If you're planning on writing a cover letter when applying for a new position, you're already ahead of most other applicants. Great job! But how do you create a cover letter that improves your chances for landing an interview? Follow these eight steps to create each paragraph and you'll end up with a clean, professional cover letter that demonstrates to a hiring manager why you're the best candidate for the job.
1) Salutation: Open with a personalized greeting when possible
It’s good to address the letter directly to the hiring manager if possible. Occasionally, an employer will list the name of the specific hiring manager for the role in the job description. This is fairly rare though, so you may have to do a little digging on the company’s website to find a listing for their human resources manager.
If there isn’t any contact information listed in the job description, consider reaching out to the company to inquire who responsible for the filling the position. When reaching out, make sure to inform them that you plan to apply online but that you wanted to know who the hiring manger is so that you can address the cover letter to correct person.
Alternatively, if you can’t find determine the hiring manager or human resources manager’s name, you could use the generic salutation, “To whom it may concern.”
2) First Paragraph: Determine if there is any information the employer needs to know that doesn't belong on the resume
The first paragraph (usually 1-2 lines long) is where you tell the employer what the position is that you're applying for. It might seem like overkill to do this since you're probably also applying for the role through the company's online application portal, but providing this information can save time for a busy hiring manager who doesn't want to sift through information to remember what job you're applying for.
This might sound odd, but a cover letter is a great place to provide information that doesn't belong on the resume. For example, if you know someone who already works for the company and they recommended you for the job, then a cover letter's opening paragraph is a great place to mention that recommendation.
Another thing you might mention in an opening paragraph is if you're in the process of moving. Many employers won't bother to look at candidates who live outside the state where the job is located. They don't want to deal with the hassle of a new employee moving or they get concerned that a new employee from out of state might want relocation costs paid. To avoid getting passed over for a position because you haven't moved to that state yet, it's good to mention in the opening paragraph of the cover letter that you're already in the process of relocating the area/state where the job is located.
Basic Example: I was excited to hear about ABC Tech's IT Manager position at the Poughkeepsie, NY location and am writing to inform you that I am applying for the role.
Moving Example: I was excited to hear about ABC Tech's IT Manager position at the Poughkeepsie, NY location as I will be relocating there in late July. As such, I and am writing to inform you that I am applying for the role.
Name Drop Example: I was excited to hear about ABC Tech's IT Manager position and at the Poughkeepsie, NY location and I was referred to apply by a previous colleague, John Smith who is currently an ABC Tech IT Supervisor at that location.
3) Second Paragraph:Determine the top two reasons that you're the best fit for the position
Here is where you jump into your first two reasons for being a great candidate for the position. Remember that the employer has told you in the job description exactly what they are looking for in a candidate. So use that to determine what your top reasons are for being a great fit. This paragraph might mention experience, education, or a major project that makes you a great fit for the role. However, the piece that will grab the hiring manager’s attention is providing an explanation for how that experience or education makes you a great candidate.
Example: I feel that I’m a great candidate for the IT Manager position as I have over 12 years of experience managing information technology projects on a local, national, and global scale from my time as a Computer Systems and IT Manager in the U.S. Army. During my service, I directed the allocation of over $2 million worth of IT equipment and successfully managed a major system migration for over 7,000 users across three military sites.
In the above paragraph, the candidate mentions they have over 12 years of experience in a similar position and details some of the projects they've been responsible for while noting the scope or projects.
4) Third Paragraph: Mention at least one more reason that you're a great candidate for this role
Similar to the second paragraph, the third paragraph should be another reason (different from the first) that you’re the best candidate for the role. Use this paragraph to address something else that the employer mentioned in the job description that they wanted in a candidate.
Example: Another reason I feel that I would be a great fit for this role is that I recently completed a Master of Science in Information Technology and Cybersecurity and possess the Security + certification. During my master degree studies, I had the opportunity to complete an internship at the Department of Homeland Security where I assisted in assessing the department's system security. I received high praise from the head of the department for identifying several security risks and was able to integrate new systems which corrected the previous system deficiencies. By applying the concepts learned in both my Master’s program and the internship, I feel that I would be successful in maintaining the organization's IT security and reduce security breaches.
5) Fourth Paragraph: Tell them why you want to work in that role or for that company
This paragraph is what will set you apart from other candidates who have a similar experience or education as you. This is where you’ll express what draws you to the position and/or the company. Alternatively, you can also explain why you’re passionate about this field. Providing this information will make you a little more real to the employer and, as a result, they’ll be more likely to actually remember you.
Example: Lastly, I’m a passionate supporter of small businesses and would find it fulfilling to build a career with ABC Tech since it provides IT services to small businesses across the globe.
Note: If this section is very short (like the above example), then you might consider merging it with your fifth paragraph to shorten the cover letter. However, if this section is two to three sentences, then it’s smart to leave it as a standalone paragraph.
6) Fourth/Fifth Paragraph: Tie it all together
Tie it all together in the fourth/fifth paragraph by providing a quick review of your reasons for being the ideal candidate for the role.
Example: With my extensive experience managing IT projects, my education and experience improving an organization’s system security, and my passion for serving small businesses by providing top-notch IT services, I feel that I could lead the IT Department at ABC Tech to exponential growth while increasing the satisfaction of ABC Tech customers.
7) Close it professionally and include your contact info
Lastly, you’ll close the cover letter with a few short, to-the-point sentences. Make sure to include your contact information here.
I have attached my resume and applied through the online portal as directed. Please let me know if any other information or documentation is required.
I look forward to hearing from you.
8) Submit the cover letter as directed
Make sure to follow any directions for submitting the cover letter. You don't want to go through all the trouble of creating a tailored cover letter only to have it not get read because you didn't follow the directions for how to submit it with your application or resume.
I also highly recommend asking one or more people to read over the cover letter before you submit it. You don't want to let any spelling or grammatical errors to slip through as they might suggest that you are not professional or that you aren't taking the application process seriously.
Need a little more assistance in creating your cover letter? Check out my free cover letter here! or buy my book, Cut the Bullsh*t, Land the Job: A Guide to Resume Writing, Networking, Interviewing, LinkedIn, Salary Negotiation, and More! The guide comes with over 30 resume templates and is available in both Ebook and print formats.