How to Write an Effective Cover Letter for a Job or Internship (10 Simple Steps) [2020]

how to write a cover letter

A cover letter (or sometimes referred to as an application letter) is an introduction letter between a job applicant and a hiring manager or recruiter. The cover letter accompanies a resume or curriculum vitae in a job application. A potential employer is likely to read the cover letter before reading a job applicant’s resume.

A job seeker should write a tailored and customized letter for every job application.

How to Write a Cover Letter

Steps to writing a cover letter:

A common mistake for cover letter writers is to consider the cover letter template and layout before writing an effective letter. The perfect cover letter is one that the reader finds engaging, rather than simply visually appealing. Use Google Docs to write the cover letter before putting the letter into a business letter document.

Step 1: Research the Job

Look through the job description, job listing, job posting, or job advertisement (job ad) for details about the job requirements. Look for hard skills, soft skills, or other key qualities that the hiring manager is looking for. For example, if the hiring manager is seeking a professional with interpersonal skills or communication skills, this could be an indicator to share a story about what significant work accomplishment utilized communication skills to get the job done. Any specific skill mentioned in the job description is an indication of a potential story to share with the future employer. In other words, to share a story that displays the relevant skill.

Step 2: Research the Company

A company “About Us” page, social media accounts, and mission statements can hold beneficial information for a cover letter writer. It can contain information about company values and company culture. For example, a company embracing collaboration or innovation may call for the cover letter writer to mention work or career accomplishments that include a team rather than an individual accomplishment.

Tip: Performing an informational interview can be helpful to job seekers. An informational interview allows a job seeker to gain insightful information about a company and gain career advice from a professional who is already employed with a prospective employer.

Step 3: Research the Hiring Manager

Starting a cover letter with “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Hiring Manager” is sufficient, but having the hiring manager’s name is best. Using LinkedIn or the company “About Us” page can be helpful in finding the hiring manager’s first and last name so they can be addressed directly in the opening paragraph. Write down findings from steps one through three before writing a cover letter. Addressing a specific person when starting the cover letter is going to make the reader feel directly spoken to.

Step 4: Career Accomplishments

From the first steps, a cover letter writer should have sufficient insights to start thinking about previous career and work accomplishments that they want to share with the hiring manager. Write these accomplishments down. Though, they will be crafted into two to four bullet points that are no longer than 150 to 200 words in total once the cover letter is finished. At this point, simply recalling which work accomplishments the potential employer might value is sufficient. For internship positions, this section may refer to personal, academic, or sports-related accomplishments.

Step 5: Elevator Pitch

The opening paragraph to a cover letter should be an elevator pitch or “sales pitch” to the hiring manager. This should utilize the information gathered about the job requirements, company culture, and more. A good elevator pitch may use this information to open the letter. Or it may use a short personal statement and story that creates a bond between the job applicant and the employer. For example, “My youth was heavily influenced by Apple products, particularly the iPhone 1.” A poor elevator pitch would be something like the following, “This seemed like my dream job, which is why I’m applying.”

Step 6: Start Building

Use the elevator pitch as the opening paragraph. And the career accomplishments as the body paragraph. Craft the two parts together in a format that tells a unified story about strong relevant work history and overall career experience. Refer to the job title desired in the opening paragraph.

Tip: A great cover letter is easy for the hiring manager to read. Avoid creative layouts and unique fonts. Use a sample cover letter to get an idea of what a professional cover letter layout resembles.

Step 7: Add Personal Information

Once the letter paragraphs have been written, add personal contact information to the cover letter. This includes the letter writer's name, phone number, email address, LinkedIn profile, and personal website in certain circumstances.

Step 8: Add the Closing Paragraph

Complete the letter by creating a call to action in the closing paragraph. A great call to action may be mentioning available times for an interview or a strong desire to end the job search for the open position. The closing paragraph should be no more than 100 words. The final paragraph should be the shortest paragraph in the letter.

Step 9: Refine the Cover Letter

Based on previous work history and the specific job titles referred to in the resume, the letter builder may want to alter the career accomplishments referred to in the cover letter. Ensure that the resume and cover letter don’t seem repetitive.

Step 10: Export the Cover Letter

A professional cover letter should be sent as a PDF or Word document in a job application. Any other file format may make it more difficult for the hiring manager to read. As well as any Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that are scanning the cover letter and resume for key insights (skills, education history, and other keywords) the hiring manager has determined are important.

Tip: A successful cover letter is tailored to a specific position. A job seeker should alter work history accomplishments and work stories shared in the letter. A cover letter builder can be helpful to expedite the letter format process. But the letter writing should be customized to the potential employer and job title each time a job application is submitted.

administrative assistant cover letter example

Cover Letter Format

Contact Information
Phone Number
Email Address
LinkedIn Profile
(Optional) Professional Website

Dear Mr./Mrs. First Last Name

Opening Paragraph
First paragraph should greet the reader and suggest an understanding of the job requirements. This paragraph should be no more than 150 words.

Second Paragraph
The body paragraph should contain relative work examples and career accomplishments that entice the hiring manager to read the resume.

Closing Paragraph
Thank the reader for their time. Suggest a desire to interview with the company as soon as possible.

Letter Closing
Sincerely/Yours truly

Typed Name or handwritten signature

Document Format

A good cover letter document format is as follows:

Cover Letter Sample

Below is a cover letter example using the method described.

Ian Smith
Sales Associate

May 1st, 2013

Dear Mr. Johnson —

I have always been told that I have a strong personality. One that is approachable, sociable, and more. This is why I feel like I'll be a perfect fit for your open Sales Associate position. I understand that the needs of the job are more than simply selling. But being a domain expert as well.

During my tenure as a previous Retail Associate I was able to:

  • Learn the inner workings of a highly detailed product and be able to sell it to customers.
  • Manage a sales floor as well as interact with customers and deal with customer support issues.
  • Collaborate, direct, and communicate efficiently to other retail and sales associates.
I look forward to interviewing with you. If there is any information that you'd like to see that I didn't include in my application, please feel free to contact me and I will return that to you as soon as possible. My enclosed resume should provide more insights into my career achievements for you.

Ian Smith
free cover letter template

Free Cover Letter Template

Download this cover letter template in Word format. Can be imported as a Google Doc. Instant download. No email required.

Download Template

Cover Letter Examples

Below are a number of cover letter examples by job.

Popular Cover Letter Examples

Accounting Cover Letter Examples

Administration and Office Support Cover Letter Examples

Advertising, Arts, and Media Cover Letter Examples

Banking and Financial Services Cover Letter Examples

Call Center and Customer Service Cover Letter Examples

Community Services and Development Cover Letter Examples

Consulting and Strategy Cover Letter Examples

Education and Training Cover Letter Examples

Cover Letter Resources

Related Hiring Resources

How to Write a Professional Email: Writing Guide, Email Examples [2020]
Writing an Internship Cover Letter (+ High Converting Example)
How to Write the Perfect Resume for Your Job Application [2020]
author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur,, SparkHire, and many more.


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