Knowing how to write a cover letter is a useful skill. Whether you are a student looking for internship opportunities or a professional applying for a job, you can expect a cover letter to be part of the requirements you will submit. But writing a cover letter is not merely a matter of scribbling down a note for someone. It takes practice to optimize a letter’s effect and enable you to achieve your goal. In this post, we provide a guide that teaches you how to write a professional cover letter.
What Is a Cover Letter
You might be asking, “what is a cover letter?” A cover letter is a formal piece of writing that you submit when applying for a job. It is usually sent along with other documents such as your resume, curriculum vitae, employer references, portfolio, or any other documents required by the hiring company. It is called a cover letter because it is traditionally placed on the very front of all the documents, thus serving as a cover for the other files.
The main purpose of this document is two-fold. First, it tells the reader of your interest in filling a position. This is a formal way of saying that you want to apply for the job. Second, it offers justification for your application. It should be able to show the reader why you are qualified for the job. Hence, it serves to convince the reader that you should be hired.
While this letter is mostly written when applying for a job, it may also be written for other reasons. For example, some schools require students to write these documents when applying for a program. In such cases, the content of the written piece focuses on the reasons for applying. Another example is when you are applying for internships. Just like applicants for a job, students applying for internship positions are required to explain in writing why they want to become an intern and why they deserve to be chosen.
In less common cases, this document may be written as an accompaniment to a bigger written work such as a thesis, a dissertation, or a proposal. For example, a grant proposal often comes with a short written piece that concisely explains what the proposal entails. In this regard, the letter serves a purpose similar to that of an abstract or executive summary. Simply going through it should give the reader the essential details of the proposal. In the case of a thesis or a dissertation, it serves to introduce the project.
Why It’s Important
Few people realize just how important it is for a cover letter to be well-written. Many people make the mistake of simply writing anything that comes to mind. But crafting this demands time and effort. You need to pay careful attention: there are reasons why producing a polished and professional output is vital. This is because a good paper:
Makes the first impression. First of all, this document provides the reader with their first impression of you. These documents are often read by human resource personnel, managers, or other hiring officers tasked with screening or hiring applicants. If your work is poorly written, has errors, or does not offer insight into who you are as an applicant, chances are you will not give your reader a good impression. It should therefore be able to capture your reader’s attention and more importantly impress them.
Serves as self-introduction. This letter also serves as a self-introduction. It should be able to give the reader a pretty good idea of who you are as a person and as a worker. A well-written work conveys personality, and this is done by showing the applicant’s unique aspects and qualities relevant to the job. If the reader fails to know enough about you, he or she might not get convinced that you deserve the job.
Justifies your application. Most important of all, your letter serves as a justification for your application. The reader already knows that you want to be hired. Now, they want to know why you should be hired. Think of this as a preliminary interview with the question focusing on your qualification. Hence, it should tell what makes you the best candidate for the job.
Whoever your reader is will evaluate your cover letter along with your resume and then decide whether you make the cut or not. He or she will look for a good impression, a clear picture of your personality, and overall competence. Failure to satisfy your reader means rejection of your application. In other words, your reader can make or break your application. All these make this document an important requirement.
What to Include in Your Cover Letter
One of the keys to learning how to write a cover letter for a job is knowing what to include in it. It should be unique, but it has to contain elements or parts that are essential to all letters. So what are these parts? The list below explains all parts that you need to include in your written piece, from basic contact details to any information that will advance your application.
Header. The header is the topmost part of the page. This part should feature your name, preferably in larger font size than the rest. This section may also include basic contact information such as your address, email address, phone number, and any relevant internet presence such as your LinkedIn page. You may also include titles such or post-nominal letters if they apply. For example, a nurse applying for a job may include RN, BSN, or MSN after the name to indicate credentials.
Date. Include the date when you wrote or sent the formal note. The common format is month-date-year, although date-month-year is also widely accepted.
Name of Recipient. The paper should be addressed to a specific recipient. Avoid using generic terms such as “Hiring Manager” or “Human Resource Manager” unless absolutely necessary, since this suggests a lack of effort in researching who the recipient should be. In most cases, ads for job vacancies include the name of the person who will receive the application files.
Recipient’s Position and Contact Information. Include the recipient’s position, department if applicable, company name, company address, and email address.
Greeting. The salutation refers to the short greeting that precedes the body. Avoid an informal salutation like “My Dear [NAME].” A simple “Dear [TITLE / NAME]” should be enough. Use a professional title if applicable. Also, make sure you check the gender of the recipient so that you can use the correct pronoun. If you are unsure of the recipient’s gender, simply write “Dear” followed by the full name.
Body. The body comes directly after the salutation. The body is typically divided into three paragraphs, each of which serves a specific purpose. Knowing what to put in each paragraph will help you produce a good output.
First paragraph. The first paragraph serves as your cover letter introduction. This part should communicate your intention to apply for a job. Moreover, this part should specify the job that you wish to fill and where you came across the information about the opening. Finally, you should end this paragraph with a concise statement of why you should get the job. Think of this one sentence as the thesis. If you know how to write a good thesis statement, this part should be easier.
Second paragraph. The second paragraph expounds on the academic and professional background relevant to the job. This means showcasing qualities and competencies that make you an excellent candidate. Some points you can discuss here include traits crucial to the job, projects that you handled or completed that illustrate your suitability as an employee, or ways you can contribute to the company. Include another paragraph if necessary, but keep things as concise as possible.
Third paragraph. The final paragraph is where you close the letter. This part should restate your interest in the position. Then thank your reader and tell them that you are open to an interview or further discussion regarding the job opening.
So you see, in some ways, the body of the letter is structured like an essay. The start conveys the intention of the writer, the middle provides reasons why you should be hired, and the last part wraps everything up. Links to cover letter examples that you can study are included below.
Closing. The closing part comes right after the body and before your name and signature. Use a more formal complimentary close such as “Sincerely” or “Respectfully.”
Name and Signature. Include your full name at the bottom, along with your signature just above your name. If you are sending the document as an email, there are ways to create an electronic signature.
Attachments. Finally, provide a list of the other documents that you have submitted. These documents may include a resume, employer references, and portfolios, among others.
Your letter should be written according to the requirements of the job you are applying for. But it should also contain all these elements as a minimum. For example, a work that does not feature reasons why you should be hired will likely be rejected by the reader. It will help if you use this cover letter guide as a checklist when you go through the writing process.
How to Write the Perfect Cover Letter
Writing the perfect letter is a tough job. A cover letter is all about quality rather than quantity. The final written piece should be short but packed with meaningful information. Different people have different approaches to crafting a well-written letter. But if you are yet to find your own approach, following the steps below will help you.
Step 1: Brainstorm
The first step of writing a letter is to brainstorm ideas in relation to your job. The job you are applying for has a considerable influence on what you will write. In other words, you need to customize your output according to the specific requirements of the job. Ask yourself questions. What competencies does this job require? What competencies do you possess that fit the job description? What are your justifications for applying for the job?
Using a template and looking at examples will make the writing process easier. But bear in mind that you should never completely copy a template or an example. These should only serve as a guide. One mistake applicants frequently commit is writing a single letter for all job postings. But job postings are different and thus you need to write a separate letter for each. This is why brainstorming is so important: it allows you to identify the particular needs of the job.
Step 2: Organize information
Whatever the purpose of a cover letter may be, it is fundamentally an instrument for communicating information. Effective communication, in turn, relies on a good organization. You need to present your information in the correct order. For example, it does not make sense to state that you are interested in applying for the job at the end. This piece of information should be presented at the very beginning. Organize your information well.
As discussed earlier, you should begin the letter by expressing your interest in filling the job vacancy. Then you should devote the next one or two paragraphs to explaining why you are qualified for the position. In this part, make sure you also present information in an organized manner. For example, it is confusing if you start by mentioning a project you completed in your previous job, then discuss your educational background, and then return to discussing work projects again. Arrange information by theme.
Step 3: Write the draft
Once you have arranged all your information, proceed to write the draft of your letter. Do not include information already stated in other documents. Instead, present information that corresponds with the competencies required by the job. For example, if the job involves project management, mention a project that you successfully managed. If the job requires working with a lot of people, show evidence of your talent in collaborating with others.
As stated earlier, a good letter reads like a well-written essay. There should be at least three paragraphs that correspond with the introduction, body, and conclusion. Do not worry about the cover letter format for now. You can polish the output once you start revising and proofreading. Focus more on conveying and organizing information effectively.
Step 4: Revise to make it concise
Remember that your reader is a busy person. They have no time to read all the applicants’ files to make a decision. Instead, they decide based on the letter and the resume alone. For this reason, you need to make your letter as short as possible. The process of writing this letter can therefore be considered as a practice in curating information. Because you are given a tiny space to make your case, you need to cut out all unnecessary details.
Include only the most essential information. It is useless to write down all your achievements in your letter if the reader can find them in other documents you submit. Also, reciting all your successes will just bore your reader. Your letter will end up unread and your application rejected. Trim your sentences, do not use twenty words if one will do, and be precise with your language.
Step 5: Proofread
The final step is proofreading, which is very important. Because this document needs to be as short as possible, even a single error would be glaring. There is simply no room for any kind of mistake, whether typographical or grammatical. Dedicate ample time for proofreading. Do not simply breeze through the text; rather, read each line at a time to ensure that you catch any error you may have missed while revising.
Remember that your letter is the first and possibly the only document your reader will look at. It should make you stand out and impress your reader. The presence of errors suggests a lack of care and attention to detail. As worrying as it sounds, one mistake can break your application. Make sure that everything is clear, spelled correctly, and accurate.
Popular Cover Letter Examples
Learning how to write this document can be difficult, especially since it requires you to maximize quality without making the text too lengthy. The process is made easier, though, by looking at samples. Studying samples is a good way to develop techniques and strategies. Apart from giving you an idea of what a well-written letter looks like, samples provide clues for constructing high-quality and detailed sentences. Some examples with explanations are provided below:
Sample Cover Letter for Job Application. This sample letter for a job application shows the basic structure of this document. As you will see, the writer expresses his interest in the position, presents background information that serves as reasons why he fits the job and conveys his openness to an interview at the end. Basic contact information is also provided, thus giving the reader the means to contact him.
Sample Letter for an Internship. Applying for an internship is quite similar to applying for a job. The difference is that internships are mostly for students. Since students have limited professional experience, the document will have to focus on academic and extracurricular activities. This sample for an internship shows how the writer leveraged her extracurricular activities to boost her application.
Sample Letter for School Application. As noted earlier, a letter may also be written as part of the application process for an academic program. Graduate and post-graduate studies, in particular, require applicants to show that they are qualified to enroll. This sample application for a master’s program shows how the writer uses his academic background to prove that he is prepared to take on more rigorous studies.
Sample Letter for Grant Proposal. Large projects like theses, dissertations, and grant proposals also often come with formal written notes endorsing the works. This sample for a grant proposal shows how the written note is written in such a way that the reader is informed of the essential details of the project. Like an executive summary, this sample allows its readers to gain an understanding of the salient points.
Cover letters can be notoriously hard to pull off. But samples can help you hone your skills. Well-written works like the ones provided above give insight into how writers use language effectively. Think of samples as demonstrations that teach you creativity, style, conciseness, and precision. Devote time to studying samples and soon enough, you will be just as good at writing your own works.
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Popular Cover Letter Templates
Learning how to write this document can also be done by using templates. There is no single format prescribed for writing this document. Meanwhile, academic and professional environments have become more permissive with regard to variations in style. But a template is useful since it provides the basic structure you need to accomplish. Below are some templates that you can use:
Sample Template for Job Application. This sample template for a job application serves as a useful guide for writing your letter. All you need to do is provide the information required by the labels and write the main body. Simply follow the instructions and tailor the content according to the job posting you are applying for.
Sample Template for School Application. As mentioned earlier, this document is usually written as part of the application process. But it is also often written for schools, especially for advanced programs. This template will help you write an excellent letter that will increase your chances of being admitted to your target school.
While samples show you what well-written letters look like, templates help you determine what to include in the document and where to place it. But do not forget that a template only serves as a guide. You still need to make adjustments as necessary. There is no one-size-fits-all tool for writing this document, which means customizing each and every letter you write is essential.
To recap, a cover letter is a formal note you submit to human resource personnel or hiring managers when applying for a job. Though it is a concise piece of writing, it is extremely important since it is the first document that the reader will read. A work that contains errors or fails to impress your reader will most certainly result in the rejection of your application.
It is therefore vital for you to devote enough time and effort to writing this document. Make sure your document offers useful information. Avoid writing a very long note and focus on quality instead. You can do this by including only the details that are most impressive and relevant to the job. Finally, eliminate all errors. Follow this guide and you should be able to write a dazzling work in no time at all.
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