A cover letter for a job introduces you to a potential employer an increases your chances of getting a job interview — if done correctly. Even if you’ve never written one or have no work experience, you can write a professional cover letter that you will be proud of.
This guide shows you cover letter basics such as formatting i.e., spacing, fonts, and the heading. Then it walks you through exactly what to write in the body of the letter to showcase your job skills. Finally, you can download my free Microsoft Word or PDF cover letter template.
What is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter for a job is a one page letter written to the recruiter, hiring manager or a company’s human resources department that goes with your resume and or job application A good cover letter states who you are and persuades the person reading it to look at your resume. As a rule, a cover letter is not a repeat of your resume.
Writing a cover letter for a job is more than a formality. It can help you stand out among hundreds of applicants who share many of the same qualifications as you.
Cover Letter Basics
Now that you know the definition of a cover letter, we can go over cover letter basics including:
- Formatting a cover letter
- Online vs paper versions
- The purpose of writing one
Cover Letter Formatting
I like to use Google Docs or Microsoft Word to write resumes and cover letters. And I always save a PDF version and a .doc version of your documents. You also want to keep graphics, photos and tables out of your cover letter. A simple letter will be easier to read by humans and applicant tracking software bots. Here is a list of how to format your cover letter.
- Your cover letter should be single-spaced.
- Use a basic font such as Times New Roman or Arial. 10-12 point size
- Leave a line of space between each paragraph.
- Three lines of space should be between your closing (Sincerely,) and your typed name. This is the space where you’ll sign the letter in ink. If emailing the letter, leave one space between the closing and your name.
- Align all paragraphs flush with the left margin.
- Use standard one-inch margins.
Online vs Paper Cover Letters
Back in the day, people would mail or fax their resume and cover letter to the company or hiring manager.
Now emailing and uploading your information is commonplace. But, the format of these electronic documents is virtually the same.
The only difference between online and a paper cover letter is it needs to have space for your signature.
Even if you are emailing a cover letter, it should not sound like something you would send to someone to make lunch plans. You need to keep it professional. Your writing should have a business tone. It also needs to be formatted as listed above. This may seem stodgy, but it’s better to be overly professional than too casual.
The Purpose of a Cover Letter
While a resume sums up your experience, education, and skills with bulleted lists, a cover letter’s purpose is to position you as the right job candidate. This can be done in a letter that:
- Describes how you would solve the company’s problem,
- Proves the claim that you are the solution, and
- Asks the resume reader to act.
The job market is competitive as … all get out. Recruiters read a ton of resumes. A great cover letter can give you an edge over the competition. There’s no question that if you are a new college grad, you need a way to rise above the crowd. At the same time, if you are a worker with decades of experience a cover letter communicates the value of that work, especially if you want to make a mid-life career change. In the next section, I will show you exactly how to include all three of these statements in a cover letter.
Tips for What to Put in a Cover Letter
Cover Letter Heading
Let’s start at the top. When you start a cover letter, you should include a heading. This is not the most exciting part of the letter, but it has an important function. It provides the company with your contact information. You should address the letter to the person who would be your supervisor. With a little detective work, you can usually find the person. Call the human resources department and ask who it is, or search LinkedIn.
A cover letter header is single-spaced and it is structured like this:
- Your Name
- Next list the address where you get your mail on a regular basis
- Then, your phone number
- E-mail address
- Then, skip a line and write out the full date.
- Month XX, 20XX
- Then skip a line and write the contact information for the person you are writing to.
- Full Name of Person including prefix or suffix, as needed.
- Title of that person (if available)
- Finally, list the mailing address of the company
- Keep the opening simple. Use Mr. or Ms. If you are unclear on the gender, include the first and last name.
The 3-Paragraph Cover Letter Body
The cover letter body should be well-organized, easy to skim and present your most relevant accomplishments for the job you are applying to. It should also indirectly show that you are knowledgable about the company.
This can all be done in three paragraphs. While you can use the same format when you apply to different jobs, do not send the exact cover letter to a bunch of different jobs.
I don’t know about you, but when I sit down to write a cover letter for a client, even though I have written hundreds of them, I often feel like I don’t know what to say.
What do I put in the cover letter so the person reading it will want to interview my client? Over the years, I have found that writing a good cover letter is easier when I stick to what I like to call the 3-paragraph method.
Paragraph 1: You are the Solution
With any writing, it’s not about you. Writing is about the reader. Put yourself in the resume reader’s head for a minute. Imagine scanning through hundreds of cover letters and resumes a day.
Imagine how bored it would be reading the same old thing. Your letter will demonstrate why you’re the ideal candidate in three paragraphs.
Your cover letter is going to use an age-old sales tactic and give them a reason to give you a second look. You are going to be an answer to their problem. Stay with me because this works.
Let’s say you are applying for a Graphic Designer position with We Make InfoGraphics Company.
What are their pain points? You can Google news search the company, or if you have been in the field for a while, you might have an insider’s view of what the problems are.
3 Ways to Find the Problem You are Going to Solve
1. Stalk Them on Social Media
This is where you have to go a little Nancy Drew and snoop around. Start with Yelp, Google Reviews and or a Google News search. Let’s say the fake company We Make InforGraphics has poor customer reviews. Most of the customers are saying the work comes in late, or there’s little communication between the client and artist.
2. Connect the Dots
Next, you would try to read the job description
You can also look at the job description to identify the problem that someone with the skills and qualifications might solve.
For example, if you see the line that mentions needing to have an attention to detail and staying cool under deadline pressure, the company wants someone who won’t lose their mind when there’s a dumpster fire, which happens a lot.
The solution — you — would have processes in place where you get the work done ahead of time and you can trust the processes to catch any errors that might occur in an emergency.
Now back to the senior graphic designer cover letter.
Your I-am-the-solution-statement would include the position you are applying for and what a great job it is. The first paragraph of your cover letter would go something like this:
Paragraph 1 Example
I recently saw your posting for a senior graphic designer on your website. It looks like an amazing opportunity where I could use my visual design and client management skills. Client retention can be an ongoing challenge for small graphic design firms. Your next senior graphic designer should understand that consistently exceeding client expectations and effective communication leads to overall increased customer loyalty.
Paragraph 2: Prove You are the Solution
You made your claim in the first paragraph, now it’s time to prove it. The second paragraph is where you can dig into specific quantitative and/or qualitative data that supports your claim. What does this mean exactly?
You either need hard numbers to support your claim or you need someone else to tell the potential employer how awesome you are.
Some jobs are more metric-focused than others. Great data includes:
- How many of something you did in a certain amount of time
- Money you saved or generated
- How you saved time
Let’s see this in action.
Here’s the second paragraph of your letter where you offer quantitative proof (numbers) that you are the answer to a problem. For the most impact, make sure the problem and solution are directly related to the prospective job duties.