Writing Cover Letters
What is a cover letter?
To be considered for almost any position, you will need to write a letter of application. Such a letter introduces you, explains your purpose for writing, highlights a few of your experiences or skills, and requests an opportunity to meet personally with the potential employer.
Precisely because this letter is your introduction to an employer and because first impressions count, you should take great care to write an impressive and effective letter. Remember that the letter not only tells of your accomplishments but also reveals how effectively you can communicate.
The appropriate content, format, and tone for application letters vary according to the position and the personality of the applicant. Thus you will want to ask several people (if possible) who have had experience in obtaining jobs or in hiring in your field to critique a draft of your letter and to offer suggestions for revision.
Despite the differences in what constitutes a good application letter, the suggestions on these pages apply generally.
What to include in a cover letter
Try to limit your letter to a single page. Be succinct.
Assess the employer's needs and your skills. Then try to match them in the letter in a way that will appeal to the employer's self-interest.
As much as possible, tailor your letter to each job opportunity. Demonstrate, if possible, some knowledge of the organization to which you are applying.
Write in a style that is mature but clear; avoid long and intricate sentences and paragraphs; avoid jargon. Use action verbs and the active voice; convey confidence, optimism, and enthusiasm coupled with respect and professionalism.
Show some personality, but avoid hard-sell, gimmicky, or unorthodox letters. Start fast; attract interest immediately. For more information see Business Letter Format.
Arrange the points in a logical sequence; organize each paragraph around a main point.
How to organize a cover letter
Below is one possible way to arrange the content of your cover letter.
State why you are writing.
Establish a point of contact (advertisement in a specific place for a specific position; a particular person's suggestion that you write): give some brief idea of who you are (a Senior engineering student at UW; a recent Ph.D. in History).
Highlight a few of the most salient points from your enclosed resume.
Arouse your reader's curiosity by mentioning points that are likely to be important for the position you are seeking.
Show how your education and experience suit the requirements of the position, and, by elaborating on a few points from your resume, explain what you could contribute to the organization.
(Your letter should complement, not restate, your resume.)
Stress action. Politely request an interview at the employer's convenience.
Indicate what supplementary material is being sent under separate cover and offer to provide additional information (a portfolio, a writing sample, a sample publication, a dossier, an audition tape), and explain how it can be obtained.
Thank the reader for his/her consideration and indicate that you are looking forward to hearing from him/her.
Questions to guide your writing
Who is my audience?
What is my objective?
What are the objectives and needs of my audience?
How can I best express my objective in relationship to my audience's objectives and needs?
What specific benefits can I offer to my audience and how can I best express them?
What opening sentence and paragraph will grab the attention of my audience in a positive manner and invite them to read further?
How can I maintain and heighten the interest and desire of the reader throughout the letter?
What evidence can I present of my value to my audience?
If a resume is enclosed with the letter, how can I best make the letter advertise the resume?
What closing sentence or paragraph will best assure the reader of my capabilities and persuade him or her to contact me for further information?
Is the letter my best professional effort?
Have I spent sufficient time drafting, revising, and proofreading the letter?
*From Ronald L. Kraunich, William J. Bauis. High Impact Resumes & Letters. Virginia Beach, VA: Impact Publications, 1982.
How to format a cover letter
Type each letter individually, or use a word processor.
Use good quality bond paper.
Whenever possible, address each employer by name and title.
Each letter should be grammatically correct, properly punctuated, and perfectly spelled. It also should be immaculately clean and free of errors. Proofread carefully!
Use conventional business correspondence form. If you are not certain of how to do this, ask for help at the Writing Center.
For further information on cover letters contact the Career Advising and Planning Services and take a look at our workshp on Writing Resumes and Cover Letters (NB: this course not offered during the summer).
It took weeks to find *this* job. It took hours to get your resume right.
Almost there. You just need a cover letter.
You only get one shot.
You can’t just write a cover letter. It has to be perfect.
But… How do you write the perfect cover letter?
You know—the kind of letter that will make the employer call you up in the middle of the night?
Give us 10 minutes and you’ll know how to write a cover letter like that.
This guide will show you:
- How to write a cover letter better than 9 out of 10 others.
- A sample cover letter that will get you more interviews (and why).
- Cover letter writing tips and hacks to boost your chances of landing a job.
- Actionable ideas on how to start and end a cover letter, plus how to address it.
Ready? Take a look at this basic cover letter sample. What do you think makes it so special?
An example of a cover letter format for every job made with our resume and cover letter builder.
Read on! We’ll break down the formula in 8 simple steps.
The Secret Behind Every Successful Cover Letter?
See, all great cover letters have something in common: they’re based on a proven, effective template. Here’s what I mean:
Meet Jane, the candidate who wrote the cover letter above. She’s applying for a digital marketing manager position with a pharmaceutical company, XYZ Corp. The company is planning to launch a new flagship website.
Jane’s experience and knowledge make her a perfect candidate for this role. The purpose of her cover letter is to prove that she’ll be able to replicate her past success in the new position.
Right, so you’ve seen a perfect example of a cover letter for a job.
Now, let me explain what makes this sample cover letter great and how you can use this cover letter outline to make the most of each section.
Use a Professional Cover Letter Header
Yup, the basics first. The header of every professional cover letter for a job application should include the following:
- Your name
- Your telephone number
- Your email address
- The date
- The name of the hiring manager and their professional title
- The name and address of the company to which you’re applying
Optionally, you can add:
- Your professional title
- Your home address
- Links to your professional websites
- Your social media accounts (applicable only for LinkedIn and Twitter)
- Your city of residence (it’s not mandatory but adds a professional touch—include it if your cover letter is highly official)
Just remember to keep it professional:
- Use an email address from a respected provider—that means either Gmail or your personal domain (if you have one.)
- Your email address should only include your first and last name—firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com will be deal-breakers.
- Don’t use your current work email. It’s impolite to both your current and potential future employer.
- Make sure your contact information is consistent across your resume, cover letter, and social media profiles.
Pro Tip: Writing a cover letter with no name of the hiring manager available? In the addressee section include only the name of the department: for example, “XYZ Sales Department.”
Want to save time and have your professional job application ready in minutes? Here are a sample cover letter and a matching resume made with our resume and cover letter builder. Write your cover letter and resume here.
Resume and a sample cover letter for a job application. See +15 resume and cover letter templates and create your job application here.
Open Your Cover Letter with a Proper Greeting
Who do you address a cover letter to?
Directly to the hiring manager who’ll read it.
The greeting of your cover letter (i.e., the salutation) might be the very first thing the hiring manager sees. There’s one great, foolproof strategy to make your greeting catch her attention:
That’s right. Her name.
If we hear or see our name, we react. Focus on what comes next. There’s a lot of science behind this:
Once the hiring manager sees her name in the greeting of your cover letter, she’s going to feel like she’s found something tailored specifically for her. It will feel personal, she’ll know whatever comes next might just be the exact information she’s been looking for.
All of the following are good examples of professional cover letter greetings.
Sample cover letter greetings:
- Dear Katherine,
- Dear Miss Jones,
- Dear Ms. Smith,
- Dear Mrs. Ford,
- Dear Mr. McConnor,
Pro Tip: Wondering whether you should use the hiring manager’s first or last name? That depends on the company culture. If you’re applying for a position with a relaxed, casual company, use the first name. For corporate cover letters, it’s safer to go with the addressee's last name.
How do you find out the hiring manager’s name?
Do some research!
There are multiple ways to find out who your hiring manager is. You can learn about them in our dedicated guide: How to Address a Cover Letter: Sample & Guide [20+ Examples]
If you’re unable to find the name by any means possible, you’ll need to write a cover letter to whom it may concern.
Who to address a cover letter to if there’s no name of the hiring manager provided?
Have a look at those sample cover letter to whom it may concern greetings:
- Dear Sales Team Hiring Manager,
- Dear Hiring Manager,
- Dear [XYZ Company] Team,
- To Whom It May Concern
Pro Tip: If you’re not living in Victorian England, don’t start a cover letter with “Dear Sir or Madam.”
Done with the header and greeting? Now it’s time for the meat and potatoes. The central paragraphs of your cover letter.
How to get them right?
Go for the three paragraph cover letter format:
- The first paragraph to grab the hiring manager’s attention
- The second to show what you’ve got to offer
- The third to prove that you’ll fit in
Want to learn more about best professional cover letter formats? Read our guide: Cover Letter Formats: A Complete How-To Guide [10+ Examples]
Now, have a look at a quick breakdown of the cover letter main body.
Write a Catchy Opening Paragraph
Here’s the brutal truth:
These few sentences at the beginning of your cover letter will determine whether the hiring manager will read on.
You need to make your cover letter introduction attract and hold the hiring manager’s interest.
Have a look at these two sample cover letter opening paragraphs:
How To Make a Cover Letter—Opening Paragraph
In response to your posting for the Digital Marketing Manager, I would like to express my interest in taking part in the recruitment process. As a digital marketing manager with 8+ years of experience, I am positive that I would be successful at this role.
Why is it so bad?
Because it provides no value and no details. The bottom line is basically “I’ve already done this job so I think I’d fit in.” That’s not what the hiring manager is looking for.
Now, see a properly written cover letter opening example:
As a lifelong enthusiast of XYZ’s marketing initiatives, I was thrilled to see your posting for the position of Digital Marketing Manager. I am positive I can help with XYZ’s upcoming challenges. I have experience with leading successful national online campaigns with budgets over $300,000. What is more, I have succeeded at expanding ABC’s client base by 19% since 2011.
“Wow, I’d have to be a lunatic not to hire her!”
That’s the response this cover letter first paragraph will bring.
There are a few different, effective strategies for your cover letter opening. You can highlight your achievements, show how well you know your prospective employer’s needs, or base the intro on your enthusiasm.
Even professional writers struggle to make a perfect intro to their pieces. We know that starting a cover letter can be daunting, that’s why we’ve put together a dedicated guide for you. Give it a read: How to Start a Cover Letter: Sample & Complete Guide [20+ Examples]
Explain Why You’re The Perfect Candidate
You see a job posting from your dream employer. The name of the job is the same as your current position. You’ve been a very successful professional so far.
This means, to get that job you just have to show off your best assets in your cover letter, right?
Your cover letter is not a trophy case.
What to write in a cover letter’s second paragraph?
You need to get the hiring manager exactly what she’s looking for. You have to show that you’re going to satisfy the company’s specific needs.
Remember Jane, our digital marketing manager candidate? The XYZ company to which she’s applying needs:
- First of all, a savvy digital marketing manager (1).
- And, on top of that, someone who will supervise the development of their new online portal (2).
Let’s have a look at how Jane managed to show that she’s both (1) and (2).
How To Make a Cover Letter—Second Paragraph
Sample cover letter for a job application in digital marketing:
In my current position at ABC, I have supervised all phases of our online marketing initiatives, both technical and creative (1). Last year, my key challenge was to design and optimize nine product websites for ABC’s most strategic products and improve our SEO results as well as enhance the UX (2). Here we are a year later:
- Eight of the nine websites I optimized have achieved and secured their spot in the top 3 results on Google (2). These are organic, non-paid results for 10+ key search terms;
- The incoming search engine traffic to all nine websites comprises 47% of the total organic traffic (2) for key terms and phrases.
See how it’s done?
In the first sentence, show that you’re an expert in your field. But don’t keep on bragging. The remaining part of your cover letter’s second paragraph should be all about how your previous experiences will help your future employer press ahead with their plans.
What if you’re creating a cover letter for an internship and don’t have a wealth of professional experience to present? Don’t worry, we’ve got a dedicated guide to show you how to write a good cover letter and land your dream internship: How to Write a Cover Letter For an Internship [+20 Examples]
Tell Them Why You’re Eager to Join
Your future employers have needs. If they’re willing to hire you, it’s because they think you’ll satisfy those needs.
But what they also want is for you to actually enjoy working with them. They want your future job to feel rewarding to you—that way, they know you’re more likely to stay with them for a longer period of time.
The key to writing a perfect cover letter third paragraph is showing the hiring manager why you want this job, not just any job.
Here’s the easiest way to do it:
- Start with a company fact - for instance, an upcoming project (1)
- Say why you find it interesting (2)
- Reiterate that your experience and knowledge will let you succeed with the project (3)
Have a look at this cover letter example:
How To Make a Cover Letter—Third Paragraph
I know that XYZ’s current plans involve developing a comprehensive online portal focused on healthcare-related issues (1). This project is a perfect match for my personal and professional interests and an exciting opportunity to create a unique online base of knowledge for patients and healthcare professionals (2). I would love to leverage my knowledge of SEO marketing and online growth marketing to achieve groundbreaking results with this initiative (3).
Pro Tip: How long should a cover letter be? In general, relevant and short cover letters are best. Three paragraph tops. Your go-to word count shouldn’t exceed 300 words.
Wondering how to write a good cover letter for a job application when there’s no job offer? Want to see some general cover letter writing tips? Read our handy guide, 35+ Successful Cover Letter Tips, Advice & Guidelines (With Examples), and find out about effective cover letter strategies for different types of cover letters!
Make Your Offer in the Closing Paragraph
So far so good:
Your cover letter shows that you have relevant skills. You’ve explained your motivation. What could possibly go wrong?
Actually, a lot.
You still have a cover letter ending to write. And it’s the decisive part.
It has to amplify the general impression you’ve made with the previous paragraphs. It has to make the hiring manager excited as she starts reading your resume.
How to make the best cover letter ending?
Long story short: by providing value.
Tell the hiring manager that you’re looking forward to meeting in person and discussing how your experience and knowledge can help your future employer in fulfilling their goals.
Like in this cover letter example:
How To Make a Cover Letter—Closing Paragraph
I would welcome the chance to discuss your digital marketing objectives and show you how my success at ABC can translate into digital and online marketing growth for XYZ.
Two worst cover letter mistakes you can make in the final paragraph are:
- Coming off needy - focusing on how much you want the job, not on whatyouhave to offer.
- Repeating the cliched phrase “Thank you for your consideration and your time.”
There are some easy tricks you can use to write an effective cover letter closing paragraph. Make sure to read our guide, How to End a Cover Letter: Sample & Complete Guide [+20 Examples] and check them out!
Use the Right Formal Closing
Once you’ve written the body of your cover letter, you just need to put a formal closing at the very end.
Write “sincerely” and follow it with your full name. Adding your handwritten signature is optional, but it’s recommended for more formal cover letters.
If you’re not a fan of the well-worn, “sincerely,” feel free to use any of the following synonyms:
Sample cover letter sign-offs:
- Thank you,
- Best regards,
- Kind regards,
- With best regards.
The ones listed above are going to be your safest bets. Still not what you’re looking for?
Have a look at some alternative cover letter sample salutations:
- Thank you for your consideration,
- Sincerely yours,
- Yours truly,
- Respectfully yours.
Pro Tip: It’s a good idea to repeat your basic contact information, such as your LinkedIn profile, email address and telephone number below your sign-off.
Add the Postscript: A Great Cover Letter Hack Nobody Uses
All of the above sections are must-haves in a good cover letter format.
But there’s one special trick you can use:
Why is the “P.S.” so important?
Because it’s like a magnet for the hiring manager’s eyes. It screams: “you cannot miss this information.”
Use the postscript to tell the hiring manager about something impressive about your career (1), even if it’s not strictly related to the job opening.
And say that you’d be happy to provide them with more details (2) if they find it interesting.
Like in our cover letter example:
How To Write a Good Cover Letter Postscript
P.S. — I would also value the opportunity to show you (2) how my e-detailing solutions grew the combined sales of three ABC flagship products by a record-breaking 13% in one year (1).
Don’t just send a cover letter in Word. Select the most important bits and paste them into your resume cover email: How to Email Your Resume to Get More Job Offers (Examples). It’ll immediately work magic on the recruiter.
Worried you might miss something? Don’t worry, we’ve got a checklist guide for you: What to Include in a Cover Letter (15+ Examples & A Complete Guide)
The most important thing to remember about how to write a cover letter for a job is to personalize it.
Address the hiring manager by their name.
Identify your potential employers’ needs and show how your past work experience can help them achieve their goals.
Don’t just talk about your past responsibilities—focus on your achievements. Provide details and quantify whenever possible.
Explain your motivation. Make your future employers feel special: tell them why you want this job, not just any job. Make them feel that you’d like to stay with them for a longer while.
Finish strong. Be straightforward about your interest and enthusiasm about the new position.
And for the final advice:
Keep it short.
Do you have any questions about how to create a successful cover letter? Want to share an example of a cover letter? Give us a shout in the comments and we’d be happy to reply!