Whether you love writing cover letters or view them as a chore, many hiring managers still rely on them to gauge an applicant’s personality, attention to detail and written communication skills. The key to writing effective cover letters is to follow instructions and communicate succinctly with an assertive voice.
Here are five guidelines to keep in mind as you write your cover letters.
1. Customise your header based on the format of your application
If you’re writing your cover letter directly within an online job application, there’s no need to include your address or other contact information, as you’ve probably already typed that into other areas of the application form. If you’re including your cover letter as an attachment, you can use the same heading as your resume.
2. Use an appropriate greeting
If you know the name of the hiring manager for this job, begin your cover letter by addressing them directly (Example: Dear Jane).
When writing your resume, it’s important to avoid weak and passive verbs, stay away from business jargon or clichés, and watch out for tired words and phrases. These faulty word choices can undermine the strength and effectiveness of your resume. Instead, make a point of using powerful action verbs and avoid overusing the same verbs (such as “assisted,” “oversaw,” and “utilised”).
If you don’t know the name of the hiring manager, you can begin your letter with a simple “Hello,” or “Dear Hiring Manager,”. Research the company’s culture when deciding how formal your greeting should be. More formal introductions such as “To Whom It May Concern:” or “Dear Sir or Madame,” can come across as too stuffy for some organisations, while greetings like “Hey!” and “Hi there,” are almost always too casual for a cover letter.
3. Avoid generic references to your abilities
Whenever possible, tell meaningful anecdotes that match your skills to specific problem-solving activities or tangible business results you’ve worked on in your career. Any candidate can say they possess a desirable skill. To make an impression, you need to show hiring managers examples of your skills in action. For example:
Too vague: “My skills would be a great fit for your organisation.”
More specific: “In my role as a sales associate, I am frequently required to provide exceptional customer service in difficult circumstances on short notice. I take personal and professional pride in exceeding customers’ expectations, and I look forward to developing this skill even further in the future.
Too vague: “I’m a proactive team player.”
More specific: “In my current job, I led the development of an internal recycling and waste reduction initiative. I assembled a volunteer team of people who were enthusiastic about the goal. Together, this group contributed to a 25% reduction in solid waste production at the company within six months.”
4. Keep it short and to the point
Unless specified in the job description, there is no required length for a cover letter, so focus on the details that are most important for the job. Read the job description closely to the requirements of the job. Think of examples from your past that fit those requirements, including your proudest professional achievements. Choose one or two and match them directly to the desired experience or qualifications the hiring manager is looking for, using just a few detailed but concise sentences. What traits or behaviours has the employer asked for in the job description? Consider using the cover letter itself as a way of demonstrating those traits.
Don’t reiterate everything that’s on your resume. You want to focus on one or two anecdotes, expanding on how you achieved something specific.
[Read more: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing]
Here are two examples of cover letters. First, read the job description on the left, then read the cover letter. In the first example, you’ll see how the writer uses specific phrases from the job description and includes them in the letter. The second example takes a more creative approach. The author includes some personal details but still focuses the cover letter around the requirements of the job. Both are less than 300 words long.
Example 1: Administrative Assistant
In this role, you will be supporting managers and other senior-level personnel by managing their calendars, arranging travel, filing expense reports, and performing other administrative tasks.
Strong interpersonal skills, attention to detail, and problem solving skills will be critical to success.
- 5+ years of experience providing high-level admin support to diverse teams in a fast-paced environment
- High school education or equivalent work experience
- Excellent Microsoft Office Skills with an emphasis on Outlook and Excel
- Self-motivated and highly organised
- Team player who works well with minimal supervision
Dear Hiring Manager,
I would like to apply for the position of administrative assistant at ***.
I have a proven track record of success in administrative roles, most recently in my current job as an administrative coordinator. For example, I proactively stepped in to coordinate a summit for our senior leaders last year. I arranged travel and accommodation for a group of 15 executives from across the company, organised meals and activities, collaborated with our internal events team, and ensured that everything ran according to schedule over the two-day summit. Due to the positive feedback I received afterwards, I have been given the responsibility of doubling the number of attendees for the event this year and leading an internal team to get the job done.
I completed my high school education in XXXX, have excellent Microsoft Outlook, Excel and Word skills and have gained a range of administrative experience including calendar management, arranging travel and filing reports. My colleagues have complimented me on my interpersonal skills, attention to detail and problem solving skills. I am self motivated, organised and keen to work collaboratively in teams.
After researching your company, I am pleased to see that your mission and vision are a match for my own career goals. I see that you set high standards and that there are advancement opportunities for self-motivated individuals like me, both here in Australia and overseas.
Thank you for reviewing my application. I look forward to meeting you for an interview.
Example 2: Brand Copywriter
We are looking for an experienced copywriter to join our team. If you have a great eye for balance, a quick wit, and can adapt a brand voice for any medium, then this role is right for you.
- Write for branded communications including ads, emails, events, landing pages, video, product marketing, and more.
- Maintain and develop the voice of our brand in collaboration with others.
- Develop copy for internal communications that generates excitement about our company culture
- Work independently and manage your time well.
- Strong copyediting skills: for your own work and for others.
- A portfolio of your work
- Minimum five years of copywriting experience, ideally within an agency
- Strong attention to detail
Dear Hiring Manager,
I’ve been passionate about writing from the moment I could hold a pen. An early interest in reading led me to discover different forms of storytelling, such as poetry and playwriting. In my professional life, I’ve consistently sought out opportunities to express a specific voice in various mediums: blogs, television spots, out-of-home advertising, and most recently, email and landing page copy. I’m writing today to apply for the copywriter role at your company.
In my five years of professional experience, I’ve held positions both corporate and agency settings. For the last three years, I’ve worked as a junior copywriter at XYZ Agency on accounts for both large and small brands looking for innovative advertising to reach new audiences and engage their existing base. I’ve received feedback from peers and managers complimenting my ability to both collaborate in a team setting and work independently. As you’ll see from my portfolio, I’ve written for both digital and physical advertising formats and I’m comfortable writing for both consumer and business audiences. My attention to detail means that I often serve as a copy editor for my team as well.
I’m proud to have contributed copy to a campaign that lead to a 10% year-over-year increase in share of consideration for an up-and-coming consumer brand in the retail space. I’m well-suited to achieve similar results in this copywriting role at ABC Company, and I’m excited to apply my skills in this new setting.
Thank you for reviewing my application. I look forward to meeting with you for an interview.
5. Always proofread before you submit
Reread your cover letter several times before submitting and keep an eye out for errors of spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Reading the letter aloud can help you pick out awkward phrasing or too-long sentences. There are certain common errors that we all have a tendency to gloss over, so make sure you do a slow, deliberate reading that examines each word. If your salutation includes the hiring manager’s name, triple-check the spelling.
For jobs that require submitting a cover letter, remember that you’re getting a valuable chance to illustrate your capabilities and share a glimpse of your authentic personality. Take advantage of the opportunity to let your greatest strengths shine, while also showing that you respect the hiring manager’s time and attention.