When to Use a Cover Letter

You should always include a cover letter when you are applying for a job, even if it is not specifically required by the job listing. This is the best way to officially introduce yourself and set yourself apart from other applicants.

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What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is the standard way to introduce yourself to a potential employer. It is normally the first thing that a hiring manager will read in your job application and is your chance to make a great first impression that will set you apart from your competition.

When writing a cover letter, your goal is to briefly communicate why you are the right person for the job. The hiring manager will likely review your resume immediately after your cover letter, so make sure that your letter does not simply repeat what is in your resume. Instead, it should connect your relevant work experience and skills to the position using specific examples. Think of a cover letter as your sales pitch for why you deserve an interview.

Do I really need to include a cover letter with my application?

It is always appropriate to include a cover letter with your resume or job application. Even if the job posting does not request a cover letter, including one will help set you apart from the other candidates and show your professionalism and enthusiasm. The only time you should avoid including a cover letter is if the job posting specifically tells you not to include one, but this is rarely the case.

What is included in a standard cover letter?

Cover letters commonly include some or all of the following information:

  • Introduction: Briefly identify the position that you are applying for and how you heard about it. If you are being referred by an employee of the company or a mutual acquaintance, then you should also mention this here. Provide an overview of where you are in your career. For instance, “I have worked in IT for the past six years, mainly focusing on back-end development and systems architecture.”
  • Skills and Qualifications: The next paragraph should jump directly into your relevant skills and qualifications. This is the crucial part of your letter and can mean either gaining your reader’s interest or ending up in the rejection pile. You should provide specific examples of how you have successfully used your skills in the past. For instance, you might write “While working as a customer service representative for XYZ Inc., I boosted our customer response rate by 20% after updating our existing procedures." If you do not have any relevant work experience, you can either highlight times that you have displayed your skills outside of a work setting or focus more on your qualifications. For example, “I am certified in Java, Python, and Ruby programming languages and have logged over 10,000 hours of coding.”
  • Character Traits: It is often a good idea to mention one or two of your top qualities. This allows the company to get a feel for your personality and the kind of worker you are. Are you a people person? Do creative projects excite you? Are you passionate about helping others? This is your chance to be personable and let the company get to know you.
  • Connection with Company Values: If the company has a strong mission statement that you agree with, you may also want to mention it and communicate that you believe in what they are trying to accomplish.
  • Closing: End your letter by reiterating that you are confident that you are a great fit for the job. Request that the company contacts you if they have any questions or would like to set up an interview, and thank them for their consideration.

Tips for Writing Great Cover Letters

Follow these tips for writing fantastic cover letters that will set you apart from the competition:

Keep It Short

The universal rule is that a cover letter should always fit onto one page. Show that you appreciate the hiring manager’s time by providing the minimum amount of information needed to be persuasive.

Keep It Professional

The tone of your letter should be both professional and personable. Only use humor or other creative touches if you are confident that it will be well received by the hiring manager. Avoid discussing unnecessary details about your personal life. Also, it is generally inappropriate to ask about salary, benefits, the work schedule, or other questions about the job. Only discuss these things if the company has requested that you do so.

Use Thoughtful Examples

Spend time thinking about what value you would actually be providing in the position, and use specific examples of your past work experience and qualifications that highlight this. This is the worst place for you to cut corners.

Research the Company

Your letter will ideally show that you have done your homework on the company or institution. Try to show that you understand the problems the company is facing and are eager to assist. While many people skip this step, doing this research can set you apart from the crowd and can help you avoid working for a company or in a role that is a poor fit for you.

Proofread

Because first impressions are hugely important, it is crucial that your letter is well written and free of errors. A sloppy cover letter is the quickest way to be rejected.

Customize It

Do not use the same generic cover letter for every job that you apply for. Hiring managers are pros at spotting vague and general cover letters. It is essential that you adapt your cover letter according to the position and company. Pay close attention to the skills and qualifications requested in the job description.

How should my cover letter look?

In terms of formatting, your cover letter should generally mirror your resume. It should never exceed one page in length. Only use 11- or 12-point font size, and stick to common professional fonts like Times New Roman, Calibri, or Arial unless you work in a creative field. Margins should be one inch, but you can decrease them a little if needed in order to fit everything onto one page.

How do I send my letter?

Unless the job posting says otherwise, attach your cover letter to the application along with your resume. Since it serves as your official introduction, it should be the first thing the hiring manager reads. While it is also acceptable to copy your cover letter into the body of the email, attaching it separately has the benefit of showcasing the professional look of your letter.

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Checklist

1. Complete Your Letter

Finish your letter in minutes by answering our short questionnaire and our document builder will generate your own custom cover letter.

2. Proofread

Always, always, always read your letter once it is completed to ensure that it fits the job description and is free of errors. Typos can disqualify you at the starting line!

3. Send

Attach it to your application or email so that it is the first thing that the hiring manager reads.

4. Follow Up

If you do not hear back within two weeks, it is important to follow up with the hiring manager. Briefly ask if the position is still available and if there are any questions that you can answer for them. Request again to speak by phone or meet in person to learn more about the company and the opportunity.

5. Customize It

Job hunting is largely a numbers game, and the more the better. So keep applying to more jobs while you are waiting to hear back from the company. Customize your cover letter for each position that you apply for by paying close attention to the job description and researching the company.

Ready To Get Started? Create Your Cover Letter