The first time I ever learned about the concept of a cover letter, I distinctly remember how it was explained to me: “It’s like your resume, but longer.” The reason that moment sticks out to me so much? It’s completely wrong!
Yes, your cover letter should include some of the key skills, traits, and experience highlighted in your resume. But copying and pasting from there into your cover letter will most definitely turn recruiters off. Odds are they’ve already read your resume — why would you make them waste their time reading the same thing over again?
Cover letters are your opportunity to not only show that you have the background and knowledge needed to do the job well, but that you’re also passionate, charismatic, and well-informed. For many people, though, it’s a daunting task. With so much information to convey, where do you get started?
We’ve rounded up some of our top tips on cover letters to lay it out for you in one easy-to-follow guide. Our infographic shares a structure for you to follow, the content you need to share, and some helpful tips on style and formatting.
Take a look below, and start drafting the cover letter that will score you your dream job — happy writing!
1. Contact Info: Don’t make recruiters dig through your cover letter to find your name and contact info — include it up top so they can easily reach out.
2. Greeting: Forget “To Whom It May Concern”. If you can find it, address the recruiter/hiring manager by name.
3. Intro Paragraph:
- Relevant anecdotes, quotes, fun facts, etc. are all good ways to make your opening line stand out.
- Make it clear that you know who the company is, what they do, and what they care about.
- Mention a few roles, projects, experiences, traits, or passions that make you the ideal candidate.
- If someone at the company has referred you, this is the place to name drop them.
4. Body Paragraph(s):
- Incorporate keywords directly from the job description.
- Whenever possible, include concrete metrics that illustrate the results you’ve achieved.
5. Closing Paragraph:
Summarize, don’t plagiarize. Reaffirm your interest, passion, and qualifications from earlier in the letter, but don’t make it sound redundant.
- Cover letters should be clean and easy to read — skip the intricate designs and crazy fonts for party invitations.
- Like a resume, keep the cover letter to one page. If necessary, hyperlink your portfolio, website, or samples of your work.
- Saving your cover letter as a PDF file will ensure the formatting won’t change.
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When it comes to applying for a job, you want to provide a highlight reel of your career path and show why your background and experiences make you an ideal fit for the position in question. To do this effectively, you can start with a cover letter template.
But, well, what if you don’t exactly have that perfectly trodden path?
For many of us, tying together three tangentially related experiences, a side gig, and some outside-of-work interests or volunteer work to explain why we could do the gig is more the norm. So, how exactly do you do that in a tidy one-page cover letter and thoughtfully showcase why you’re the right one for the position?
Hint: It’s all about highlighting your transferable skills.
This approach shifts the conversation away from relevant experience and more toward whether you can do that job or not—and that is exactly what you want to do when you haven’t had a linear career path.
So, how do you do it?
First, figure out which skills you want to emphasize by carefully reviewing the job description. Underline or highlight the most important technical and behavioral skills the position requires. (Or, better yet, find a contact who knows the hiring manager and do some recon work to see what he or she is really looking for.)
Choose three skills that you feel are your strong suits to focus on. For each one, brainstorm some projects, assignments, or responsibilities that truly illustrate your expertise in that area, then select either one in-depth or a couple of shorter experiences to talk about.
Finally, roll it all together into a cover letter that clearly highlights those skills. It’ll be structured something like this:
With the utmost enthusiasm, I would like to express my interest in the [position title] position at [company]. My interest in [field] has taken me from [experience] to [experience]. I believe that my passion for [aspect of your field or background], strong commitment to [aspect of your field or background], and interest in [aspect of your field or background] make me an ideal candidate to join the [department] staff at [company].
As a candidate, here’s what I could immediately bring to the table:
An effective [descriptor that reflects transferable skill #1]:In my role at [previous job], I [action or accomplishment]. I was also able to showcase my [skill] abilities as a [role] in [project name] project by [what you did].
A disciplined [descriptor that reflects transferable skill #2]:I have always displayed my careful approach to [job duty] by [action]. At [previous company], I frequently [action]. In addition, I had the opportunity to [action or accomplishment], which further shows my dedication to [aspect of your field].
A passionate [descriptor that reflects transferable skill #3]:Everything I have engaged in so far has all been driven by my keen interest in [aspect of your field]. Even as a [previous role], I made sure to dedicate some part of my day to [action]. It is this passion that has driven every one of my career decisions thus far.
I look forward to contributing my skills and experiences to the [position title] position at [company] and hope to have the opportunity to speak with you further about how I can be an asset to your team.
Of course, you can (and should!) insert your personality, creativity, and knowledge of the company into your letter—but this framework is a helpful way to convey your most relevant transferable skills to the recruiter (making his or her job a whole lot easier). Don’t bother walking through your entire career path and justifying every professional decision you made. Do the hiring manager (and yourself) a favor, and let your skills speak for themselves.
...why not make it easier on yourself?
Speak to a Cover Letter Coach Today