Writing a cover letter can feel like a painful task. It’s not something that is going to guarantee you the job. And most job seekers have that firmly planed in their minds by now (at least in 2020). So why do we have to write one? And why should we spend the time writing an effective, targeted cover letter for our future employer if they aren’t going to read it?

While these are all valid concerns, with science and data to support that your future interviewer most likely won’t read your cover letter, there’s a chance that they might. And by not including a cover letter, you could risk your chances of landing the job entirely.

In this writeup, we’re going to cover why you should write a cover letter, what a cover letter is, how to write an effective one, and provide expert tips on writing your cover letter faster, with more effective outcomes.

Let’s jump right in.

What Is a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is a business letter that is written to your future employer during your job application process. This is a letter where you get the opportunity to speak to your hiring manager, interviewer, future manager, or CEO.

In this letter, you get the opportunity to present yourself. You can present who you are, what you’ve accomplished, why you are a good fit for the position, and attract the company to inviting you to interview.

The cover letter is considered one of the basic requirements to all job applications, including your resume. Additional assets like letters of recommendation or professional references, are assets that are in addition to these baseline required materials.

Why Are Cover Letters Required?

OK, so 90% of hiring managers aren’t going to read your cover letter. Then why write a cover letter? There are a few reasons why you need to write a cover letter.

It shows your commitment to the job

If your cover letter sounds generic, doesn’t include any mentions or support to what the Human Resources team listed within the job description, then you might come across as simply copying and pasting your cover letter to multiple job applications.

This shows that you don’t have an honest passion for wanting to work with the business. It shows that you simply want a job. For the employer, this helps weed out those who are simply looking for employment versus having a passion for their business.

It shows you take the time to present yourself

Writing a cover letter will take time. And it will take effort. By having this asset as part of your job application, it shows your future employer that you are willing to dig into the work and spend the time trying to produce something of quality.

For your employer, this is a way of measuring your work ethic before they get an opportunity work with you.

It is a requirement

This is a good reason. Most job application portals won’t let you submit your application without a cover letter.

Why Don’t Hiring Managers Read Cover Letters?

This is a tough question. And one that’s impossible to truly answer. Studies have suggested that cover letters, for a long time now, haven’t been the most effective in measuring how well a candidate is going to perform.

90% of the applicants who are hired are often heavily recommended by a close business colleague, a business colleague within the hiring managers network, or have a significant number of recommendation letters from important business leaders.

This validating network effect is much stronger in terms of quickly finding a job placement than crafting a perfect cover letter.

If wagers had to be made why interviewers, hiring managers, and human resource groups don’t read cover letters, it would be:

  • They simply don’t have the time.
  • They recognize cover letters don’t mean you are going to be a successful employee.
  • It is commonplace to know how to create an impactful cover letter that is targeted to the job.

This would make sense. Imagine you were trying to do your work and you were asked to read 45+ cover letters. If each cover letter was about 600 words, it might take you at least half of the day to get through those cover letters.

And at the end of it, after reading through all of them, it still might not provide you a great indicator for which 5 of the candidates you should invite to interview.

This is why the cover letter alone, is not an effective vehicle to ensuring your employment. But the strategies listed in this guide can ensure that if one of your future colleagues does read your cover letter, it stands out, speaks to them, and draws a level of intrigue that promotes wanting you to move into the first round of interviews.

What Goes Inside a Cover Letter

If you don’t have the experience to know what goes inside of a cover letter, you aren’t alone. There are some basic requirements for this business letter to be considered a cover letter.

Your contact information

Towards the top of the page, ideally not inside of the page header, should contain your full name, phone number, email address. If you are curious as to whether or not you should include your LinkedIn URL or personal website, the answer is yes. These can be helpful pieces of information for your future manager to learn more about you before you interview.

The date

While this isn’t entirely necessary, it can be helpful to include the date of which you wrote your cover letter or the date of which you submitted your job application.

The date should look like this, “May 1st, 2020”

A formal salutation

Avoid things like “To Whom It May Concern” as a way of starting your letter. A formal salutation opens your cover letter and greets the other business person. The best way to make sure this impactful is to greet the reader by their name. For example, “Dear Mr. Smith”.

It may be nearly impossible for you to know who is going to read your cover letter. As a backup, you can greet the team or department you are applying to. For example, “Dear Creative Team”

Your opening paragraph

Without a strong opening paragraph, your cover letter doesn’t have meaning. Ideally, you grab the reader's attention by providing them unique insights about your background. Avoid repeating statements that you might make on your resume. For example, within your executive summary.

Bullet points supporting why you should be considered for the position

The best way to position your cover letter is to have it be an extension of your resume summary. Can you speak to business scenarios that encapsulate the desired skills or qualities that your employer is seeking? If so, utilize those prior experiences as a way to stand out. Mention achievements in the workplace that are significant. Were you able to increase sales? Did you increase efficiency? Did you complete a number of high-profile projects? Name those in brief bullet points.

Your closing paragraph

A closing paragraph is a way to ensure that your reader feels appreciated for taking the time to read through your letter. Remember, they might be reading hundreds of cover letters. This is time-consuming. If you can thank them for the time they spent, you’ll show empathy and team collaboration that could be valuable assets to your employer.

Your closing salutation

Are you going to end your business letter by saying, “see ya later guys”. No, you shouldn’t. Every formal business letter needs a formal goodbye. The best way to write yours is to use something like, “Thank you so much” or “Sincerely” as part of your goodbye. Then, simply print your name and include a handwritten signature if you can.

Top Mistakes Made and Ways to Avoid Them

Some of the best cover letters are often ruined by making some of these common mistakes.

Not making your cover letter unique

Having a cover letter isn’t enough. If your cover letter appears as though you used it for multiple job applications, it’s going to feel generic. And lack personality and personalization that is going to attract your employer.

Not speaking directly to the reader

Using generic openings to your cover letter like “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Reader” can be a great way to make your cover letter appear generic and lack personalization. Instead, list the manager of the department you are applying for, which can easily be found through LinkIn, on their company page.

If you can’t find the manager's name, address the department instead. Something like, “Dear Sales Team” or “Dear Creative Team” will suffice and be better than addressing someone in an unknown fashion (like “To Whom It May Concern” incidentally does).

Going over 600 words

Your cover letter should be one-page. And terse. Meaning, as little words as possible. Make it impactful but easy to read. Ideally, keeping your cover letter under 600 words and forcing yourself to have more clarity with that amount of space will be beneficial to the effectiveness of your business letter.

Having poor grammar

Similar to going over one-page, it’s not hard to ask a friend or family member to read your letter for clarity and for grammar. If you wrote your cover letter and sent it within a few hours, it’s probably not proofread.

Failing to speak to business scenarios

If your cover letter is simply stating why you want the job, that’s not enough. Your employer doesn’t truly want to hear about that. What they want to hear is what makes you a great candidate for the position, what you’ll be able to bring to the company that can create business results, and why you are a standout candidate.

The way to achieve that is to speak to what you’ve been able to accomplish within prior work positions, even if the position isn’t the same job title.

Not exporting your cover letter as a PDF

Sending a word document? Don’t! Many computers can’t open word documents. And many times you may export your word document to a different version of Microsoft Word, which may make it incompatible to the reader's machine. Instead, export your cover letter as a PDF. This is universally more easy to open.

download as pdf

Improving Your Cover Letter Effectiveness

Here are some ways to improve the effectiveness of your cover letter.

Include your personal website or LinkedIn URL

Yes, including your personal website, link to your portfolio, link to a website that contains work achievements, or your LinkedIn can be a great way for your future employer to learn more about you. Include this as part of your contact information towards the head of your cover letter.

personal website on your cover letter

Exclude your mailing address

If you are running low on space, exclude your mailing address. All Human Resource departments will ask you for your mailing address when you interview. This should save you two lines on the page, which can mean up to two more sentences.

Include relevant links to your work

Did you launch something? Did you build something? Your cover letter doesn’t have to be text only. If you were part of a team that was working on a particular product or service, try to place a relevant link to that in the cover letter. This will engage the reader more and provide helpful context for what you’re discussing in the letter itself.

Tell stories of your business experience

This can’t be told enough. Your interviewer wants to know about you. But they would prefer to learn about you through your work experience. What have you accomplished? What have you worked on? What significant work events made an impact on your career?

Think through these scenarios and present them in a way that speaks to their desired talents for the position (as normally referred to in the job description).

Tell the reader you comprehend the job requirements

Don’t simply state, “I can do this job.” Speak to the skills, duties, processes that are required to bring excellence into the position.

Cover Letter Formatting Tips

Many job seekers think that the way to stand out is to create a unique cover letter. One that visually stands out. While that may seem like a bold move, it’s incorrect. It will appear less formal and ultimately less professional. Follow some of these formatting tips to ensure your cover letter stays professional and unique.

Keep your font size to a 10-point maximum. If you aren’t sure what it looks like, print your letter and then read it in printed format. Anything above 10-point appears too large and doesn’t give you enough space to work with.

Don’t include any images

Including images seems like a bold move. And one that would make your cover letter more fun to read. But it looks bad. Don’t try to include any imagery. That includes placing your profile photo on the cover letter.

Best sans-serif fonts to use

It’s okay to use a sans-serif font. But you want something that’s legible and is going to be readable. The best sans-serif font to use is Helvetica, not Arial. Other great options are Proxima Nova or Circular.

Best serif fonts to use

The best serif fonts to use are Calibri, Times New Roman, Century Schoolbook, and Georgia. Calibri is still one of the best fonts to use. But Times New Roman is also a great contender. This is a legible, professional typeface.

Build your cover letter in Google Docs

While we’re discussing fonts, most tools like Microsoft Word make it difficult for you to export your cover letter to a PDF and make it difficult to use beautiful fonts like the ones mentioned. Use Google Documents to write your cover letter. It is free with every Gmail account.

Cover Letter Examples

Cover Letter Examples by Job Title