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How to Write a Successful Cover Letter

November 2018 By Kim Tang



You’ve mastered creating a resume, you’ve done your research on the company, and you’re about to apply when suddenly you realize: you have to write a cover letter. Don’t panic! Cover letters, while definitely not glamorous nor easy to write, can provide your employer excellent information about yourself that they don’t see in your resume. If your cover letter is stumping you, here are some tips to get started.

1. Structuring your cover letter

Much like your resume, your cover letter shouldn’t be longer than a page. You also shouldn’t feel pressured to need to fill an entire page — concise and well-written is the goal. 

It doesn’t hurt to look at templates as inspiration, but don’t copy and paste a template and use it for each application. Hiring managers read hundreds of letters and can spot a template miles away. Try to make each cover letter personalized in some way to avoid it being skimmed over and ignored. Whenever possible, find the hiring manager’s name and address the letter to them. If you can’t find it, then a simple “Dear Hiring Manager” will work as well.

Cover letters are typically structured with an intro, body, and conclusion. Your introduction paragraph can be as simple as stating what you’re applying for, and why you’re interested. It also doesn’t hurt to talk about how you discovered the company you’re applying for — what have you heard about them, what drove you to apply, why are you passionate about the position, and so forth are all good questions to keep in mind while planning your cover letter.

As for the body, here is where you can go into detail about your experiences and how they relate to the position. Finally, the conclusion simply summarizes everything up. Your cover letter doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, too long or complicated.

2. Don’t just repeat your resume

Your cover letter shouldn’t be your resume — it should be a supplement to your resume. Pick a few key aspects on your resume you want to elaborate on in your cover letter and speak more about those experiences in the body of the cover letter. The experiences you select should be directly related to the position; your cover letter is a great way to highlight to employers that you did your research and you understand the company. You can also use this time to talk more about your skills and experiences not listed on your resume that you may find important and applicable.

Pro tip: use the job description to pick out key words and phrases to include in your letter! The description is a great way to make sure you’re choosing the most relevant experiences and skills to highlight as well.

3. Showcase how your skills can help the company

Highlight how your skills and experience can benefit the company or organization. What is something you bring to the table that would benefit the role you’re applying for? Tailor your cover letter to mirror the needs of the company and your own skill set. Be specific and clear when sharing your experiences and skills.

4. Use relevant examples to tell a story

Much like how in an interview, you show draw from your experience to highlight your qualifications. For example, if a company is looking for someone who is collaborative, has strong communication skills, and is a leader, talk about a time you helped lead a group project or worked alongside peers. These examples are better than just stating “I am leader, collaborative, and work well in a team”. Talking about specific projects or roles you have held will show your qualifications rather than just stating them.

5. Do your research

Prepare for your cover letter by researching the organization you’re applying for as well. Is the company a little more casual or is it more professional? What are their goals and values? Understanding these company details can help you decide how to format your resume and what to include. Plus, being prepared never hurts!

6. Stay genuine without being cheesy

Often times, the tone of the cover letter can be the most difficult to figure out. Avoid phrases that you wouldn’t normally say in a conversation with a hiring manager, and sound as close to you as possible. Like mentioned above, researching the company is incredibly important — the company culture can help you determine how to phrase your letter. A large insurance firm and a publishing company will most likely have different cultures, and the tone of your cover letter would reflect that.

7. End with a call to action

Summarize some of your key points, and then mention an action you would like to happen next. An example of a call to action could be: “Thank you for reading my letter, and I hope to have a chance to further discuss the position with you in person”. You’re stating to the hiring manager a next step you hope to see happen, which is a stronger ending that simply thanking them for their time.

Cover letters may seem tricky to write, but you’re never without resources! Check out our Handbook for some examples of cover letters and you can also always schedule a meeting with a career counselor to discuss your cover letter in further detail. Now that you’re prepared, you’ll be churning out cover letters in no time.

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