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How to Write a Cover Letter

Updated on September 12, 2013

How to Write a Cover Letter

Stand Out from the Crowd

Want a kick-ass cover letter? Every successful cover letter does three things that correspond to the basic structure of the letter: introduce, inform, inspire. Most of us expend most of our energy in developing an outstanding resume, but the truth of the matter is that hiring managers often rely more on the cover letter than the resume. They have dozens if not hundreds of resumes, and the only thing that stands out as different between these tidy little documents is the cover letter attached to them. Below, you'll find a brief definition and explanation for the three main parts of your cover letter. By the time you finish this article, you'll have hiring managers raving over what you've sent them!

Cover letter spelled into a casserole.
Cover letter spelled into a casserole. | Source

Cover Letter: Section One


Greet the hiring manager and let them know a little bit about you. Your cover letter takes your resume and adds a human, conversational element. Consider it your first interview! Many new job-seekers wonder how to address their cover letter - for some, this dilemma causes cold sweats.

  • If you know the name(s) of your interviewer(s) or hiring manager(s), address the cover letter accordingly. Format your cover letter as closely to a standard business letter as possible.
  • Other options include the following: "Dear Hiring Manager," "Dear Human Resources Manager," "Dear Sir or Madam."

After sorting out the greeting, it's time to write the introduction paragraph.

  • DON'T beg the reader to hire you.
  • DON'T inform the reader that upon completion of the review, he or she will be hiring you or would be stupid NOT to hire you.

But by all means...

  • DO thank the reader for taking the time to review your application packet.
  • DO mention the position for which you are applying by name and express your interest in filling that spot. Example: "I read with interest your listing for [POSITION NAME]."
  • DO give a few, brief reasons for your interest. Use these sentences to impress the reader with a bit of your personality or unique qualifications. Example: "As an undergrad, I spent considerable time researching [INSERT TOPIC RELATED TO POSITION]."

Cover Letter: Section Two


Here's the meat of your cover letter, the part at which you let the reader know how and why you meet the qualifications for the vacant position. Don't hold back here! Your cover letter should contain very clear, very detailed information on your prior experience and the ways you benefited past employers. This section should be no longer than a paragraph or two.

  • DON'T give vague examples, like "I assisted my employers a great deal."
  • DON'T lie. Nothing disqualifies a candidate faster than getting caught in a lie!

To use your cover letter to present you in the best light...

  • DO cite percentages, numbers, or concrete examples to demonstrate the ways you brought value to previous employers.
  • DO highlight the personal strengths that enabled you to accomplish the percentages, numbers, and concrete examples you cited.

Cover Letter: Section Three


The idea here is to take the strengths and experience you cited earlier and describe how you will bring it all to bear with your soon-to-be employer. Your cover letter is more than just a breakdown of your resume; it's also a way to help your potential employer imagine you as its employee - you want this image to be as positive and fully-formed as possible, not negative or vague.

  • DON'T be vague or ambiguous.
  • DON'T make threats in an attempt to persuade the reader to hire you.

Much like with the Inform section, you want to show yourself in the best possible light:

  • DO cite concrete examples of how your personal strengths and expertise will benefit your potential employer.
  • DO encourage the reader to contact your professional references.
  • DO thank the reader one last time for reviewing your application packet.
  • DO state the best days and times to reach you, if applicable.
  • DO sign with your first and last name.

Follow these steps and you'll have hiring managers everywhere raving over your cover letter!

Highly-Recommended Books on Cover Letters


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    • theseattlegirl profile image

      theseattlegirl 6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @Simone Smith: Glad you can make use of this. Most I learned from trial and error and in my years working at the dreaded "person on staff who handles the hiring." I wish someone had told me this stuff years ago when I first started looking for jobs.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      What splendid advice! I've got a bunch of friends to send this to. Thanks for putting together the guide!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      This is timely information for our economic climate. Isn't it amazing to see that some applicants need some of those dont's?

      Now you've got me thinking...I recently read that job counselors have to tell people to dress right for the interview. Isn't that a bit sneaky? How must an employer feel when they hire someone dressed appropriately for the interview and find them decked out in their normal fashion on the first day of their new position.

      Seems like job counselors need to take that a bit farther and tell prospective applicants that they need to ditch the lip ring for good if they want to be a respected employee because the look and the behavior are a package for both employers and clients/customers. Okay--I'm off my rant. :)

      Good stuff you offer. Voted up.

    • profile image

      Snohomishdeb 6 years ago

      Right to the point and yet enjoyable to read.