examples and templates.
01Select the Right Type of Cover Letter
There are several types of cover letters that can be sent to employers and contacts. Be sure to choose a type of cover letter that reflects how you are applying for the job or the type of job search assistance you are requesting.
Your cover letter should be designed specifically for the purpose you are writing and customized for each position you seek. Review samples of each type of cover letter, then pick the one that works best for you.
02Try to Find a Contact Person
When it comes to cover letters, taking the time to get personal is really important. Find out as much as you can about the company and the hiring manager.
Personalize your cover letter and, if you can, address it to the individual responsible for hiring. If need be, research online or make a phone call to find out who the hiring manager is.
03Address Your Cover Letter Correctly
How to address a cover letter can be tricky if you are responding to a blind ad and don't have a contact person's name to include or you don't know the hiring manager's gender. Here's how to address a cover letter.
04Review Cover Letter Examples
Take the time to review cover letter examples before you start writing your own, then make sure that your letter explains how your skills relate to the criteria listed in the job posting.
Here's a selection of professionally written cover letters for a variety of jobs to give you inspiration for your own job search correspondence.
05Format Your Cover Letter Properly
How you format your cover letter, both from a content (the information you include) and a presentation (what your cover letter looks like) perspective is important.
Even when applying online or via email, your cover letter needs to be properly formatted, readable, and without any mistakes.
Here's how to format a cover letter.
06Include Keywords in Your Cover Letter
It's important to include skill, results and recognition keywords which match the description of the job for which you are applying and attest to your credentials in your cover letter to increase your chances of getting selected for an interview. Here's how.
07Write a Custom Cover Letter
It can be time-consuming to write a custom cover letter for each job you apply for, but it's important to take the time and effort to show the company why you are a good match.
Review these guidelines for matching your qualifications to a job description.
08Start From a Cover Letter Template
A cover letter template can be a good way to get started writing cover letters to send with resumes when you apply for jobs.
Use a cover letter template as a starting point for creating your own personalized cover letter by adding your own information to the template.