This summer is the summer for finding a job. This spring, U.S. employers were scrambling to fill 10.7 million advertised jobs open at the end of June. With such a demand for workers, should you bother to write a cover letter for your next application?
The short answer is yes, you should. In fact, experts say cover letters are more important than ever.
Cover letters, hate or love them, allow job seekers to make an impression and stand out from the pile of other applications. Penning a thoughtful cover letter shows the hiring team you care about earning the position.
We understand it can feel like no one will read your letter. A modest survey conducted in 2017 found only 26% of recruiters consider cover letters important in hiring decisions. But remember: that’s more than zero. It’s worth preparing a solid cover letter because you might sway a stubborn recruiter — and you don’t want to lose a job because you don’t have one.
Instead of spending hours at your desk wondering if the letters you’re writing are on the right track, let us give you a hand. Here’s everything you need to know about how to write a cover letter — and a great one, at that.
What is a cover letter and why does it matter?
A professional cover letter is a one-page document you submit alongside your CV or resume as part of a job application. Typically, they’re between 250 and 400 words.
An effective cover letter doesn’t just rehash your CV; it’s your chance to highlight your proudest moments, explain why you want the job, and state plainly what you bring to the table.
Show the reviewer you’re likable, talented, and will add to the company’s culture. You can refer to previous jobs and other information on your CV, but only if it helps tell a story about you and your career choices.
The best cover letters spark the recruiter’s interest and encourage them to read your resume and call you for an interview. A bad cover letter, on the other hand, earns your CV a one-way ticket to the paper shredder.
Thankfully, learning to write a bulletproof cover letter will keep your application on the recruiter’s desk and away from the recycling bin.
How to write a good cover letter
The best letters are unique, tailored to the job description, and written in your voice — but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a job cover letter template.
Great cover letters contain the same basic elements and flow a certain way. Take a look at this cover letter structure for reference while you construct your own.
1. Header and contact information
While reading your cover letter, the recruiter shouldn’t have to look far to find who wrote it. Your document should include a basic heading with the following information:
- Full name
- Pronouns (optional)
- Location (optional)
- Email address
- Phone number (optional)
- Relevant links, such as your LinkedIn profile, portfolio, or personal website (optional)
You can pull this information directly from your CV. Put it together, and it will look something like this:
San Francisco, California
Alternatively, if the posting asks you to submit your cover letter in the body of an email, you can include this information in your signature. For example:
(555) 999 – 2222
2. Include a personal greeting
Always begin your cover letter by addressing the hiring manager — preferably by name. You can use the person’s first and last name. Make sure to include a relevant title, like Dr., Mr., or Ms. For example, “Dear Mr. John Doe.”
Avoid generic openings like “To whom it may concern,” “Dear sir or madam,” or “Dear hiring manager.” These introductions sound impersonal — like you’re copy-pasting cover letters — and can work against you in the hiring process.
Be careful, though. When using someone’s name, you don’t want to use the wrong title or accidentally misgender someone. If in doubt, using only their name is enough. You could also opt for a gender-neutral title, like Mx.
Make sure you’re addressing the right person in your letter — ideally, the person who’s making the final hiring decision. This isn’t always specified in the job posting, so you may have to do some research to learn the name of the hiring manager.
3. Draw them in with an opening story
The opening paragraph of your cover letter should hook the reader. You want it to be memorable, conversational, and extremely relevant to the job you’re pursuing.
There’s no need for a personal introduction — you’ve already included your name in the heading. But you should make reference to the job you’re applying for. A simple “Thank you for considering my application for the role of [job title] at [company],” will suffice.
Then you can get into the “Why” of your job application. Drive home what makes this specific job and this company so appealing to you. Perhaps you’re a fan of their products, you’re passionate about their mission, or you love their brand voice. Whatever the case, this section is where you share your enthusiasm for the role.
Here’s an example opening paragraph. In this scenario, you’re applying for a digital marketing role at a bicycle company:
“Dear Mr. John Doe,
Thank you for considering my application for the role of Marketing Coordinator at Bits n’ Bikes.
My parents bought my first bike at one of your stores. I’ll never forget the freedom I felt when I learned to ride it. My father removed my training wheels, and my mom sent me barrelling down the street. You provide joy to families across the country — and I want to be part of that.”
4. Emphasize why you’re best for the job
Your next paragraphs should be focused on the role you’re applying to. Highlight your skill set and why you’re a good fit for the needs and expectations associated with the position. Hiring managers want to know what you’ll bring to the job, not just any role.
Start by studying the job description for hints. What problem are they trying to solve with this hire? What skills and qualifications do they mention first or more than once? These are indicators of what’s important to the hiring manager.
Search for details that match your experience and interests. For example, if you’re excited about a fast-paced job in public relations, you might look for these elements in a posting:
- They want someone who can write social media posts and blog content on tight deadlines
- They value collaboration and input from every team member
- They need a planner who can come up with strong PR strategies
Highlight how you fulfill these requirements:
“I’ve always been a strong writer. From blog posts to social media, my content pulls in readers and drives traffic to product pages. For example, when I worked at Bits n’ Bikes, I developed a strategic blog series about bike maintenance that increased our sales of spare parts and tools by 50% — we could see it in our web metrics.
Thanks to the input of all of our team members, including our bike mechanics, my content delivered results.”
5. End with a strong closing paragraph and sign off gracefully
Your closing paragraph is your final chance to hammer home your enthusiasm about the role and your unique ability to fill it. Reiterate the main points you explained in the body paragraphs and remind the reader of what you bring to the table.
You can also use the end of your letter to relay other important details, like whether you’re willing to relocate for the job.
When choosing a sign-off, opt for a phrase that sounds professional and genuine. Reliable options include “Sincerely” and “Kind regards.”
Here’s a strong closing statement for you to consider:
“I believe my enthusiasm, skills, and work experience as a PR professional will serve Bits n’ Bikes very well. I would love to meet to further discuss my value-add as your next Director of Public Relations. Thank you for your consideration. I hope we speak soon.
Want more advice? Work with a career coach to craft your best cover letter yet. At BetterUp, we offer tips and tricks to prepare you for your next job application. Together, we can identify your skills and pick the ones you should highlight.
Additional writing tips
When writing your own letter, try not to copy the example excerpts word-for-word. Instead, use this cover letter structure as a baseline to organize your ideas. Then, as you’re writing, use these extra cover letter tips to add your personal touch:
- Pick the right voice and tone. Try to write like yourself, but adapt to the tone and voice of the company. Look at the job listing, company website, and social media posts. Do they sound fun and quirky, stoic and professional, or somewhere in-between? This guides your writing style.
- Tell your story. You’re an individual with unique expertise, motivators, and years of experience. Tie the pieces together with a great story. Introduce how you arrived at this point in your career, where you hope to go, and how this prospective company fits in your journey. You can also explain any career gaps or career changes in your resume.
- Show, don’t tell. Anyone can say they’re a problem solver. Why should a recruiter take their word for it if they don’t back it up with examples? Instead of naming your skills, show them in action. Describe situations where you rose to the task, and quantify your success when you can.
- Be honest. Avoid highlighting skills you don’t have. This will backfire if they ask you about them in an interview. Instead, shift focus to the ways in which you stand out.
- Avoid clichés and bullet points. These are signs of lazy writing. Do your best to be original from the first paragraph to the final one. This highlights your individuality and demonstrates the care you put into the letter.
- Proofread. Always spellcheck your cover letter. Look for typos, grammatical errors, and proper flow. We suggest reading it out loud. If it sounds natural rolling off the tongue, it will read naturally as well.
It’s time to start writing
The hardest part of writing is getting started.
Hopefully, our tips gave you some jumping-off points and confidence. But if you’re really stuck, looking at cover letter examples and resume templates will help you decide where to get started.
There are numerous sample cover letters available online. Just remember that you’re a unique, well-rounded person, and your cover letter should reflect that. Using our structure, you can tell your story while highlighting your passion for the role.
Doing your research, including strong examples of your skills, and being courteous is how to write a strong cover letter. Take a breath, flex your fingers, and get typing. Before you know it, your job search will lead to a job interview.