When you apply for a job, your application will often go through two stages before a recruiter invites you to interview. The first is the applicant tracking system (ATS), which scans your resume for specific keywords to identify whether your experience matches the job requirements.
If the ATS determines that you are a match, a human recruiter will look at your application materials. This is the point where including a cover letter—even if it’s optional—may help you secure more interviews. In a ResumeGo experiment, applications with a job-specific cover letter led to an interview offer 16.4 percent of the time, while applications with no cover letter led to an interview offer only 10.7 percent of the time . That means to get one interview, you’d have to apply for about six jobs with a tailored cover letter, or about nine jobs without a cover letter.
As you prepare to write your cover letter, here are a few basic tips to get started:
Header: Your cover letter is a formal document, so use a formal header. To streamline your application documents, you can use the same header that tops your resume, including your name, email address, phone number, city and state, and the URL for your online portfolio or LinkedIn profile, if you have one.
Format: Use standard margins for your cover letter—usually one inch on each side—and keep your font size around 11 or 12. Use a common font, like Arial or Times New Roman, to make your letter easier to read.
Length: Your cover letter should be about a half page to one page long, or about 250 to 400 words. The majority of recruiters and hiring managers will only spend one minute or less reading your cover letter . Help them focus on the details you want to highlight by writing concisely and precisely.
The first part of your cover letter is your introduction, where you can share a bit about who you are and why you’re reaching out. Similar to a resume objective, you’ll get to define yourself as you’d like a recruiter or hiring manager to see you in this section.
Open your letter with a personal greeting directed toward the hiring manager. Most job listings won’t include the hiring manager’s name, but there are methods to find the right recipient for your cover letter, using resources such as LinkedIn or the company website.
Addressing the hiring manager by name adds a sense of intention behind your application and shows that you want to start a dialogue with a specific person. Some examples of personal greetings include “Dear” or “Hello,” followed by their name.
You can show a bit more personality in your cover letter than you’re able to in your resume, so introduce yourself in a way that feels true to the type of employee you are and want to be. Write with a voice that feels natural to your communication style and a tone that matches the one you might use when writing work emails or giving a presentation.
This can help the hiring manager feel like they’re really getting to know you, and it can help you find a workplace that appreciates your communication style as well as your experience and goals.
In the next paragraph (or two), illustrate the perception you presented in the introduction with specific supporting details. These details should relate to your work experience, but use this as an opportunity to expand on your resume bullets rather than repeat them.
It’s worth tailoring this section to the specific role you’re applying for and highlighting how your experience connects to the company’s needs based on the job description. The majority of recruiters and hiring managers surveyed—77 percent—said that it is either “very important” or “absolutely imperative” that applicants tailor their cover letters to the job descriptions .
As you read the job description, you likely identified several transferable skills you can bring to this role. It is not necessary to list all of those skills in your cover letter. (You should, however, list all of those skills on your resume.)
To keep your cover letter concise, use the job description to identify the skills most necessary for success in this role and show how you’ve used those skills in the past to address or resolve similar needs.
Once you’ve connected your skills to their needs, take it one step further by sharing the results you’ve seen when you’ve employed those skills in the past. Results can be either quantitative—like the amount of time saved due to your improved processes or sales revenue resulting from your pitch deck—or qualitative—such as unlikely partnerships formed as a result of your relationship-building skills.
You can format your accomplishments as bullet points to help them stand out.
The final part of your letter is your conclusion, where you leave the hiring manager with one last impression of who you are, what you want to achieve, and how that’s relevant to their company.
As you end your letter, reiterate your desire to use your qualifications to meet the company’s needs, and explicitly ask for the next step you’re hoping to take with this hiring manager, typically a meeting or phone call. Invite the conversation to continue by letting them know that there’s more you want to share and more you want to learn from them.
Maintain the honest tone you set in the introduction all the way through your signature. Include a line expressing gratitude for their time and use a simple sign-off, such as “Thank you,” “Sincerely,” or “Best.”
After you apply for a job, you can follow up on your application by directly reaching out to a recruiter. This may help you stand out among the pool of applicants and can help you form a direct relationship with the recruiter. Learn more about reaching out to a recruiter.
Recruiters and hiring managers notice when applicants submit a generic cover letter—78 percent of those surveyed said it’s “easy” to distinguish between generic and tailored cover letters. At the same time, 81 percent of the same group said they value tailored cover letters “significantly more” than generic ones, indicating that submitting a tailored cover letter with your resume could distinguish you from other equally qualified candidates .
However, writing a tailored cover letter for each application can quickly become an overwhelming task for a job seeker. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most job seekers apply for 21 to 80 roles before receiving a job offer .
One way to reconcile these at-odds statistics is to create a personalized cover letter template that enables you to easily tailor your cover letter for each application.
You’ll likely be applying for similar roles at different companies and presenting yourself similarly at each, so your introduction and conclusion probably won’t change too much from one application to the next. Once you write your introduction and conclusion, you can templatize the body of your cover letter. Here’s how:
1. List common responsibilities, skills, and needs. As you read through job descriptions that pique your interest, you’ll likely notice common responsibilities and skills associated with the roles. You also may recognize similar company needs or problems you’re excited to help solve. Compile all of these in a list.
2. Write bullets reflecting your experience with each list point. Connect your experience to each of those common responsibilities, skills, and needs with one sentence for each.
3. Where relevant, add proof. Offer specific evidence of your success with your quantitative and qualitative accomplishments.
4. Insert points into your tailored cover letters. Mix and match your pre-written points as they apply for various positions. Remember to edit the points as needed to better align with specific roles.
Dear Mr. Harland Sanders,
My name is Cindy Liu, and I’m a tech-savvy manager looking to flex my talents to identify new growth strategies for Corelight as a Junior Data Analyst. I’ve always been fascinated by numbers, and working in data analytics has been a long-term goal of mine. My career in the restaurant business has taught me to think strategically about problems and identify solutions. I believe this experience has prepared me for Corelight’s Junior Data Analyst role.
Your job posting mentioned that you’re looking for an analyst with experience in SQL, proficiency in a statistical programming language, and strong time management skills. During my previous role as a restaurant manager, I had to multitask to balance the needs of the company (revenue) and the customer (service and quality standard). I’ve also been pursuing my passion for data, both at work and in my spare time. Over the past year, I’ve been able to achieve the following:
Automated repetitive restaurant payroll and accounting tasks with Python, freeing up three hours per week
Completed a case study using point-of-sales data from the restaurant to optimize our menu and pricing, leading to a revenue increase of 10 percent
Completed the Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate, which included extensive coursework in both SQL and R
I’m thrilled at the opportunity to use these experiences to fuel data-driven decisions at Corelight, and I’m keen to continue developing my skill set on the job. I am available for a Zoom call or in-person meeting to discuss how I can help Corelight with improving market product performance through data.
Thank you for your consideration,
Cindy Liu, Data Analyst
Dear Mr. Harland Sanders,
My name is George Lee, and I am excited to be applying to the Junior Project Manager position at Animax. I am currently a Project Coordinator at Square Paws, where I have supported several projects successfully to completion. I have long admired Animax’s work to improve animal adoption processes and would be delighted to contribute my skills to the team.
At Square Paws, I oversaw multiple aspects of running numerous projects. I worked closely with the project manager to develop project schedules, ensure team members had the resources they needed to complete their tasks, and coordinated communication with stakeholders on project updates. I am particularly proud of a project to roll out a feature on our app that users could use to book appointments with veterinarians. As a complex project that involved multiple stakeholders, it was important to be mindful of the details and listen continuously to feedback from users. My efforts to coordinate an early feedback system in a trial period led to the discovery of several bugs and pain points that we fixed for the launch. We were able to reduce customer concerns by 80% and ultimately completed the project under budget by $3,000.
I have long been familiar with animal adoption centers and believe wholeheartedly in Animax’s mission. I have volunteered consistently at animal shelters since high school and am familiar with their processes. In college, I took several courses that I believe can be useful to the project manager role, including zoology and business administration. Working as a project manager in this field will allow me to expand my knowledge of the industry, and assist in my ultimate goal to make the world a more livable place for shelter animals.
I believe that my past experience, skill set, and passions make me a strong candidate for Animax’s team. I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you for your time.
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1. ResumeGo. “Cover Letters: Just How Important Are They?, https://www.resumego.net/research/cover-letters/.” Accessed June 7, 2022.
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “How do jobseekers search for jobs? New data on applications, interviews, and job offers, https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-9/how-do-jobseekers-search-for-jobs.htm.” Accessed June 7, 2022.
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