How to Write an Amazing Cover Letter

Still not convinced you need a cover letter for your next job application? Discover what a cover letter is and how to write a great one in this guide.

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By Entrepreneur Staff

It's a tough job market in today's economy. If you want to stand out, you can't just have a stellar resume; you also need to have a great cover letter. But many job seekers don't know what cover letters are or why they should bother writing one.

Today, let's explain what a cover letter is, why it's important and how you can write an amazing, eye-catching cover letter from start to finish.

Related: 15 Words and Phrases to Never Include in a Cover Letter

What is a cover letter?

Put simply, a cover letter is a letter that you add to a job application. As its name suggests, most cover letters are attached to the "front" of job applications. This is more literal in terms of physical job applications handed to an employer on paper, but it still applies to digital applications.

If you apply digitally to a new job, your digital cover letter will likely be the first thing the employer sees above your resume.

In any case, a cover letter serves many purposes for jobseekers like you, including:

  • Introducing yourself by name and as a professional job candidate.
  • Breaking down why you think you are suitable for a specific job.
  • Giving you a chance to express your excitement for the position and why you want it.
  • Giving you a chance to tell your employer why they should choose you instead of other candidates.
  • Providing a brief but important window into your character and personality, which can help employers pick between two very similar candidates.

In other words, a cover letter is your opportunity to make a good first impression on an employer as it's the first thing they'll see in your job application.

On top of that, cover letters give you the chance to address any specific questions or concerns that may have been present in a job advertisement or on a job board. For instance, if you respond to an online job ad that asks candidates to describe a relevant project they've completed in the past, a cover letter is the perfect place for you to do so.

You can put your cover letters on LinkedIn or send them directly to hiring managers/recruiters depending on what works best for you.

Related: These Resume and Cover Letter Templates Can Help Your Job Hunt

Why are cover letters important?

Cover letters are important for two primary reasons:

  • They allow employers to form initial first impressions of job applicants, thus helping them determine whether they will dig deeper into a candidate's profile or application.
  • They allow employers to break ties between two similar candidates and choose which will likely be the best fit for the position.

In the first point, cover letters are the first hurdles that job candidates have to pass to receive further consideration. If, for instance, you were an employer and received two job applications from two similar employees, but only one of them went to the trouble of making a cover letter, your decision between them just became a lot easier!

Similarly, if you have two similar candidates that have many of the same qualifications and successes in their pasts, a good cover letter can help you break a tie between those candidates.

On top of that, cover letters are important because they show you are willing to go the extra mile for a prospective employer. This is particularly important in the competitive job market, when you may have to compete against other candidates who have the same degree, previous job experience, internships and other qualifications.

In many organizations, a degree matters much less than a willingness to work hard. Your cover letter is the first opportunity to show that you will do what it takes to get the job done no matter what. It's a great way to make yourself stand out from the competition regardless of industry or niche.

Given all this importance, you should never forget or ignore a cover letter when applying for a new job. Cover letters are generally more important for higher positions like managerial or administrative jobs, but they can also make a major difference for entry-level or service jobs, particularly at the beginning of your career.

Related: How to Write a Cover Letter That Gets You an Interview

What types of cover letters are there?

Technically, there are many different types of cover letters you can create and attach to your job applications.

The first type is an application cover letter. This is the most common and familiar type of cover letter overall. It's usually written to help you acquire a newly opened position at a company.

Then there are referral cover letters. Referral cover letters are broadly similar to application cover letters, but they also include the names of employees or colleagues who recommended you for the open position. Referral cover letters are important if you rely on work connections to get new positions.

Value proposition letters are short summaries that summarize a candidate's skills or unique attributes that may provide value to a company or employer. These are shorter than many other cover letters and are typically used to summarize resumes. You may write a value proposition letter instead of a cover letter for many online job applications these days.

Last are prospecting cover letters, which are also called letters of interest. Prospecting cover letters are written by job seekers and are addressed to employers where they want to work if there are no currently open positions or vacancies (or if the candidate doesn't have a specific job they are pursuing).

Instead, the point of a prospecting cover letter is to announce that a job candidate is interested in working at a specific organization and is willing to take whatever work is available. This is more common among high-value or administrative positions, such as executive positions, and they tend to be a little more flexible in terms of their inclusions compared to other cover letter types.

Related: 5 Perfect Opening Lines That Will Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out

What should a cover letter include?

Each general cover letter should include a few major elements or components in order to be comprehensive and purposeful.

First, you need to explain how your past work experience meets the current job's requirements. This will help an employer understand why you should be picked for the open position instead of a competing candidate.

Next, your cover letter should include reasons why you want to work at a company. Employers don't want to hear that you just want to make money (they already know that). They want to know why you chose them specifically instead of other open jobs on the market.

  • Your cover letter should also include elements such as important anecdotes which directly relate to your experiences or the value you can offer to a new company.
  • A call to action, which should remind your employer that you are excited to hear back from them quickly. Note that the call to action should be polite and professional rather than demanding.

Related: The 6 Musts of a Cover Letter

How can you write an amazing cover letter?

There's a lot to think about when writing a cover letter, but keeping a few tips in mind can help you write engaging and persuasive cover letters each and every time.

Keep it straightforward

For starters, don't let your cover letters ramble for too long. In fact, your cover letter should only be between three and four paragraphs in total (not counting the introductory and closing statements). The shorter, the better, provided you do keep enough detail in the cover letter to persuade a job employer to your side.

Make each cover letter specific

While your cover letter shouldn't be too long or rambling, it should be specific. If, for instance, you have completed jobs similar to the ones you might complete for a new employer, mention those and break down the details as succinctly and concisely as possible.

Furthermore, if you have specific metrics regarding your work experience or value you provided to a previous company, like sales or growth, be sure to mention that. If you have references or referrals, be sure to refer to those individuals by name so a prospective employer can reach out to them quickly and easily.

Related: 7 Common Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid

Tie your experience to the job

Always tie your past work experience to the current job you are applying for, even if it feels a little tangential on your part. When you think about it, practically every job you've held in the past could help you work another job in the future, whether through working with other people, interacting with customers or dealing with difficult situations. Try to write about an anecdote where you overcome a challenge and relate that anecdote to the open job.

Address your cover letter properly

Be sure to address your cover letter properly. Make sure that you address the intended recipient of the cover letter with the correct language and spelling of their name. If you don't know who will read the cover letter, you can't go wrong with a generic "To whom it may concern" or something similar.

In the header of the standard cover letter format, start things off with a "sincerely" or "dear hiring manager" to get things off on the right foot. Continue this tone in the opening paragraph of your letter before breaking down the job description and other elements. This, along with addressing the recipient by their job title and company website info, is key to an effective cover letter.

Don't forget to include your contact information, including your mailing address, email address and phone number. That way, anyone who wants to respond to your cover letter can reach you promptly.

Format your cover letter properly

Similarly, you should format your cover letter properly so it is easy to read and clearly includes all of the major sections and elements described above. Your cover letter should include an introduction and three to four detailed paragraphs breaking down your reasons for applying to the position, your past experience and your qualifications.

Your cover letter should then conclude with a closing statement and an expression of your excitement about the open position. Read through a job application's requirements carefully. If the employer wants you to submit your cover letter as a PDF instead of a Word document, for instance, remember to make your file the right file format before submitting it!

What is a cover letter example template?

To ensure the information in this article sticks, take a look at the example cover letter below. It's a basic template that you can copy, paste, and change to use for your upcoming job interviews or applications.

[Your name]

[Your address and/or mailing address]

[Your phone number]

[The date]

[The employer's name]

[The employer's mailing address]

[Cover letter greeting]

[In the first sentence of the first paragraph, state your name and the role you wish to apply for. Give an overview of your strengths, talents and accomplishments related to the role in question, then express your excitement. Explain how the role is appropriate for your career goals.]

Related: 6 of the Most Captivating Cover Letter Openers -- and Why They Work

[In the next paragraph, discuss your most recent job and relevant accomplishments. Explain how those accomplishments have contributed to business success. Be as specific as possible and quantify your successes.]

[In the third paragraph, explain to the employer what makes you qualified for the position. Again, be as specific as possible here.]

[In the closing paragraph, express your gratitude toward the employer for their time and consideration and express your interest in hearing back from them soon.]

[Make a professional closing statement. Sign off promptly without dragging things out.]

[Your signature]

In addition, you can easily find cover letter templates and outlines online, including in programs like Microsoft Word. Remember to keep the above cover letter tips in mind so you can apply your knowledge to the best cover letter templates.

For more cover letter help, have the right person proofread your letter before sending it to a potential employer.

Summary

Writing a cover letter is one of the best professional skills you can cultivate, so start practicing ASAP. A good cover letter might make the difference between you and a similar job candidate for a top position.

Looking for more resources to help you in your path to professional growth? Explore Entrepreneur's vast library of resources here.

Entrepreneur Staff

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor

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