How to Write a Cover Letter and Get Noticed

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A cover letter is a chance to explain your specific interest in a company and why you'd be a strong fit.

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When you apply for a job, you can submit a cover letter in addition to your resume and any other requested materials. While it’s not always necessary to include one, doing so can expand upon your unique professional story.

Whereas your resume covers important information, like the dates of your past employment and the skills you’ve developed, your cover letter is an opportunity to dive more fully into your motivation for applying in the first place. In writing a cover letter, you should aim to answer two primary questions: 

  • Why are you interested in this role at this particular company? 

  • Why are you a strong fit? 

In this article, we’ll go over how to write a strong cover letter and when to include one. 

What is a cover letter, and when do you need one?

A cover letter is a one-page document, around four to five brief paragraphs long, that goes into more detail about your career. It can be especially useful when your application makes it past an applicant tracking system (ATS) and into the hands of a hiring manager, or if you’ve been asked to email your application directly.  

There’s no strong consensus about cover letters: some recruiters and hiring managers prefer them, while others pay more attention to your resume and don’t review your letter. Still, there’s evidence they have impact. In an experiment from ResumeGo, 16.4 percent of applicants who submitted a tailored cover letter landed an interview compared to 10.7 percent of applicants who didn’t include one [1]. Customized cover letters also led to more interviews compared to generic cover letters. 

When should you include a cover letter?

Cover letters take time to craft because you’ll need to research the company and role, building a specific explanation about why you want to work there. As such, you may want to reflect on whether it’s a good investment of your time to complete one. 

It can be helpful to include a cover letter when: 

  • You’re especially interested in the job or company

  • You’ve been referred by someone

  • You’re changing careers and want to explain your reasons further

If you’re unsure about whether you should submit a cover letter as part of your application, err on the side of caution and write one, so a recruiter or hiring manager has more information about you. 

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Cover letter sections

There are five main sections included in a cover letter: 

  • Header: At the top of the document, include your contact information, such as your name, city and state, phone number, and email address. Leave space after that information and address your cover letter to the hiring manager once you conduct further research and identify the appropriate person. If you can't find a specific name, go with a generic greeting: “Dear [Department] Hiring Team.”  

  • Intro: In the first paragraph, demonstrate your fit. Explain who you are, what excites you about the role, and what you hope to accomplish in your next career move, whether that’s more responsibility, moving into a new but relevant area, or something else. 

  • Body paragraphs: In the subsequent two or three paragraphs, spend time discussing your experience. Don’t simply restate what you’ve already shared through your resume. Instead, talk about any notable effect you’ve had, such as increasing profitability or performance or when you went above and beyond.   

  • Conclusion: In your final paragraph, restate your interest in the role, remind the hiring manager why you’d be a good fit for their team and company, and state what you want.  

  • Signature: Include a signature line, using a formal farewell like “Sincerely” along with your name. 

3 tips before writing your cover letter

Whether you’re drafting an entirely new cover letter or updating a previous version for a new application, there are a few steps worth taking before you begin writing: 

1. Research the company.

Visit the company’s website and pay close attention to the “About Us” section. If the company has a careers section, read over any information about workplace culture. Consider what interests you—either about what the company does or how it does it—and note it to include in your letter. 

2. Review the job description. 

Compare the job description to your work history: What have you done in previous roles, and what areas of growth particularly excite you? A hiring team will want you to have many of the skills necessary to handle the job’s responsibilities, but you can also highlight the kind of growth you’re seeking and how the role feeds into that. 

For example: While I’ve regularly contributed strategically to my team’s output, I’m excited to take on the opportunity to lead strategic development.

3. Reflect on your transferable skills.

Transferable skills are those you take with you from job and job, like problem solving and an ability to work collaboratively. These can be beneficial to point out in your cover letter, showing a recruiter or hiring manager how you approach work so they can think about how well you’d fit their team.  

Learn more: Cover Letter Tips: How to Stand Out to a Hiring Manager

3 tips for writing your cover letter

Once you begin writing, follow the steps below to craft and review your letter before completing your job application: 

1. Grab the hiring manager’s attention with a strong opening.

Cover letters used to be more formal, often beginning with a dry introduction like, “I am writing to apply for X.” Now, you can infuse more personality into the introduction, speaking about your passion, interest, and enthusiasm about the opportunity. Think back to your research about the company and role, and integrate that information into your intro. 

For example: I’m a seasoned UX designer who appreciates a challenge. I’ve been especially impressed with the app redesign XYZ Company recently launched, and I’m interested in joining your team’s efforts to make users more engaged.  

2. Align your tone. 

Much like how you might tailor your outfit depending on where you interview, it can be useful to tailor your tone in a cover letter. For example, formality might seem rigid if you’re applying to a tech start-up, but it might be expected at an established financial institution. Think about the tone the company conveys through its website and other communications, and strive to align your writing without overshadowing your personality. 

3. Proofread.

Take time to proofread your letter before you send it, making sure it’s error-free. If possible, find someone to review it for you or try reading it aloud, which can often help you catch any tangled sentence constructions or issues. 

Cover letter example

Let’s break down a cover letter for a project manager role using the sections we outlined above. If you’d like another example, take a look at the cover letter for a data analyst role.

[Header] 

October 4, 2021

Harland Sanders

Animax

123 Animal St

Chicago, IL 60290

 

Dear Mr. Harland Sanders,

[Introduction] 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.

[Body] 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.

[Body] 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.

[Conclusion] 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.

[Signature]

Sincerely,

George Lee

Cover letters for specific situations

Sometimes your cover letter needs to do something more than what we’ve discussed above. When you’re interested in changing careers or are applying for an internal position or internship, the cover letter you draft may look slightly different. 

Learn more about each scenario with the specific articles below: 

Get started

Refresh your cover writing skills with the Guided Project Create a Resume and Cover Letter with Google Docs on Coursera, which takes around two hours to complete.  

Develop or strengthen skills in data analysis, social media marketing, and UX design with a Professional Certificate from industry leaders like Google, Meta, and IBM. Sign up for Coursera today and begin a 7-day free trial. 

Related articles

Article sources

1. ResumeGo. “Cover Letters: Just How Important Are They?, https://www.resumego.net/research/cover-letters/.” Accessed August 11, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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