We discuss why cover letters are important, analyze an effective cover letter sample, and show you how to craft yours
We're often asked how to craft a powerful cover letter that will influence a hiring manager to grant you an interview and whether cover letters are even required anymore.
Simply put, a well-written cover letter will never hurt – and it may just be the reason a recruiter chooses you for an interview over another similar applicant.
In this article, we provide a comprehensive guide to writing cover letters while answering questions we’re frequently asked on the topic.
- Why you should include a cover letter
- Whether cover letters are required
- What makes a strong cover letter (with a cover letter sample)
- Which top cover letter mistakes you should avoid
- How to structure yours using our cover letter template
Why should I include a cover letter?
We recommend submitting a custom cover letter for each position you apply for to achieve the three key objectives:
1) Demonstrate your interest in a specific position to prospective employers
2) Elaborate on work experiences that are particularly relevant to the job
3) Provide additional information that will help hiring managers determine why you are a strong fit
While your cover letter may occasionally get skipped over by a hiring manager who chooses to go straight for your resume, it may be the single most important factor that drives another hiring manager to invite you for an interview.
You simply don't know who will be reviewing your application, how they approach the recruiting process, and what will resonate with them.
1) Demonstrate your interest in the role
A cover letter shows that you are highly interested in the position and sets you apart from candidates who did not include one.
When deciding whether or not to include one, ask yourself how badly you want the job.
If you're applying for a dream job, you have every reason to put your best foot forward and invest the time necessary to write a quality cover letter.
If you're only moderately interested in a role and would be indifferent if you were rejected, you may prefer to save the time and quickly submit a resume instead.
Remember that sending a poorly written cover letter can be worse than not sending one at all!
2) Elaborate on relevant experiences that show how you’re a good fit
A cover letter allows you to elaborate on specific points mentioned in your resume that are particularly important for the role.
While your resume serves as a fact-based outline of your work history, your cover letter allows you more thoroughly discuss select accomplishments.
If there was a consulting project or initiative you worked on that piqued your interest in the role you are applying for, it's worth mentioning in your letter.
Other information you may want to address in your cover letter include:
- Relevant certifications or qualifications you are pursuing or recently obtained
- Why you are looking to switch career paths
- Why you are interested in that specific job
3) Provide additional information that may influence the employer’s decision
In your cover letter, we recommend briefly addressing issues that may raise red flags to provide hiring managers with additional comfort.
Remember, a hiring manager’s primary goal is to fill the position with the best candidate possible. They want to be sure they won’t be wasting any time by inviting you for an interview.
Issues that you may want to address include:
- Gaps in employment
- Need for visa sponsorship or existing permission to work
- Upcoming move to the employer's city
Are cover letters required?
While resumes are a standard requirement on job applications, cover letters are often considered optional.
If an employer specifically requests a cover letter, however, you should absolutely include one.
Even if a cover letter is not specifically requested, we recommend submitting one if you have the opportunity to do so.
However, before you start crafting yours, double-check that you’ll have the option to submit it, as some companies simply don't want them.
Amazon, for example, simply states that "being a peculiar company, we don't accept cover letters. Just ensure your resume is up to date and you're all set."
What makes a strong cover letter?
An effective cover letter should embody the following characteristics:
- Addressed to the hiring manager, showing you conducted your research
- Uses the introduction to explain why you are interested in a role at the company, demonstrating your sincere interest
- Outlines strengths relevant to the target role in the opening paragraph, providing a preview of what you will discuss in your letter
- Provides concrete examples from your previous roles, explaining how you excel at the areas mentioned to provide evidence that you will be able to effectively fulfill the position requirements
- Thanks the reader and opens the door for potential follow up
Take a look at this cover letter sample for a sales and marketing position that effectively incorporates the elements above.
What are the most common cover letter mistakes?
The three most common cover letter faux pas we see are:
1) Keeping the focus on yourself instead of on the employer
The purpose of the cover letter is to sell an employer on how you will help their organization achieve the goals they laid out in the job description.
Don’t focus on what you hope to gain or learn from the role.
First and foremost, hiring managers care whether you’ll be able to get the job done.
Show them examples from your past as evidence that you will serve their company in a similar fashion.
2) Not tying your content into the target role
To prepare a great cover letter, you should tailor your content to match the specific skills and qualifications the job posting is looking for.
To do so, print out the job description for your target role and highlight the most important responsibilities mentioned.
You’ll want to naturally weave these keywords into your cover letter as you reference relevant examples from your work experience or academic training.
Each body paragraph should also end with a transition sentence that ties the example you provided into how it is relevant to the company.
3) Sending the same cover letter for every position
The primary benefit of sending a cover letter is that it allows you to explain why you are a strong fit for a specific role.
You should never send the same generic cover letter to multiple companies.
It’s easy to spot a cover letter that was not customized, and it signals that you were likely sending out bulk applications to multiple companies.
Whether or not it’s true, your goal is to make each company feel like it’s your number one employer of choice.
At the very least, you should explain why you are interested in the specific role you are applying for.
If you don’t have time to craft a custom cover letter, it’s often better to omit it completely.
How is a strong cover letter structured?
Your cover letter should be one page in length.
By keeping your content brief and well-structured, you’ll help ensure that a hiring manager actually reads it!
Below, we provide a simple, effective cover letter format for you to use. Simply fill in the fields in brackets, and you'll be good to go!
Try to address your cover letter to a specific person whenever possible. Use LinkedIn or the company website to find out who the hiring manager or division leader is.
This approach demonstrates that you took the time to research your prospective employer.
Opening Paragraph [Why you are writing and why you are a good fit]
Dear Hiring Manager,
I am writing to apply for the [target role] role with your company. I believe that I would be a strong fit for the position based on my experience as [current position name] as well as my [previous positions/academic background], where I demonstrated my ability to effectively [fulfill job requirement #1, job requirement #2, and job requirement #3].
First Paragraph [Your current role and how it is relevant]
I am currently the [job title] at [company name], where I am primarily responsible for [describe key job responsibilities here]. In this role, I have [describe relevant experience]. This experience demonstrates my ability to [fulfill job requirement 1], which will allow me to effectively contribute to your team as a [target role].
Second Paragraph [Your previous experience and how it is relevant]
As outlined on my resume, I previously held [types of previous positions] roles at [company names]. Select achievements from my career that demonstrate my ability to [fulfill job requirement 2] and [job requirement 3] include:
- Achievement 1
- Achievement 2
- Achievement 3
As a [target role], I would similarly [devise and implement new strategies] that [help drive sales for company name, etc.].
Third Paragraph [Why you are interested in the role and the company]
I am particularly interested in joining [company name] because [insert specific reasons regarding company culture, fit for the position, transferable skills, etc.].
Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you regarding the potential next steps. If you have any questions for me in the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me.
When paired with an achievement-based resume, a cover letter can make your application stand out.
However, if you're sending your resume via email, consider an abbreviated email introduction instead of a formal cover letter. Alternatively, you can attach your cover letter to the email.
About Resume Pilots
Resume Pilots is an award-winning executive resume writing, career coaching, and outplacement firm. Our previous clients include CEOs and senior executives at the world's leading companies.
Here's how we can help you:
Resume, Cover Letter, and LinkedIn Writing: After a one-hour phone consultation, one of our expert writers will prepare your top-quality personal marketing materials from scratch.
Career Transitions: A powerful combination of our document writing and career coaching services helps position you to secure a new role.
We're a proud member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. All of our writers have studied in the Ivy League and other top-tier universities and have solid industry experience.