How to Write a Great Cover Letter

December 5, 2017

careersbyjenn.comSome people are under the impression that a cover letter is no longer necessary. While this might be true in a few cases, it’s not in most.

If anything, a cover letter is an opportunity.

Instead of just re-hashing your resume in full sentences, (in which case, there is absolutely no point), your cover letter is a chance for your personality to shine through just a little before you ever get to an interview. It’s the perfect opportunity to highlight a few of the best reasons you would be the perfect fit for the job.

It’s a chance to sell yourself…

…in a non- “I’m the ONLY answer to your dreams” kinda way. Humility involved, this is your chance to choose a few of the top reasons you believe you are the solution to the hiring-manager’s problem. The cover letter allows you to expand a bit on some of your achievements, and it allows you to let some of your passion show for what it is you do. Remember, everything in moderation.

Best practices:

  • Customize, customize, customize! There is nothing that screams lack of care or attention to detail than a form-letter version of your cover letter, regardless of what job it is you are applying for. Be sure to choose the skills to highlight that would best fit each job posting. For example, if the job is for an event organizer, then be sure to mention your experience (love of, excitement about) organizing events.
  • Address it to an actual person. The old “To Whom it May Concern” or “Sir or Madam” is…well…old. With the internet and phone at hand, it is usually possible to find out the name of the person who heads up the department you are applying for. Do your research and find a name. If there is no name evident, then skip the greeting entirely or address it to Dear Hiring Manager. This is more personable than “Sir or Madam”…and I know that whenever I hear “Madam” I think of someone with the good fortune to have a butler. It just seems too formal.
  • Keep it to one page. Short and sweet, baby. One page is all you need. A greeting, an introduction, a paragraph or two and an ending.
  • Proof-read it. I am REALLY picky about this. Be sure you’ve done your best to spell things correctly and to have your formatting look nice. Have a friend or career coach look it over. Make sure another set of eyes has read it so that mistakes are caught before you send it. This is really important!
  • Use keywords. Even cover letters are getting put through automated systems now and so you want to be sure there are keywords from the job posting included in subtle ways in your cover letter. If the job is for a cook, be sure you mention cooking at least a couple of times in the letter.
  • Be wary of form letter templates. I say this for two reasons: firstly, if you are using a template, be CAREFUL to change every single bit of “sample” text so that nothing of the original gets accidentally left in. This is really key when you are sending the letter to multiple employers for multiple job postings. Secondly, if you are using a form letter template, especially a popular one, there is the danger of it sounding just like all the rest. (I can give you this example. I host the Careers by Jenn Podcast that publishes weekly. I get many, many requests from people to be guests on the show, and last summer seemed to get one a day that LOOKED EXACTLY THE SAME, except for the name of the person sending it. By the third one, I could tell it was a form letter, and I was annoyed. In fact, I called a couple of people on it, and one of them admitted it was a form letter, and we ended up having a lovely email exchange and in the end, I did have him on the show because he “came clean” about using the template. Again, nothing wrong with using one if you customize it enough that it isn’t instantly evident it’s a template.
  • Use humour sparingly. Humour doesn’t always translate properly in writing, (as those who text have discovered) and so be careful about the use of humour or sarcasm in a cover letter. Save that if you must for the interview, because a lot is lost in writing such a short bit and it would better serve you if it’s “straight-up.”
  • Sign it with a pen if sending a hard-copy. If you are sending a digital copy, then unless you have a photo signature (which is possible), you can print your name, but if you are handing in a hard-copy in person, be sure to sign your name above the printed version of it.
  • Include your contact info. Format the letter with your name, address, contact info at the top as per a regular business letter, followed by the name of the company and the address, then the date, then the greeting. (Do you remember having to write business letters in high school? I do. That format still works.)
  • Sign off with a respectful closing line. Words like, “sincerely” or “kind regards” or “with regards” or “respectfully” or if you want to, something like this, “thank you for taking the time to read this letter,” and then your name underneath.

 Cover Letter Ingredients

Your Name

Mailing address

Phone number

Email Address

(Date could go here or below as indicated.)

Employer Contact Info (Name of person if you have it)

Mailing address

Today’s date

Dear (first and last name of person if you have it, and if not, Dear Hiring Manager),

In this paragraph, explain what position you are interested in, and why. Really look at the job posting and make sure you use one or two keywords from it somewhere in this cover letter. This paragraph is for explaining why you would be excited to get the job…(a little about what you know about this company and how you might fit into its culture.) Be enthusiastic!

This middle paragraph would be where you highlight 2-3 skills you bring with you and why they would benefit the position you are applying for. Remember: YOU are the solution to their problem (again, with a hefty dose of humility in there) and so explain what you could do for them, rather than how this work would benefit you. This is where the skills you highlight need to match the skills being sought out in the job description. Explain (briefly) your experience with what they are looking for. Remember, you are not simply repeating your resume here, you are enhancing the information on your resume with an example or two that is tailored to the particular job you are applying for.

This third paragraph is where you offer to show samples of your work (if applicable) and where you make your final pitch, closing with something like, “thank you for your consideration of my application. I would be pleased to meet with you to discuss further possibilities.” This is where you say why you think you would be a great fit for what they are looking for. Again, do this with some enthusiasm!

End with a respectful closing line (see above),

Your name printed and, if hard copies are being handed in, an actual signature too.


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I wish you great success in your career goals!

~ Jenn

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