Getting to know cover letter basics
Cover letters are integral to the application and hiring process. In fact, to some employers, they may be the most important part of both. Designed to make your first impression upon a potential employer, a cover letter offers an opportunity to go beyond just the facts of your resume. Unlike these, a cover letter highlights the best of your professional strengths and skills to show why you're a great fit for a company. Some employers require a cover letter when applying, while others leave it up to applicants. However, including a well-crafted cover letter can set you apart from other candidates and benefit you in the long run. Learn these cover letter basics and review some examples to ensure your first impression is a lasting impression.
Cover letter formatting basics
While there’s not an official cover letter format or a rule book dictating its structure, there are some “basics” to know about cover letters: For one, they should be both well-organized; they should be informative of you, your skills, and experience complementary to the posted job; and last but not least — an often unsaid rule of cover letter basics — these should be no longer than a single page, including:
- Your full name
- Contact Information
- Hiring manager’s name
- Their contact information
- Formal greeting
- Intro paragraph
- Body paragraphs
- Closing paragraph
- Closing salutation
Cover letter component & paragraph structure skeleton
[Date: MM DD, YYYY]
[Your Contact Info]
[Hiring Manager’s Name]
[Body Paragraph 1]
[Body Paragraph 2]
[Opt. Body Paragraph 3]
Breaking down the cover letter basics as sections
Your name and contact information
Although we often add these things without giving much thought to what we’re jotting down, be mindful of the expectations pertaining to this information when it comes to cover letters in order to make the best impression.
- Include some specific information. If you’re applying for a job online and submitting your resume and cover letter digitally, it’s regarded as optional to include your exact address. Only the date, your name, city, state, phone number, and email are expected. However, you won’t lose points for including your full address. Occasionally, you’ll be asked to submit a physical copy of your cover letter, in which case it’s most professional to include your actual address. It’s increasingly common to include your LinkedIn URL, as well, as it offers employers an overview of your public resume, network, and professional profile.
- Make sure your email is professional. Ideally, your email is a variation of your first and last name. If it isn’t , make sure it’s simple and professional. Inside jokes, hobbies, politics, or vulgarity of any kind are inappropriate and should never be reflected in a professional email address. It’s common to create an email address / account exclusively for job searches and professional correspondence.
- Format your cover letter correctly. While traditionally the date and contact info is positioned at the top left corner of the page, when submitting digitally, you can also include your contact info below your signature as you would with any other professional email.
Hiring manager’s information
As with your full address, the hiring manager’s name and contact information are expected inclusions when submitting your cover letter, whether by mail or in person. When applying online, including this is neither necessary nor frowned upon.
Example of hiring manager contact information formatting
Hiring Manager’s Name
ABC Industries – Communications Dept.
123 Main St.
Los Angeles, CA. 90026
Cover letter greetings
Salutations like, “To Whom It May Concern,” and, “Dear Sir/ Madam,” are outdated, generic, and show that you haven’t researched the company. If you have the information from the section above, greet the hiring manager by name. If not, check the company’s website or LinkedIn, and don’t be afraid to contact them directly to find out. As a last resort, “Dear Hiring Manager,” or, “Dear Marketing Communications Department,” will work if you can’t find their name.
As an aside, don’t assume gender when addressing a cover letter. You can do this by omitting ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’
Cover letter introductions are first impressions and opportunities to command attention. Their sole purpose is to make applicants so intriguing that hiring managers feel compelled to meet them. One great way to do this is by opening your cover letter with an introductory paragraph that includes:
- Title of the position. Immediately after greeting the manager and introducing yourself, state which position you’re applying for and how you heard about it. If you were referred to the company by someone who works there, this is the time to drop their name.
- Company name. This may seem repetitive, but mentioning the company’s name helps to show an employer you’re not sending the same generic form letter to every job listing you’re interested in. Saying, “To Whom It May Concern, I’m excited to apply for the open position you’ve listed at your company,” will likely inspire the reader to move on to the next application. An employer wants to see that you know their company.
- Enthusiasm. Make sure to highlight your excitement to join the company and for the work you do. To employers, excitement equals the invaluable quality of motivation. You’ll get extra points if you share fun facts or anecdotes.
- Why you. Briefly outline a few qualifications (experiences, personality traits, or passions that you think make you especially qualified for the position. Use these as a sort of thesis statement and guide for your body paragraphs, which should elaborate on these points.
Example: Sustaining marine life with [Company Name], motivating others to take action, and increasing brand awareness are all dreams of mine. That’s why applying for your open Head of Communications position thrills me. As a social media marketing coordinator at [Past or Current Company], I’m responsible for multiple social media accounts, the monthly newsletter, and numerous scheduling platforms. In one year, I’ve increased total audience engagement by over 70 percent. Your mission is so close to my heart that when [Referral Name] informed of the opening, I had to apply.
Learn more: 5 Perfect Opening Lines for Your Cover Letter
2-3 body paragraphs
A few succinct body paragraphs showcase both your understanding of the company’s mission and your aforementioned highlights in detail by including:
- Include complementary skills and experiences. Find the job qualifications in the listing and make sure you highlight any you meet with your skills, talent, and experience.
- Give an example story. Show how said skills apply using real-life scenarios of the past. This will correlate the position qualifications to your skills. Think like a writer being told to show, not tell. Instead of telling the hiring manager what an outstanding team player you are, show them by sharing a brief story in which you boosted team morale in the past.
- Share statistics and data. Though it seems boastful, employers want to know what you offer their companies. Whether it’s measurable growth, streamlined organization, financial solvency, or increased client retention, impressive metrics are achievements worth mentioning. Find key performance indicators (KPIs) for the position in its listing and focus on your relevant accomplishments.
Example: In my current position as a social media strategist, I develop and implement new media strategies, produce multi-platform digital content, and conduct comprehensive market research. I thrive in a fast-paced environment and am passionate about social media’s user connectivity and inspiration. Aside from common marketing strategist duties, I am adept at increasing online traffic and engagement. In the last three years, my SMM team of five increased engagement by 2,500 percent.
The closing paragraph is where you briefly reiterate your qualifications, mention your attached resume, express interest in moving on to the next step in the application process, and thank the reader for their time and consideration. Also, make any clarifications and encourage contact about any questions they may have.
Your closing salutation should be friendly and professional. Consider any of the following:
- Thank you [for your consideration]
- Regards (may add ‘best’ or ‘kind’ before)
Learn more: How to End the Perfect Cover Letter
Don’t forget to proofread and edit! Using spellcheck is a given, but it’s no substitute for a trained eye. Have a friend, family member, or partner look over it for you. Put your cover letter down for a while, then re-read it with brand new eyes if need be. Reading your letter aloud can reveal mistakes.
And one final cover letter basics tip: Write a custom cover letter for each job you apply for.