Updated 29 May 2020
A cover letter normally accompanies a resume in a job application. An effective cover letter should show why you are interested in working at the company, highlight how your skills meet the needs of the company, and explain why the hiring manager should choose you for the job.
When you are composing your cover letter, try to think from the perspective of the hiring manager in terms of what they want to hear from a candidate. It may pay to read the job description several times, and highlight important keywords, before you start writing your cover letter.
Thinking about how to start a cover letter can be difficult; this article will aim to point you in the right direction.
Cover letters generally follow traditional letter-writing rules. Start off by writing the date, along with the name and full office address of the person you are trying to contact at the company. Then, start the letter with a suitable salutation before moving on to the first paragraph (see below for advice on this).
Generally speaking, a cover letter should be no longer than one page. If you are sending a cover letter by email, it’s always a good idea to draft it in a word-processing document, so you can check for length and spelling errors first. Either send the document as an attachment (preferred) or paste it into the email if the letter isn’t very long.
Remember to thank the hiring manager for their time and sign your name at the bottom of the letter. If sending by post, you should provide a return address and contact information (eg a telephone number or email address) at the top of your letter or as a letterhead.
If you know the name of the hiring manager, using the salutation “Dear” will be sufficient, along with their title and last name. If you are not sure what gender they are (for example, Alex Smith could be male or female), then address them by their full name. When addressing women, use the title “Ms” instead of “Miss” or “Mrs” to avoid confusion over their marital status.
If you don’t know the name of the hiring manager, then the cover letter opening salutation should be addressed to “The Hiring Manager” of the department you are applying to.
You may use “Dear Sir”, “Dear Madam” or “Dear Sir/Madam”, though it's always better to use the more specific "Dear Hiring Manager". Do not use “To whom it may concern”, as it will look like you don’t know to whom who you are writing.
Before you start writing the first paragraph of your cover letter, you should research the company’s recent accomplishments. Identifying the company’s activities and future needs is a great segue for introducing your particular skills and explaining how your experience can contribute to the company.
Find out what the company’s mission statement is and link your skills with the company’s goals. Remember to change any research into your own words, so it doesn’t appear copied straight from their annual report. If a hiring manager considers you to have a sincere belief in the company’s mission, your chances will be better.
State a recent accomplishment from your last job that is related to the position you are applying to. Personalize your cover letter to the specific position you are applying for.
If someone from the company invited you to apply for the job, then mentioning the contact is wise; always check to make sure that the contact consents to you mentioning them.
Do a little background research on the hiring manager to find some common ground. Keep your remarks on point but relevant to the company’s operation. It always pays off to find out more about your audience.
Starting off with a relevant news article or a personal story on why you want the job can also be effective ways to show passion and enthusiasm.
A creative cover letter opening sentence could be the difference between having your entire application read or being ignored from the first paragraph. Here are a few sample sentences to give you an idea of what could be effective:
When you write about your past accomplishments, make sure that you show what you can offer to the company you are applying to. This can help make a convincing case for the hiring manager to offer you an interview.
Don’t state what position you held in your previous place of work and for how long, as this information is easily found in your resume. Instead, use your cover letter to show how your skills and experience tie into the company's goals.
An example of an effective way of mentioning your skills:
“I was just another rookie at ABC Bank when I came fresh out of university three years ago, but I’ve since built a track record of converting 68% of customers from a competing bank to ABC Bank – the highest in the entire region. I would hope to build an even larger customer base for your company.”
There are numerous elementary mistakes that hiring managers see in cover letters. Here are a few dos and don’ts:
If you are in need of ideas, here are a few cover letter opening paragraph examples to get you started. Each one of these is suited for a different professional context, so be sure to customize your cover letters as appropriate.
It's important to make a good first impression by starting off with a strong opening line in a professionally formatted cover letter. If a hiring manager is swamped by applications, poorly written cover letters won’t even get read past the first paragraph.
Here are the nuts and bolts of writing an effective cover letter:
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