How do you write a cover letter?

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If you dread writing cover letters, you certainly aren’t alone. But time-consuming as they may be, they’re a great way of communicating the many skills and experiences you offer and can set you apart from the competition. Not sure where to start? Try these tips:

Before You Start

Create a Plan

Before you even begin writing, review the job description to make sure you fit the company’s needs. If not, this specific role shouldn’t be your priority right now, especially if there are others that may be a better fit.

If you do think you are a fit, set a timer. Spend no more than 30 minutes researching the company and 2 hours writing the cover letter (and ideally less!). Remember, some companies won’t look at your cover letter, and some just want to make sure you can write, so this does not need to be Shakespeare. You have 3 goals:

  1. Demonstrate that you understand the company and its needs

  2. Prove that you can fill a particular need by providing evidence

  3. Show your professionalism through grammatical and error-free writing

Research

Begin by doing some investigative work. What skills does the job you’re applying for require? Are there specific qualities they seem to be looking for? And what is it that the company does?

To be successful, you’ll need to do your research. By citing information about your target company in your cover letter, you show that you already understand the work they’re doing. Remember – it’s not about you, it’s about how you can help them. Try answering these questions in your research:

  • What is the company's "breaking" news (e.g., recent acquisition, revised mission statement)?

  • Are there pressing concerns or specific opportunities?

  • What skills and/or experience does the company expect you to have? How can you contribute?

  • What is the work environment like?

  • What drives the company’s profits?

Get a Template

Staring at a blank page is daunting, so don’t start with that. Begin by downloading a template — you can try this generic template or choose from one of these Word templates.

Start Writing

Address and Salutation

Address the cover letter to someone within the company. If you have the name of someone specific, great. If not, you can simply use the head of the company or the specific division you are applying to. You can find most company addresses on the company website.

After the address, you should begin the letter with “Dear Mr./Mrs. X:”. A colon after the name is most widely used, as it conveys formality.

Opening Paragraph

Your opening should highlight why it is you’re excited to work for the company and clearly articulate what interests you about the position. You might consider:

  • Opening with a personal story to explain your interest in the company (e.g., “After meeting [insert name] and hearing about your new products, I am convinced my skills will be a good fit with [insert company].”)

  • Highlighting your enthusiasm for the role (e.g., “The [insert role name] position combines the two aspects of business about which I am most passionate: marketing and strategy.”)

  • Explaining how you can fill a need for the company (e.g., “Given the company’s commitment to meeting client needs, I believe you will find that my strong interpersonal skills and operational experience will contribute greatly to that goal.”). You can build on this sentence in the next paragraph.

Body

This is where you can further elaborate on your skills and experiences that will help you fill a need for the company. You should be sure to:

  • Cite evidence and provide specific examples that are relevant to the position for which you are applying

  • Prove to the reader that you have done your homework on the company

Closing

Close the letter by initiating some type of action. You can do this by referencing who you will be reaching out to, or when you hope to next interact with the company. Be assertive, but diplomatic. Examples include:

  • “I will call you next Tuesday to arrange a convenient time to meet. Thank you advance for your time.”

  • “I look forward to speaking with you when your firm is in Boston for interviews.”

  • “I appreciate your time and will look forward to hearing from you about next steps in the interview process.”

Review

Proofread

You’ve taken the time to write this, so don’t allow a small grammatical error to discount your efforts! At the very least, read the letter out-loud to yourself twice. Better yet, ask a grammar-loving friend or family member to take a look before your send it out.

What not to do

As tempting as it may be to pull out an old cover letter and submit it, don’t. If you’re going to spend the time applying, you should make it worth your time by putting your a good foot forward – consider this your interview prep.

 
Kate McLaughlinCareer