How to Write a Great Cover Letter

Mary Gormandy White
Sample cover letter
Download an editable sample cover letter.

When you are looking for a job, it is just as important to have a well-written cover letter as it is to have an outstanding resume. When you submit a resume to a potential employer, it's considered a best practice to include a cover letter. The letter should help sell the hiring manager on why he or she should interview you for the position, so it needs to be written in a manner that engages and intrigues the recipient.

Writing an Effective Cover Letter

Use the sample cover letter above as a good starting point. You can edit this cover letter to suit your needs. If you need help downloading the cover letter, check out these helpful tips.

Format

Cover letters are sometimes sent via email and sometimes printed. The method you will be using impacts how your document should be formatted.

  • Printed: If you are going to print your cover letter, it should be formatted as a formal business letter, with your mailing address as letterhead, an inside address and formal greeting and closing statements.
  • Email: If you are submitting your resume and cover letter via email, the way you need to format it will depend end on how you are submitting the document. If you are sending it as an attachment, it should be formatted as a formal business letter and saved as a PDF file. If it is in the body of an email, there is no reason to include your mailing address or the recipient's.

Greeting

You should make every effort to personalize the greeting of your cover letter to include the hiring manager's name. If you are able to get the contact person's name, open the letter using a courtesy title and the person's last name (Ms. Smith: or Dear Ms. Smith,). If the contact's name is not in the job announcement or on the careers page of the company's website, The Ladders suggests searching Google or LinkedIn to determine the person's name.

If you can't get the name, you should still avoid using a statement like 'Dear Sir or Madam' to open your letter. If you really can't find the person's name, use something like 'Hiring Manager:' or 'HR Director:' as the greeting so that it is a little less generic.

Length

The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin recommends keeping cover letters to no more than one printed page. Don't shrink the font down to make too much text fit, though. Instead, use a font size between the range of 10 and 12 points, whether you are printing the letter or using email.

If your letter will be printed, be sure to keep the margins at an appropriate size so the text doesn't look crowded on the page. For one page business letters, the standard is to have a two-inch top margin and a one-inch margin for the sides and bottom.

Style

The writing style should be professional and to-the-point- this is not a place to show off your creative writing skills or the full extent of your vocabulary. Keep sentences and paragraphs short, so the document is easy to read and follow.

According to The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin, it is important to write in the active voice using a "style that is mature but clear," communicating "enthusiasm coupled with respect and professionalism."

Avoid using jargon that readers might not understand or that could make it sound like you are peppering the document with buzz-words rather than substance.

Content

Your letter should have an opening paragraph, a body with two or three paragraphs, and a closing paragraph.

  • Opening paragraph: This paragraph should specify why you are writing, making it clear that your purpose is to apply for a job. State what specific job you are interested in, how you learned about the opportunity (i.e., a job announcement or a referral from a particular person), and a brief statement on what qualifies you for the position.
  • Body: The body of your cover letter should focus on clarifying why you should be considered for the position. According to The Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin, this section can be either two or three paragraphs in which you clearly explain how your background qualifies you for the job, but don't just re-state what is on your resume. Instead, associate your skills and experience with the particular job for which you are applying.
  • Closing paragraph: In the final paragraph, you should directly ask for an interview, as well as thanking the recipient for his or her consideration. The Ladders suggests that you should also set an expectation that you will follow up within a certain timeframe. Of course, if you say you are going to follow up, you actually need to do it - if not, this could hurt your chances of being considered.

Customization

Don't use a generic cover letter. Each cover letter you send should be specifically customized to the particular job for which you are submitting it. For example, a cover letter for a freelance job opportunity will be very different from one created for a full-time purchasing manager position.

You can have a general template that you use as a starting point for all of your cover letters, but you should adjust it to match each position you are applying for. This is very important, as it will allow hiring managers to see that you're not just randomly sending out cover letters and resumes, but rather that you really have a particular interest in the job they have available.

Proofreading

Before sending your cover letter, be sure that it is free from mistakes. Proofread carefully, being sure to remove any spelling, grammar or word usage errors. Also review for content, making sure that the message you intended to convey is actually what comes across. It's a good idea to have someone else review the document after you have proofed it once or twice, as it can be difficult to find your own errors.

Complete Package for Job Seekers

Remember that your cover letter won't stand on its own - it will be submitted to hiring managers along with your resume. It's important to verify that your cover letter looks good and that it complements your resume.

The two documents should look like a 'package deal'. For example, the font should be similar on both documents and if you are printing them, you should use the same type of paper for both. If you are mailing them, the envelope you use should match the paper and you should use the same font to address the envelope.

How to Write a Great Cover Letter