This ultimate guide to writing a cover letter will teach you how to write a stellar letter that will set you apart from thousands of other job candidates.
You might be wondering: do hiring managers and HR reps even read cover letters?!
I’ve spent nearly 20 years as a career coach, and as a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) I’ve talked to hundreds of hiring managers.
Many of them do not read cover letters.
But many of them do.
Therefore, it’s best not to risk eliminating yourself from the competition because you didn’t spend a few hours writing a tailored letter.
I’ve put together a simple, four-step process to make it easy for you to write a stellar cover letter:
Cover Letter: Step One
Do some digging
Before you even sit down to start writing a kick-but cover letter I suggest first spending some time browsing and familiarizing yourself with the organization’s website.
Specific items you want to look for:
- Major projects (current or anticipated)
- Problems or upcoming changes or transitions
- Company culture and values
- Press releases and/or news articles
Cover Letter: Step Two
Gather the necessary materials
- Your resume
- The description of the job for which you are applying
- Research you’ve dug up and printed out about the organization. Look at recent press releases, product information, mission statement, goals, values, etc.
- A frosty beverage of your choice (happy hour is a great time to sit down and craft a cover letter. Just sayin’)!
Cover Letter: Step Three
Make a Connection
Make a connection between your background and accomplishments and the key qualifications the employer is seeking.
You want to make it easy for hiring managers. Make a connection between what you have accomplished in your previous roles and what you can contribute to their organization.
To make this easy, I suggest either writing out by hand or typing up a list so you can make the connection between your background and the employer’s “wish list.”
- First, create two columns on a sheet of paper.
- Next title the first column something like “Skills/ Qualifications.” This is where you will list out the major skills, attributes, and work responsibilities from the job description.
- Lastly, in the second column, for each qualification or job function you have listed in column one, you will include a skill set or accomplishment from your background.
Cover Letter: Step Four
Putting it all together
Your cover letter should be no more than one page, and should include an introduction paragraph, two to three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.
Your introduction should be powerful and well-written. If possible, try not to begin with the standard “I am writing this letter to apply for XYZ position.” If you are applying to a more conservative, corporate type of company or position, beginning by highlighting your biggest accomplishments is probably a good route to take.
For example: “My six years of experience editing video, pitching creative ideas, and managing media content makes me an excellent match for the Production Assistant position.”
If you are applying to a smaller company, start-up, or in a creative industry, you can use some more personality and even a little humor (just keep it tasteful).
The introduction can often be one of more challenging, if not the most challenging paragraphs to write on your cover letter. Therefore, I recommend waiting until you’ve written the body paragraphs before tackling your intro.
Body (middle paragraphs):
Underneath your introduction, you will write two to three body paragraphs.
The information you include in the middle paragraphs can be drawn from the brainstorming sheet you created (or that you will create) from Step Three.
Be careful not to just repeat information from your resume. Also, make sure to go into enough detail.
If you are changing industries or are returning to the workforce after a leave, learn about the four-step process to address gaps in your cover letter.
You can use the SOAR method (Situation, Obstacle, Action, Result) to highlight past work accomplishments and to give you a framework for crafting detailed descriptions.
Read below for an example of a sentence using the SOAR method:
“The position with XYZ Organization calls for extensive leadership and sales management experience. While working as a sales supervisor at (insert company), I took on numerous responsibilities in the absence of the regional manager, including overseeing a sales region of 20+ accounts, managing a team of ten, and consistently exceeding sales goals by roughly eight percent.”
At this point the worst is behind you. The conclusion paragraph is pretty cut and dry.
You can write something along the lines of “Thank you for taking the opportunity to read my application materials. I look forward to discussing my qualifications and skills in more detail in an interview.”
You’re well on your way to writing a kick-butt cover letter!
Writing a tailored cover letter takes time and effort. But if you take the time to target your letter to the company and you communicate why you’re a great fit for the job, you will stand out from the crowd!