If you’re starting a job search in 2018, getting your cover letter right is just as important as perfecting your CV.
After hours spent crafting your CV, it can seem a little superfluous to transfer the information into letter format. However, your cover letter shouldn’t be a regurgitation of your CV. Instead, it should zoom in on a few key skills and experiences on your CV that the employer values the most. As a result, your cover letter should be bespoke for every application.
Some recruiters may receive hundreds of applications a day, so your cover letter gives you a chance to stand out from the crowd. With 57.1% of professionals ranking the cover letter as an essential application component, you can’t afford to leave it out.
We know that writing these letters can seem daunting at first, especially as it can feel like there’s a lot to remember. To help, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to building your cover letter and tailoring it for each opportunity you apply to.
Download our cover letter template
Do your research
Research is a crucial part of many aspects of job hunting, and before you begin writing your cover letter, you need to make sure you’ve done your research properly.
The important things you should research before writing are:
- Who will be receiving and reading your letter
- The skills and experience mentioned in the job description
- The company and its culture
- Their competitors and market position
- The sector and any recent news or trends
- The organisation’s aims for 2018 and beyond
Building up a good knowledge of the company and industry helps you to tailor your cover letter for each company you apply to, and shows your passion for the job and sector.
The basic format
There’s a basic format for writing a cover letter that you can follow each time. However, every letter you write should be tailored to the specific job role or company you’re applying for.
Your cover letter should address the following:
- Which position interests you and why
- Your most relevant skills and experiences
- How your skills and experiences can benefit the employer
- Requesting an interview
Below is a basic break down of how you should structure your cover letter for 2018:
How to structure and write a cover letter
In 2018, it’s very rare for cover letters to be hard copies as most are sent online. However, traditional cover letter conventions state that your cover letter should be written like any other formal business letter, even if you’re emailing it.
Start with your address and contact details in the top right-hand corner. Make sure your contact details are sensible – email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org won’t make you look very professional! You should then follow this with the address of the company you’re applying for and the date further down and on the left-hand side.
[Address Line 1]
[Address Line 2]
[Address Line 3]
[Company address line 1]
[Company address line 2]
Your opening paragraph should be short and sweet made up of three things: why you’re writing the letter, the position you’re applying for, how you found out about the position. For example: “I am writing to apply for the role of [job title], in response to an advert I saw on [name of job site]. Please find my CV attached.”
The second paragraph should be about you, expanding on your CV and giving a brief summary of any relevant skills or education you have. Remember, your cover letter shouldn’t be a copy of your CV; it should take your most notable achievements, explain a bit more about them, and then show how these skills could benefit the employer. Mirror the skills mentioned and the phrasing that’s used in the job description.
The third paragraph is your chance to show your knowledge of the company and the sector and go into detail about why you want to work for their company specifically. You should state how you can help the company and add to their success, as well as why you’ll fit in with the company culture and core values.
End your letter with a call to action. As you’re hoping to secure an interview, let them know your availability for a callback. If you plan to follow up with a phone call, say so! If you plan to wait for a response, close with “I look forward to hearing from you”. Thank them for taking the time to read your letter and sign off with:
Download our cover letter template
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Sending a cover letter online
With today’s technology, it’s common to send a cover letter – and a whole job application, for that matter – online or by email. This is especially common on job boards like CV-Library, and even with direct employers. If you need to send a cover letter online or via email, the approach you should take is a little different in terms of formatting.
If you just need to send your cover letter as an attachment, then write it as explained before. When it comes to saving it, make sure you use the .PDF file extension; any computer will be able to view the file, and all your formatting will be preserved.
Windows PCs use the .docx file extension for documents by default, whereas Macs use .pages. Avoid either of these, because there’s a chance that the employer won’t be able to open your cover letter. Stick with .PDF.
If you need to send your cover letter as the actual body text of your email, your approach will need to be slightly different. First, make sure you format the subject line of your email like so:
Application for [Job Title] – [Your Name]
If you were given a reference number, include that in the subject line as well. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to think about the layout of your letter. The paragraphs can be the same as a hard copy of your cover letter, but you can remove the addresses, date and signature.
If you’re applying for a job via a job board, you can sometimes afford to scale down your cover letter to key components. Check out this cover letter template for 2018:
I am interested in applying for the current vacancy you have for a [job title].
In my current role as [role title] with [company name], I am responsible for [insert relevant experience relating to job advert] but am currently looking to make a step up into a more challenging role with a reputable company who can offer career growth.
I am currently on a notice period of [notice period] and can interview immediately.
How long should my cover letter be?
Your cover letter should be no longer than a single A4 page. This can be tricky, especially since you want to impress the employer with all your skills and experience. But trust us; they simply won’t be interested in reading a 3,000-word essay. Even if they were, they probably just wouldn’t have the time! Keep it short, sweet, and simple.
Tailoring each cover letter
Each cover letter you write should be tailored specifically to the company and role you’re writing it for and should be detailed. Therefore you’ll want to avoid vague and generic phrases.
During the research stage, try to find the name of the hiring manager or whoever will be reading your letter. This way you can make the letter even more personal, and it will prove you’re a determined candidate who wants this job.
If you really can’t get hold of their name, you should instead start the letter with “Dear Sir or Madam” – but remember, if you don’t know their name, ensure you sign off your letter with “Yours faithfully” instead.
Read the job description so you can pick which of your skills or experiences to reference, and try to mirror some of the phrases they use in the job description. Illustrate your skills with examples to show why you’re the ideal candidate; as each company and role will be different, you’ll probably find that you’re using different examples on each letter.
Having done your research, you should also be able to talk specifically about the company in greater detail. Refer to their values or specific campaigns they have run that you enjoyed. This way they’ll know that you took the time to learn about their company and that you’re genuinely interested in them and the role.
When there’s no job advertised
If you haven’t seen an advertised position, but you’re contacting a company to find out if they currently have any vacancies, the format will be slightly different as you’ll be submitting a cold-contact cover letter.
You should address the letter formally as before, and try to get hold of the name of the hiring manager.
As you aren’t responding to a job ad, you should use your opening paragraph to explain why you’re writing to them and what it was that drew you to their company. If the reason for your application is a recommendation from someone, you know that already works there include their name.
You should also refer to the area of the company that you’d like to go into, for example, marketing or sales.
The body of the letter should remain relatively the same, highlighting your skills and experiences and giving detailed examples. Reiterate why you’re interested in their company specifically, talk about the sector and show that you’ve done your research.
In this instance, you should close the letter by thanking them for their time and expressing your interest in hearing from them with any available job vacancies that they may have.
Remember, each cover letter should be unique (even if you follow the basic format), and the aim is to make yourself stand out to recruiters. Follow these steps to writing your cover letter, and try to have fun with it!
In both your CV and your cover letter you should try to imagine yourself as a commodity and sell yourself to the company. There are several ways you can market yourself, and most of this will come from your research.
You need to demonstrate your knowledge of the company and the sector so that you can effectively explain why you’ll be beneficial to their company. As well as listing your skills and qualifications you could also demonstrate your interpersonal skills through talking about social activities and clubs.
All these aspects should help you build a case for why you’re going to add to the success of the company.
Top tips for success in 2018
Follow these cover letter tips for success to make sure you avoid making some fatal cover letter mistakes.
1. Keep it short
It may seem difficult with so much information to include, but you need to keep your cover letter short and sweet. Recruiters will give each letter about 20 to 30 seconds of their time, so it should be no more than an A4 page – they won’t trawl through ten pages, no matter how experienced and skilled you are.
2. Don’t just re-write your CV
The point of a cover letter is to expand upon your CV, not just re-write it—your CV should be attached to accompany your letter. Make sure you pick the most relevant examples and give details of your achievements.
3. Sign by hand
If you’re sending the letter in the post (old school, we know) then you should sign the letter by hand before you send it off—it adds a personal and more professional touch.
4. Sending online
Macs and PCs haven’t quite learnt to work in total harmony yet, and the last thing you want is the recruiter being unable to open your document. Instead, save your final CV as a pdf file; that way you know they’ll be able to open it on any device.
Once you’ve written your letter, check it over for mistakes and perhaps even have someone else read it over too. Recruiters aren’t going to take you seriously if you’ve made silly spelling or grammar mistakes.
6. Avoid clichés
Each letter should be personal, so avoid clichéd phrases that recruiters have read a thousand times! Don’t just say “I’m a team player”, these buzzwords and phrases won’t make you stand out. Instead, choose an example of when you worked well in a team and explain what happened and what you achieved.
7. Use numbers
If you can, use numbers or stats to illustrate your points as it’s a nice way to quantify your results and adds to the format of the letter.
8. Be creative
Writing cover letters doesn’t have to be boring; you can be a bit creative in your approach – especially if you’re going into a creative industry or job role. Play around with layouts and formats; as long as all the important information is in there and the layout isn’t distracting, have fun with it!
9. Use bullet points
This is not always necessary, but depending on the format you’ve chosen or the job role you’re applying for, bullet points could be an effective way of demonstrating your points and adding to the layout.
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Ah, the dreaded cover letter. Every time you sit down to write one, you probably browse cover letter examples online, get overwhelmed, and think something to the effect of: Does anyone really read these? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if I could just let my resume speak for itself?
First off: Yes, we can assure you that cover letters do, in fact, get read. In fact, to some hiring managers, they’re the most important part of your application. And yes, while it would be easier to let your resume speak for itself, if that was the case you’d completely miss the opportunity to tell prospective employers who you are, showcase why they should hire you, and stand out above all the other candidates.
Ready to get started? To make sure your cover letter is in amazing shape (and is as painless as possible to write), we’ve compiled our 31 best cover letter tips of all time into one place.
Read on—then get cover letter writing.
1. Don’t Regurgitate Your Resume
Instead of just repeating yourself (“I was in charge of reviewing invoice disputes”), use your cover letter to describe additional details that you weren’t able to squeeze onto the single page of your resume: “By resolving invoice disputes, I gained a deep analytical knowledge—but more importantly, I learned how to interact calmly and diplomatically with angry customers.” A cover letter gives you the freedom to use full sentences—instead of bullet points—so use them to expand upon your resume points and tell the story of why you’re the perfect fit for the company.
2. Think Not What the Company Can Do for You
A common cover letter mistake? Talking about how great the position would be for you and your resume. Frankly, hiring managers are aware of that—what they really want to know is what you’re going to bring to the position and company. On that note:
3. Clearly Show What You’re Capable Of
Beyond explaining what you’ve done in the past, show hiring managers what you can do in the future. “Determine the key requirements and priorities for this job, and make it instantly clear to the reviewer that you can deliver the goods on these key things,” says Jenny Foss, job search expert and founder of JobJenny.com. “Consider crafting a section within the letter that begins with, ‘Here’s what, specifically, I can deliver in this role.’ And then expound upon your strengths in a few of the priority requirements for that role.”
4. Showcase Your Skills
When you know you have the potential to do the job—but your past experience doesn’t totally sell you as the perfect one for the position—try focusing on your skills, instead. Here’s a template that helps you do just that.
5. …Not Necessarily Your Education
Many new grads make the mistake of over-focusing on their educational backgrounds. At the end of the day, what hiring managers care about most is your work experience (and yes, that can be volunteer or internship experience, too)—and what you can walk through the door and deliver on Day 1.
6. Don’t Apologize for Skills You Don’t Have
When you don’t meet all of the job requirements, it’s common for job seekers to use lines like, “Despite my limited experience with marketing…” or “While I only have work experience doing administrative tasks…” But why apologize? Instead of drawing attention to your weaknesses, try to focus on the skills you do have, says career expert Lily Zhang. “Stay positive, focus on your strengths, and immediately launch into your transferable skills and infectious enthusiasm for the position.”
7. Highlight the Right Experiences
Not sure what skills and experiences you should be featuring? Drop the text of the job description into a word cloud tool like Wordle, and see what stands out. That’s what the hiring manager is looking for most.
8. Tell a Story
What brings you to this company? Did you used to sing along to all of its commercials as a kid? Did the product make some incredible difference in your life? Do you sometimes pull into the parking lot and daydream about what it would feel like to work there? Stories bring your background and experiences to life, so feel free to tell them. (Just, you know, keep them short and to the point.)
9. Use a Few Numbers
When it comes to the job search, numbers often speak louder than words. “Offer stats to illustrate your impact on companies or associations you’ve worked for in the past,” suggests career expert and founder of ProfessionGalMegan Broussard. “Employers love to see numbers—it shows them that you speak their language and that you understand what they’re looking for in an employee: results.”
10. Consider Testimonials
If you have great feedback from old co-workers, bosses, or clients, don’t be afraid to use it! A seamless way to integrate a positive quote from a previous manager or client is to use it as evidence of your passion for your area of expertise. For example, “I have developed a keen interest in data science during my years working various political campaigns (as my past supervisor once said, I love Excel more than anyone she knows).”
11. Cut the Formality
“Don’t be overly formal (‘I wish to convey my interest in filling the open position at your fine establishment’),” writes career expert Mark Slack. “It makes you seem insincere and even robotic, not anything like the friendly, approachable, and awesome-to-work-with person you are.
12. Think Custom, Not Canned
Most companies want to see that you’re truly excited about the position and company, which means creating a custom letter for each position you apply for. “When a recruiter reads, ‘Dear Hiring Manager, I am so excited to apply for the open position at your company, where I hope to utilize my skills to progress in my career,’ he or she immediately recognizes it for what it is—a stock cover letter that you’ve mass-distributed to every place in town,” says Muse career expert Katie Douthwaite. And then probably throws it in the trash.
13. Start With a Template
That said, there’s nothing that says you can’t get a little help. Our easy, downloadable cover letter guide will walk you through, step-by-step, how to create a cover letter that rocks.
14. …Or Some Inspiration
Having trouble getting started? Check out 31 examples of how to start your cover letter in an engaging, attention-grabbing way or these eight examples of awesome cover letters that actually worked.
Give yourself a little (or big) boost by running your application by an expert
Talk to a Cover Letter Coach Today
15. Be Open to Other Formats
If you’re applying to a more traditional company, then the tried-and-true three-to-five-paragraph format probably makes sense. However, if you’re gunning for a more creative or startup job—or need to explain to the hiring manager, say, how your career has taken you from teaching to business development, a different approach could be appropriate. Here at The Muse, we’ve seen cover letters use bullet points, tell stories, or showcase videos to (successfully) get their point across. This professional even turned hers into a BuzzFeed-style list!
16. But Don’t Go Too Far
Like this guy did. Just—don’t.
17. Consider Adding a Headline
One formatting idea from The Undercover Recruiter? Add an eye-catching headline to your letter, like “3 Reasons I’m an Excellent Fit for the Marketing Manager Position.” Again, no one says you have to follow the tried-and-true format, and this can be an easy way to catch the hiring manager’s eye quickly.
18. Be Real
“Honest, genuine writing always goes much, much further than sticking to every dumb rule you’ve ever read in stale, outdated career guides and college textbooks,” explains Foss.
19. ...And Normal
We can’t tell you how many cover letters we’ve seen from people who are “absolutely thrilled for the opportunity” or “very excitedly applying!” Downplay the adverbs a bit, and just write like a normal person.
20. Cut the Fluff
Avoid, at all costs, describing yourself as a “team player” or a “people person,” says Broussard. “Instead, show off your skills with descriptive statements like ‘I’m an expert communicator with experience bringing together diverse departments to develop a cohesive program.’ It’s longer—but it’s also stronger.”
21. Write in the Company’s “Voice”
Cover letters are a great way to show that you understand the environment and culture of the company and industry and prove that you’ve got what they are looking for. So, always keep in mind who will be reading your cover letter, and tailor it to what you know will get them excited. Spending five or 10 minutes reading over the company website before you get started can be a great way to get in the right mindset—you’ll get a sense for the company’s tone, language, and culture, which are all things you’ll want to mirror as you’re writing.
22. Boost Your Confidence Before Writing
Writing guru Alexandra Franzen offers a simple mind trick that will dramatically change the way you write cover letters: Pretend. “Pretend that the person you’re writing to already loves and respects you. Pretend that the person you’re writing to already believes that you’re worthy and valuable. Pretend that the person you’re writing to doesn’t need a big sales pitch,” she explains. Then, write. Your words will come out so much easier. (Here’s more on how to do it.)
23. Have Some Fun With It
News flash: Cover letter writing doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, there are plenty of ways to spice it up! Hoping for a job at a startup? Making your cover letter more creative—whether you use a spunkier tone, play with the format, or make it more visual—will likely improve your chances of getting a call back. Applying for a corporate position? Stick with the traditional format, but make it more conversational, or include a story about how you first came in contact with the company or how much you love it. Much more fun, right? (Here are a few other ways to make cover letter writing suck less.)
24. Don’t Let Your Fear of Bragging Get in the Way
If you tend to have a hard time writing about yourself, here’s a quick trick: Imagine you’re someone else writing a letter about yourself. Think from the perspective of a friend, mentor, or previous employer—someone who would only sing your praises—and then write the letter from her point of view. If it helps, you can even write the letter in third person (i.e. “Erin would be a great fit for this position because…”). Just make sure you’re very careful about going back through and changing it to first person when you’re done!
25. Have Someone Gut Check It
Have a friend take a look at your cover letter, and ask him or her two questions: Does this sell me as the best person for the job? and Does it get you excited? If the answer to either is “no,” or even slight hesitation, go back for another pass.
26. Keep it Short and Sweet
There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general, for resumes and cover letters alike, don’t go over a page. “According to the Orange County Resume Survey, almost 70% of employers either want a half page cover letter (250 words) or ‘the shorter the better,’ approach,” writes Slack.
27. Don’t Start With Your Name
Because, well, the hiring manager can see it already on your resume. Get right to the point with what you can bring to the job.
28. But Do Include the Hiring Manager’s Name
Use the person’s first and last name, including a “Mr.” or “Ms.” (e.g., Mr. Jack Smith). Never use “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear or Sir or Madam”—nothing could be more generic (not to mention archaic). For more on addressing it correctly, read these cover letter rules.
29. Unless You Don’t Know It
OK, sometimes, even after hours of online searching (try these tips), you still might not be able to definitively figure out who exactly the hiring manager for the position you’re applying for is. If you can only find a list of executives and you’re not completely confident who the hiring manager is, use the head of the department for the position you’re applying for. If you really don’t have a name to use, try to still be as specific as possible in your greeting. Consider using “Senior Analyst Hiring Manager” or “Research Manager Search Committee”—something that shows that you’ve written this letter with a particular audience in mind.
We shouldn’t have to tell you to run your cover letter through spell-check, but here’s an even better step: Check out how the wording sounds to others using Hemingway. Drop your text onto the page, and the color-coded app will give your writing a once-over. Is a sentence too wordy, overly complex, or totally unreadable? It’ll be highlighted in red until you revise it. Tend to overuse the passive voice? Every instance of it will show up in green. The site will even recommend when you can use shorter or simpler words (Why take up precious resume space with “utilize” when you can say “use?”).
31. But Care Most About Standing Out
Perhaps the best piece of cover letter wisdom we can offer you comes from Foss: The most memorable cover letters are written by people who care less about the rules and more about standing out to the hiring manager. “Next time you sit down to write a cover letter, vow to not get uptight about all the tiny little ‘rules’ you’ve picked up along the way,” she writes. “Instead, buck convention. Be memorable. Nail the stuff that will make you a true standout.”