How to Write a Cover Letter in 8 Steps

Renee Layberry
May 4, 2021

A cover letter is a short, introductory letter submitted with your internship or job application, together with your resume. It is the first glimpse of you that a hiring manager sees, which makes it a vital component of any application. A good cover letter can draw the hiring manager in, and a poor one can leave a bad impression.    The one-page letter is designed to introduce you and give a brief summary of your professional experience. On average, a cover letter should be between 300 and 400 words long.  

Are cover letters necessary?

A cover letter is an essential part of the application process, whether applying for a job or internship.   You should always include a cover letter when:
  • It is a requirement in the advertisement you’re answering.
  • The hiring manager requests it.
  • You are applying directly to a specific person.
  • You have been referred by someone for the position.

When a cover letter is optional

There are some cases when a cover letter isn’t necessary to include with your application or resume. Online applications, for example, typically won’t even offer you the option of adding a cover letter. You may also find that the company you’re applying to is using a tracking system for resumes, which does not allow for a cover letter to accompany the application. Aside from these two instances, however, you should always include one.  

What a cover letter should contain

A cover letter is not your resume, but a supplement to it. Don’t just repeat what’s in your resume. Instead, use it to give the reader a glimpse of who you are.   Even though cover letters can vary in format, there are some components that they should always include:
  1. A header that contains your contact information.
  2. A greeting to the hiring manager.
  3. An introductory paragraph that includes a few of your top achievements.
  4. A second paragraph that demonstrates why you are a good fit for the job or internship.
  5. A third paragraph to detail what you can bring to the company.
  6. A brief closing.
  Photo by Trudi Nichols

What your cover letter should look like

Now that you know the basics of what should go into a cover letter, it's time to discuss how a cover letter should look and how to craft each section.  

Step 1: Choose a template

Since the cover letter will be the hiring manager’s first impression of you, choosing the format is important. It should catch their eye and be easy to read. There are many templates to choose from online, and some are specific to certain industries. Select one that is visually appealing, easy-to-read, and can contain all the information you need to present.  

Step 2: Craft your header

No matter which template you choose, all cover letters will begin with your contact information in the header.   This section should include everything that the hiring manager would need to contact you and other details, such as:
  • Your full name.
  • A contact number.
  • A professional email.
  • The date of the application.
  • The name and title of the hiring manager.
  • The name of the company offering the position.
  For some positions you may also want to include:
  • Your social media profiles that are relevant to your field.
  • A personal website if it can provide value to the position you are applying for.

Step 3: A formal greeting using the hiring manager's name

The greeting is the first entry after the header. By addressing your letter to the hiring manager using their name and title, it will show them that you have done your research. If you are unsure as to who the hiring manager is, there are a few ways you can find that out.    Start your search on the company’s website. Look for the 'About Us,' 'Meet the Team,' and 'Career' pages to find the hiring manager in the department you're applying to.   For example, if you are applying for a marketing position, then you would look for the head of the marketing department. Give LinkedIn and Google a try, too.   

When you don’t have a name

There are some cases when, despite your best efforts, you will be unable to find the name of the correct hiring manager. When this occurs, it is acceptable to use a few generic greetings, but always use these as a last resort.   Some acceptable greetings are:
  • Dear (Department) Hiring Manager
  • Dear Hiring Manager
  • Dear (Department) Team
  Whatever you do, stay far away from “To Whom It May Concern” and “Dear Sir/Madam” formats.  

Step 4: Write your introduction

Now you will need an attention-getting introductory paragraph. Remember hiring managers are swamped with cover letters, applications, and resumes, so if you don’t grab their attention early, you may be out of luck.   Avoid being generic or making a throw-away statement, like saying you have worked in a similar job before. Odds are, most of the people applying for the position have work experience in the field.   Lead in with a few of the top achievements you have had that would be relevant to the position. Instead of simply saying you increased sales at your last job, provide details. Tell them what percentage you increased sales and over what period.   Photo by Mary Pahlke

Step 5: Body paragraph one the ideal candidate

This is where you show off your professional skills that will convince the hiring manager you’re the best candidate for the position. The key to making this section work is knowing the requirements of the position. If there are several, hone in on a few that seem most critical to the responsibilities that come along with the job.   Match those desired skills with skills you have, reiterating the fact that you have what it takes to walk into the position and perform it with minimal training. If the requirements cite specific software programs or platforms, be sure to explain your experience with those as well.  

Step 6: Body paragraph two – a perfect fit

Next, you will explain why you are a good fit for the company and its culture. Hiring managers look for this because talent that doesn’t fit in with the company culture might have conflicts and eventually leave. Acing this section will require a little bit of research on your part.   Find out information about the company such as:
  • What their business model is.
  • What their mission is.
  • What product or service they offer and how you feel about it if you have used it.
  • What the culture is like. Will you have autonomy? Will you be working in teams?
  With this information at hand, you can say what you like about the company. Include specifics. Talk about your passion for the product, or how the culture of the company appeals to you and fits in with your work goals and ideals.   Photo by Tumisu

Step 7: Close your cover letter with a call to action

The final paragraph can include – very briefly – any crucial points you weren’t able to address in the body of the letter. Then thank the hiring manager for taking the time to review your application. The final sentence can request an interview or call at their convenience. Don’t be pushy, but always be sure to use actionable language and stay confident.  

Step 8: Formal ending

Now all that is left to complete your cover letter is to finish with a formal goodbye.   Popular closings considered perfectly acceptable are:
  • Best Regards,
  • Kind Regards,
  • Sincerely,
  • Thank you,
  • Thank you for your consideration,
  • Thank you for your time,
  Once you have completed your cover letter, proofread it very carefully for errors. Spelling, grammar, and syntax errors can leave a hiring manager with a bad impression and could very well cost you the job.