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How to write a professional cover letter

How to Write a Professional Cover Letter

When you apply for a new job, a professional cover letter can make a big difference. One study suggests that about 56% of employers want to see cover letters. Some people think a cover letter is a way to rephrase their resume, but the truth is that a cover letter is much more than that.  

A cover letter provides you with the opportunity to show off your personality. In a cover letter, you can demonstrate to a hiring manager why you're a great candidate for the job. Think of a cover letter as the introduction to the interview that you want to obtain after a hiring manager reads your letter.

Generally, a cover letter is about three or four short paragraphs long. You don't need to write an essay; instead, you can briefly describe some achievements and experiences that promote your qualifications. Knowing how to write a professional cover letter is crucial, whether you're a new graduate or an experienced employee.

Include a professional header

The header of your cover letter should include the date and your contact information. It is also helpful to provide specific details so a hiring manager can easily follow up after reading your letter. The header should include your name, city, ZIP code, phone number, and email address. Then, you can list the name or title of the recipient as well as the company name.

If you format your cover letter and attach it to your application, center your name and contact information at the top. Some applicants mirror their resume and cover letter contact information so that they match.

Write a thoughtful salutation

The salutation is the greeting you use to open your letter. You can start with something like "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear John Smith" if you know who will review the applications. While many people used to begin the letter with "To whom it may concern," this salutation is too impersonal. It is more effective to include a specific salutation.

Introduce yourself and your experience

Your cover letter should delve into your intention to apply for the job. You can include a brief introduction that explains exactly which position you're seeking. Then, describe your background. Unlike your resume, a professional cover letter allows you to discuss your work history in detail. You can even provide context for gaps in your work history to bolster your resume.

Your first paragraph is also ideal for discussing personal connections with the company or the hiring manager. For example, you might note a personal contact. This portion of the cover letter is also an excellent place to mention where you found the job listing.

Include a body paragraph with your qualifications

The second paragraph of your cover letter should convey your qualifications and career accomplishments. You can use this paragraph to touch on your skills briefly, but you can also refer to specific times in your career when you've taken the lead on a project or improved systems in the workplace. Use statistics and figures to draw attention to measurable results you've accomplished.

Approach the second paragraph as a way to highlight your successes in your current or previous positions. Tie them into why these specific experiences make you well-suited for the position you're seeking.

"Use statistics and specific figures to draw attention to measurable results you've accomplished."

Write a compelling closing paragraph

Your last paragraph can emphasize your excitement about applying for the position. You can also request that the hiring manager contact you to follow up and set up an interview. You can also present another achievement or skill you'd like to emphasize before you end the letter. It's a good idea not to repeat the details from your resume but expand with something new or relevant to the position.

End your letter with a sign-off

Close your letter with a formal sign-off, such as "Sincerely," followed by your first and last name. You don't need to add contact information at the closing because you've already included these details in the heading at the top. 

Tips to remember for creating an effective cover letter

Some job-seeking professionals may find it helpful to begin creating a professional cover letter by referring to an example. To craft a compelling cover letter each time you need one, consider creating a template you can easily customize for each job opportunity you pursue. Some general tips will also help you efficiently reach out to recruiters and hiring managers.

Develop a strong resume

Before you write a cover letter, upload your resume to CareerBuilder. Even with a stellar cover letter, you'll need a great resume when you apply for these jobs. Uploading your resume online ensures that more hiring managers and employers can find it and reach out to you.

Customize a cover letter for each job

While you may not need to start from scratch every time you write a cover letter, you may find it more effective to customize each cover letter you write. Each employer and position value different skills, achievements, and qualifications. You may need to add details relevant to different positions to ensure you are the best candidate for the job.

One way to customize a cover letter is to closely read the job description for a position you're seeking. Include some keywords from the job description in your cover letter. Including strategic keywords in your cover letter copy will show that you paid attention to the job description and that you are a good candidate for the position.

Keep your cover letter short and easy to read

The format of your cover letter is essential. For example, most people write a cover letter of only one page. Single spacing is fine, and your text should be left-aligned. Use a simple font that looks professional. Arial, Times New Roman, and Helvetica are all acceptable options. Keep your font at 12 points in size and no smaller than 10 points.

Be as specific as possible

You'll also benefit from being specific with your skills and abilities. When possible, don't be generic. You can include an anecdote that helps you stand out or discuss a significant achievement you experienced at work. Specific data significantly stands out to an individual reading your cover letter, so it's a good idea to reference exact percentages and figures when you have them. 

Proofread your cover letter

Before you submit your cover letter, follow these tips for fine-tuning your document so that it presents yourself in the best light to employers:

  • Proofread your letter for spelling and grammar errors. 
  • Ask somebody else to read the letter as well. A reviewer can often point out items you would miss since you're so close to your work. 
  • If you can't get another set of eyes on the letter, try reading the text out loud to catch and correct errors. 
  • Pay special attention to the company's name and the hiring manager's name. Those are two names you don't want to misspell.

A cover letter allows you to reach out directly to employers when you want to apply for a job. You can show off your skills, personality, and other qualities that might not shine through in a resume. Nailing the cover letter can make all the difference for the future of your career.

Related reading: Tips for writing a professional cover letter

You'll find many reasons to write a strong cover letter, even if you have a strong resume.

You don't need to tell the whole story in your cover letter. Learn how to provide just enough information in your application materials.

Do you have a gap in your work history? Your cover letter can help clear the air.