How to write a cover letter in 5 steps

So you’re searching for a job and you’ve found the perfect opening. Now you just need to apply and persuade the company that you’re the person they’re looking for. 

If you have the experience and skills to match the position, you’re already off to a great start. And writing a cover letter could help you get even a step further. Keep reading to learn how to write a cover letter, plus a few extra tips.

Key takeaways

  • A cover letter is an introduction to who you are along with your professional experience and qualifications.
  • Cover letters typically include contact information, a date, a greeting, an introduction, a strong case for your employment and a closing call to action.
  • You can use a cover letter to build on the information in your resume or CV.
  • It can be helpful to tailor letters based on the job you’re applying for.

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What is a cover letter?

A cover letter, which may also be referred to as an application letter, is one of the first impressions a prospective employer may have of you. 

You’ll typically send a cover letter when applying for a job, along with a resume or a CV

While a resume gives a description of your job history, a cover letter can build on it to provide an introduction to who you are. A good cover letter should also express your interest in the job and explain how your experience matches what’s needed for the position being advertised. Plus, it gives you a chance to say why you think you’d be a good fit for the role. 

Example cover letter format

Although each cover letter will be unique, they usually follow a general format:

A visual example of a typical cover letter format.
  1. Header: Include general information like your name, current role or occupation, and contact information.
  2. Date: Including the date helps your potential employer know when it was written.
  3. Greeting: If you know the hiring manager or HR contact’s name, you can address them directly as a way to personalize your letter.
  4. Attention-grabbing introduction: Share who you are and what you can offer to the role and employer.
  5. Middle paragraphs: Talk about your skills, your experience, previous measurable results and what excites you about your future at the company. 
  6. Closing statement: Include a thank-you to the addressee for their time, plus a call to action that encourages them to follow up with you.
  7. Closing: Make sure to keep your closing professional and polite and include your name and signature.

How to write a cover letter for a job

There are a few basic steps you can follow to write a good cover letter. And using a format like the one in the example above could help make the process easier. Here are five steps to help get you started. 

1. Include a header

A header including your contact information should be at the top of the cover letter. This may include your name, your phone number and an appropriate email address. 

Follow your contact information with the date you’ll be sending the letter or application. 

2. Greet the recruiter or hiring manager

Start your letter off by greeting whomever you’re writing to. This could be a recruiter, a hiring manager or members of the hiring team. 

According to Glassdoor, applicants who use general greetings like “To whom it may concern” instead of a person’s name are less likely to get the job. It may be a little more difficult to find a name to address your letter to, but it can make a better impression. 

If you’re having trouble finding the right name to use, you can call or email the human resources department to ask. 

3. Write a strong introduction

A strong introduction may determine whether a hiring manager reviews the rest of your application, so be sure your introduction stands out. You’ll also want to make sure it includes who you are and what you can offer.

Consider asking yourself these kinds of questions to help create a compelling introduction:

  • What interests and excites me about the job? 
  • What experience do I have that supports my application? 
  • What unique soft skills, hard skills and perspectives can I bring? 
  • What are my most notable relevant achievements?

The introduction can also be a great place to mention an internal reference. If you were referred by someone at the company, you might consider including their name and reference in your intro.

4. Make a case for yourself 

The next few paragraphs should detail why you’re a good fit for the position. In these sections, you can include any previous relevant experience, responsibilities and skills. 

And to avoid repeating the same information from your resume, consider framing your experience and responsibilities as achievements. When sharing your achievements, be as specific as you can. If you can talk about measurable results and impacts, you can show the hiring manager how you contributed to growth.

For example, say you’re a recent college graduate and were the president of a student association. You could include that you led schoolwide events that helped foster productive communication between students and faculty members. And these events increased first-year student participation by 30%, boosting your school’s productivity and success as a whole.

Other paragraphs could focus on other relevant accomplishments and skills you think are important for the position. And don’t forget to show you’ve done your research about the company.

5. Include a closing statement and signature

In closing, summarize any additional factors you think the hiring manager should know. Then thank them for their time and wrap it up with a call to action that encourages them to reach out to you for more information or an interview.

Your signature can include a friendly but professional signoff like “Sincerely,” “Thank you” or “Best regards.” And don’t forget to sign your name at the bottom of the letter.

Other tips on writing a cover letter

Here are some additional best practices to consider when writing a cover letter. 

Thoroughly read the job description

Make sure you understand the responsibilities and requirements of the position—it can help you pinpoint and emphasize the skills you have that align with the job.

Research the company

Learning about the company can give you background on its history, culture, business objectives, goals and accomplishments. This might help you communicate how your skills and experience could be assets and what impact you can make in the role you’re applying for. 

Determine the tone of your cover letter

Researching the company could also help you figure out what tone to use in your cover letter. For example, a startup company could have a more relaxed company culture, which may give you room to be more informal and creative in your cover letter. Other businesses, like a doctor’s office or law firm, may call for a more formal tone.

But no matter the culture of the company you’re applying to, it’s still a good idea to remain professional while explaining your enthusiasm for the position. To make sure you strike the right balance, you could consider having a trusted family member or friend read through your cover letter.

Tell a story to emphasize your skills 

Instead of just listing your skills, consider telling a story. This can showcase your skills and previous experience in a more thoughtful and engaging way. It can also highlight the impact you’ve made and show more of your personality. 

For example, say the job listing calls for leadership and communication skills. You could say, “I have great leadership and communication skills,” but that only repeats the job description—and doesn’t necessarily show if this is even true. What might be more effective is explaining how you led a student program of 100 students during your senior year of college. You could even write about how you solved a specific problem during the program and include an explanation of its success and results. 

Write about the future

Talking about your past experience is important. But it’s also a good idea to write about the future. Emphasize what you could do in your new role and how you could help the company grow. 

Be unique and stand out

One way to make your cover letter stand out is to let your enthusiasm shine through. It may also help to use stronger or more unique alternatives for words or phrases that could come across as bland, indecisive or ordinary, like “I think,” “I feel,” “detail-oriented” or “good.”

Get to the point

Hiring managers sift through hundreds of cover letters and resumes. So a two-page cover letter may get lost in the shuffle or may not be read thoroughly. By being specific and direct, you can help keep your word count in check. Keeping your letter within one page—and possibly even shorter—may be your best bet.

Edit and review 

Before you submit your resume and cover letter, remember to edit and proofread them. A friend or family member could look them over as well.

And if you feel like you could use even more cover letter inspiration, view some more examples or templates online—which could help you better visualize how you might want to structure your cover letter.

Writing a cover letter in a nutshell

When writing your cover letter, highlight your skills and experience through storytelling. Emphasize your value, and express your enthusiasm. 

For more resources to help you land the job you want, read more about questions to ask during an interview and tips for negotiating salary.

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