Writing Winning Cover Letters
Now that you've spent hours and hours perfecting your resume,
you're now ready to apply for that coveted job right? There is
however, just one more critical step that you need to be aware of
before you hit the 'send' button. To round out a truly effective
job search package, a cover letter accompanying your resume is
needed to emphasize your skills and value to the employer.
What is a cover letter anyway, and do I really need
Consider the cover letter a bonus opportunity to articulate why
you're best for the job, in your very own words. While resumes go
into factual detail about your work history, education and skills,
the cover letter is an essential tool to describe why you are a
great fit for the role. The cover letter allows you to be more
descriptive and express exactly why you are a match to the
Think of the cover letter as your personal introduction. Imagine
you were meeting the employer for the very first time and only had
30 seconds to sell yourself for the job. What would you say? The
cover letter is your 'elevator speech', which allows the employer
to understand your key skills and motivations for applying.
A cover letter is your first impression with the employer, and
could be the deciding factor in whether or not they proceed in
reviewing your resume.
How do I format the cover letter?
A cover letter is typically no more than one page, consists of a
few short paragraphs, and written in a business letter style.
Typically one to three short paragraphs are sufficient. Proper
grammar and spelling are just as important in the cover letter as
they are in the resume. Many employers will assess your
communication skills based on how well-written your cover letter
is. Ensure that you edit, edit, and edit some more! Spelling also
counts, so make sure to run the spell-checker and proof-read the
final document before sending.
So what do I include in the cover letter?
- Your contact
information: Your first and last name, address, phone and
- Date: Include the
- Company contact
information: First and last name of person the cover
letter is addressed to, company name and address.
- Opening salutation:
Example - Dear Hiring Manager,
- Body of the cover
letter: This is the juicy part of your cover letter and
the most important. It is essential that you have a clear
understanding of the job description before writing the cover
letter. Researching the company and job description, will help you
assess which skills to emphasize in the cover letter.
First paragraph: The intro paragraph
is generally where you introduce yourself and state why you are
writing. For advertised positions, state where you heard about the
position and include specific job titles and job reference numbers,
if any. For unadvertised positions, identify the roles or
department you are interested in and use job titles to help the
employer visualize what type of role you might be suitable
If you were referred to the position by a friend or contact within
the company, make sure you indicate who this person is, their job
title and department. Employers might be more inclined to read your
cover letter if they recognize the name of someone they work
Second paragraph: The second paragraph is
your 'elevator speech'. This is where you tell them why you think
you're a great fit. Remember that your cover letter should be
targetted to the job you are applying for. Be specific about the
key skills and experience that will help you succeed in the role,
and match your qualifications to the ones listed by the employer in
their job ad. For example, if you have relevant education or
expertise, say so and use specific examples where appropriate. You
can also state which aspects of the job you are qualified for and
why. If you have no related experience, highlight
transferrable skills that show you are capable of succeeding in
Closing paragraph: Connect yourself to
the job and show you've done your homework by emphasizing qualities
of the company or job that align with your personality and goals.
For example, you can demonstrate how you can help the company
achieve key business objectives, through the position you're
applying for. Understanding the company's mission, vision and
values can also help you elaborate on specific characteristics,
personality traits, and soft skills to show your potential as a top
performer. All of these elements will assist the employer in
visualizing your potential fit within the organization.
- Closing salutation: Thank the employer for the
opportunity to be considered for the position. State that you will
follow-up with them by a certain date, and ensure that you actually
follow-up by phone or email. Let them know of your availability for
interviews, and the method of contact where you can be easily
reached. End off with your closing salutation, such as
Sincerely or Best Regards, and include your first and last
name. You can include a personalized signature as well.
What else should I know about the cover letter?
- Address the cover letter to a real
person. This could be the hiring manager, HR Executive, head of the
department you're applying for, or even the CEO of the company. If
there is no contact provided in the job ad, it's time to do some
digging! The extra effort of including a real person's name on the
cover letter shows that you are proactive, and may increase your
chances of having your cover letter and resume read by a real
- If you choose to include Dear Mr.
or Mrs. in your opening salutation, ensure that you have the
right gender for the name. To be safe, it's best to include a first
and last name only, in order to avoid insulting the person you're
addressing the letter to.
- Be positive, upbeat and professional.
Show you're knowledgeable and qualified, but don't brag. It is a
fine line between being arrogant, versus selling yourself
positively and professionally, which is how you want to
- Use specific examples of results or
accomplishments where appropriate. (Remember
Situation, Task, Action, Result?) These are best used to
illustrate skills or expertise in a certain area.
- Personal pronouns (such as "I" or
"my") can be used in the cover letter.
- Use your active voice and avoid the
use of filler words. Ex. Passive voice: "I feel as if I have
excellent project management abilities...", versus active voice: "I
possess excellent project management abilities..."
- Say why you're interested in the job,
but don't mention salary, benefits or company perks. You could
mention how the job could help you grow professionally, or how you
could add value to the company based on your experience. You also
want to sound interested in the job, not desperate.
- Address the benefits the employer
could receive from a business standpoint by hiring you. What will
they get in return? What problem will you be able to solve for
them? While the cover letter is a tool to sell you, its purpose is
to convince the employer of the benefits and value they will
receive by hiring you as an employee.
- Be concise and to the point. While
paragraphs are used, make sure they are short.
- Match your key skills and experience,
to those identified by the employer in their job
- Don't copy your resume. The cover
letter is your opportunity to add something fresh and new, and
shouldn't be a carbon-copy of your resume.
- Ensure formatting (fonts, layout,
etc.) match the resume to create one cohesive document with the
same look and feel.
- Cover letters should always be
targetted. If you're using the same resume for multiple jobs, your
cover letter should at least be personalized.
- Follow-up on your application. Show
your interest in the position by asking questions about the role.
You can request an interview, however some employers may have a
short-list process where they contact candidates when they are
ready. If this is the case, thank them for their time and ask when
they might anticipate calling prospective candidates for
Just as in resume writing, there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to
write a cover letter. At the end of the day, multiple people could
be reviewing your resume and they could all have very different
opinions about your resume. All you can do is your best, stay
positive and exercise patience, as the job search process can last
several weeks to several months. Ensure that you are
pro-active in your job search, and not sitting by the phone
waiting for calls from employers. Follow-up on your applications,
request interviews, go to networking events and tell people you are
looking for a job. The more you expand your network, the better
your chances of securing a job.