A cover letter is a letter that supplements a resume. It’s more conversational than a resume. It’s written by candidates to introduce themselves, explain their interests in a company and position, and set themselves apart from their competition.
Is a cover letter necessary? Only if the employer asks for one. However, a cover letter can be very helpful if you take the right approach, even if you aren’t asked to submit one, especially if you want to set yourself apart from other candidates.
A well-written cover letter positions you above the competition by highlighting why the company and desired position makes sense for your career. An unhelpful cover letter is a reproduction of your resume in a letter format.
How do I format a cover letter?
- Include your email address, phone number, LinkedIn, and portfolio site if you have them. Since you are applying online, make links to your email, LinkedIn profile, and portfolio clickable.
- If you’re a freelancer applying to jobs outside your country of residence, including your complete address is probably unnecessary. Just include your city, state or region, and country.
- Include your complete address If you’re applying to jobs within your country of residence, especially for permanent or temp-to-hire positions.
- If you submit your cover letter within the body of an email, you can include your contact info with links in your signature.
- Include three spaces between your contact information and the opening salutation.
- Keep it short. Explaining why you’re best for the position in 3 to 5 sentences is better than a 3+ paragraph letter.
- Close with “Sincerely” and your name.
What should I write in my cover letter?
Use keywords from the job description. Like resumes, cover letters are often scanned for keywords by ATS software.
Jobscan lets you upload your resume and cover letter for a total score to show how likely a hiring manager will be to review your application. For more about ATS, please read my article on how to write resumes.
When your high-scoring resume and cover letter are reviewed, the hiring manager will consider if you fit what they are looking for. You’ll need to target your cover letter, like your resume, to show you’re the best fit.
- Are you applying for the same position at a different company? Explain why you want to work for the company and how your skills and expertise can help solve the company’s unique challenges.
- Are you looking to transition from a bank to a credit union? Explain why you like credit unions and how you’d be an excellent fit for the credit union’s culture.
- Are you seeking a career change from a banker to a web developer? Explain why the career change makes sense.
- Discuss your vocational training in coding and personal projects that are most relevant to the problems the employer needs to solve.
Are you seeking a job as a translator or proofreader? Review the company’s website for grammar or translation mistakes and identify them in your cover letter. This will help you provide value upfront. (If you take this approach, your cover letter will likely extend beyond five sentences, and that’s OK.)
Make sure to use the company’s website and LinkedIn page to help you keep your explanations relevant.
Another tip to set you apart
Identify the hiring manager and address them in your opening salutation by exploring the company’s website and LinkedIn page.
If you can’t find them or make an educated guess about who the hiring manager could be, you can reach out to a relevant employee on LinkedIn and ask if they know who the hiring manager is.
You might even find the person currently working in the position you want.
While “Dear Hiring Manager” is OK and preferable to “To whom it may concern” and “Dear sir or madam,” directly addressing the hiring manager is an excellent way to set yourself apart from equally qualified candidates.
Don’t write a cover letter to check a box – write a cover letter to improve your chances of winning an interview. Write with brevity, show you know about the company, and explain how you can help solve its unique problems.
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