How to Write a Great Cover Letter
Think of a cover letter as an elevator pitch—only shorter. Career planning experts say hiring managers decide in seconds whether to keep reading or move on. So, if you’re applying for a job and can submit a cover letter, you’ll want to keep it short but pack it with purpose.
Here are five steps for writing impactful cover letters that career planning experts say can help get you noticed:
Step 1: Do your homework.
If you’re committed to landing a job, then commit yourself first to learning everything you can about the company, job, and job requirements. It’s critical to tailor each cover letter and résumé to each individual job you’re pursuing. Use this time to identify keywords you want to incorporate into your cover letter and résumé. During your research, try to find out who will be reviewing applications so you can direct your cover letter to their attention. If you can’t get that information, use the job title instead: Write “Dear Production Director,” for example, and not “To Whom It May Concern.”
Step 2: Hook the reader.
In your cover letter’s opening paragraph, you want to capture the hiring manager’s attention by positioning yourself as a compelling candidate. Be brief, original, and authentic. “Start with the punchline—why this job is exciting to you and what you bring to the table,” Jodi Glickman, author of Great on the Job, told the Harvard Business Review.1 In the same article, Knockout CV author John Lees suggests, “Say something direct and dynamic such as, ‘Let me draw your attention to two reasons why I’d be a great addition to your team.’”1
Step 3: Market yourself.
Use the second paragraph to show why you’re the best candidate for the job. “Briefly communicate your most relevant accomplishments as they relate to the target position,” Walden University’s Career Planning and Development team suggests. “Provide examples of your accomplishments, especially those that describe why you’re a good fit for the position.”2 Use bullet points to showcase three to four selling points. Don’t crib from your résumé. Do use data to support your claims, as in this example from Indeed.com: “Reduced bad debt by 12% by analyzing delinquent accounts and creating customer surveys to pinpoint common payment problems.”3
Step 4: End assertively.
The goal of your third and final paragraph is to “ask for the interview,” Walden’s Career Services team says.2 Use these final words to re-emphasize how your background is a match for the position, express your enthusiasm for the job opportunity, and state your interest in connecting to further discuss your qualifications. Close with “Sincerely,” or something equally professional.
Step 5: Do a final review.
Proofread your cover letter thoroughly, from top to bottom. Check your formatting, grammar, and spelling. If you can, have a friend or family member read it for you, too. You might even find help through your college or university. Walden offers its students and alumni online career planning services that include multiple resources for writing résumés and cover letters.4
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