How to Write a Cover Letter for a Job - Template Download for 2020

how to write a cover letter

A cover letter or application letter is a business proposal on behalf of the job applicant and the recruiter or hiring manager. This letter helps to introduce yourself professionally and present what you can bring to the company and role you’re applying for. This letter should be personalized to the reader and entice them to want to read your professional work history or resume.

As a job seeker, learning how to write a cover letter will be one of the most valuable skills you can develop in your job search. Your cover letter should be customized, personalized, and targeted to the employer that you want to be employed by. And should be included in every single job application you send unless noted otherwise by the employer.

What is a cover letter

A cover letter is a formal introduction from a job seeker to a hiring manager. An effective cover letter provides your reader with a comprehensive background on yourself professionally while ensuring them that you have the ability to be able to perform particular position you want to be employed for. While this used to be done by positioning professional skills to what the job requires, a better method is to present significant accomplishments that your potential employer might value for the role.

Consider your cover letter the first impression to the hiring manager. The impression should be that you're a good fit for the company culture, role, and can address the employer's needs regarding performance.

Before writing your cover letter

Before you write your cover letter, it’s important to do research into the company you’re applying to. The more information that you have regarding what your potential employer might value, the better you can write a letter that might be impactful to the reader.

Read the about page. Reading the company about page, learning company objectives, company goals, and learning about the products and services that make up the company can be very useful. You’ll have the ability to speak to the reader about these things and make your cover letter more impactful.

Ask around. Do you know someone who works at the company? Can they provide you helpful insights int what the business values are? Spend time asking questions to those who might already have a position within the company. At the very least they could turn into an internal advocate for you and recommend your name simply because you're showing a great deal of effort and interest in wanting to join the business. This is sometimes referred to as an informational interview, where you can ask questions to someone who currently works within the business you want to work at.

Read the job advertisement. Reading through the job advertisement and job posting online can be useful. It can show job requirements that might help you to be able to pick and choose previous work or career accomplishments to present that support what the job requires. Even if the job posting displays skills that the employer deems important for the role, it is much better to use career accomplishments than listing each relevant skill for your future employer.

What goes in a cover letter

In order to start writing your cover letter, you’ll need to understand what goes inside of it. You can certainly skip this and use the cover letter example and cover letter template provided to act as a cover letter builder, replacing each portion and paragraph with your own information. Here’s what sections you’ll find inside.

Contact information: At the top of the page, include basic contact information like your name, phone number, email address, website, LinkedIn profile URL, and job title you’re applying for.

Opening phrase or greeting: It’s important to know who you’re writing your cover letter to. Address the specific person who is going to be reading your letter. Writing “Dear Hiring Manager” is a great backup when the hiring manager’s name isn’t listed on the job advertisement.

Opening paragraph: The first paragraph of your cover letter should display some relevant information about why you’re applying for this position, using the research that you gathered from your initial research or glance at the job ad. Show the hiring manager that you comprehend the goals of the business for that fiscal year. That should be sufficient enough to "hook" your reader into continuing to read.

Middle paragraph: Your middle paragraph should provide the reader your career accomplishments and professional background to truly support why you’re a great candidate for the role. This is the part that is really going to grab your prospective employer and tell them to read your resume. These career accomplishments should be in support of what you believe the specific position you’re applying for should require. This is much better than listing a specific skill by specific skills in order to support your candidacy.

Closing paragraph: Your closing paragraph (or salutation) should contain a level of gratitude and detail that tells the reader that your resume contains more information like what you’ve provided to help the hiring manager make a decision in the hiring process. It can be a great idea to proposition the reader, as well. For example, "I'd love to be able to walk you through how I increased sales by 32% at XYZ Company in 2012." This can help to invite yourself to an interview and tell the hiring manager you want the job.

Closing salutation: It’s best to use something like, “Thank you very much for your time” or some other type of professional closing to this letter.

When all of these sections are customized to what you believe the hiring manager wants to see, you have created the perfect cover letter. And by customizing your letter it can certainly lead to the first interview that puts you one step closer to receiving a job offer.

How to write a cover letter

Now that you know what goes inside your letter, start constructing your letter. Spend time understanding the business before you start writing. The best method of writing your letter is to write for the reader, instead of simply trying to describe who you are.

Writing your letter, with information that the hiring manager will find useful, is going to invite the recruiter or hiring manager to ask you to interview more than telling them stories about your personal or professional history. This is what is going to create your successful cover letter.

Try to use action verbs and keywords like produced, administered, established or pioneered. These are going to be used in your resume as well. But as you describe key accomplishments in your career, you’ll need to use these types of keywords in order to turn your good cover letter into a perfect one.

Your introductory paragraph should tell the reader that you understand what the company needs, while your middle paragraph should explain you understand what the role needs (through your career accomplishments), and your final paragraph should reference reasons why the hiring manager should continue reading your resume.

Writing a professional cover letter can take time and energy. It needs to be unique, personalized, and speak directly to the hiring manager. While these methods will certainly provide you the framework to write a great cover letter, you’ll need to spend time and energy in being creative with the methods in order to make it effective for the specific job you want.

Asking a friend or former colleague to read your cover letter can be useful in getting honest feedback before sending it to your new employer. If you can ask a former manager, that might be the best, since they can provide you with career advice on how they wrote their cover letter in order to get the job they currently have.

Cover letter writing tips

Cover letter tips

Sample cover letter

Below is a cover letter sample that gives you an idea of what your professional cover letter should look like when you’re complete. If you'd like to see more samples of cover letters, head to our database here.

sample cover letter

free cover letter template

Free Cover Letter Download

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

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Cover letter FAQ's

Questions asked by job seekers and cover letter writers.

Should my cover letter for an internship be different than what's described here?

Yes. When writing an internship cover letter, you may have to use personal accomplishments versus career accomplishments when alluding to what you can provide to the employer.

How do I write a cover letter for a teaching job?

Your cover letter for a teaching position should still allude to career accomplishments. They may be standardized testing that you were able to assist with or general feedback that you've received from parents and students. You may also want to reference your philosophy of education statement, professional development course you've taken, or references to your teaching portfolio. If you spend the time, you should be able to find accomplishments that your future principal or faculty will find valuable in assessing your candidacy.

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, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.

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