Much like the dreaded college admissions essay plagued us back in high school, figuring out how to write a cover letter that will actually get your job application noticed feels like a losing battle. Many resumes are now being read by robots who might not give you the time of day, and if you do manage to make it past that first glance, some employers will ghost you anyway. So how do you ace the cover letter, which is your first chance to show employers who you are in your own words?
If you’re worried about what to say (and what not to say) in those fateful two paragraphs, have no fear — we’re about to tell you exactly how to write a cover letter for a job, including everything from how to start it, how to address it, and even what font to use. If you learn by example, we’ve also got a cover letter template that will show what the whole thing looks like when you put it all together.
Once you know how to write a resume that can list off all of your basic information, you can use your cover letter as a supplement to market your soft skills, and a tool to get you what you’re looking for: an interview, and hopefully a job offer. The benefit of cover letters is that you can make them persuasive even if you don’t have relevant experience to highlight. We spoke to Beth Conyngham, a career expert and the president of Conyngham Partners, a women-owned executive search firm. Conyngham broke down how to utilize the cover letter to your advantage, and what mistakes to avoid, in a step-by-step guide that makes the whole process easy. Here’s everything you need to do to craft the perfect cover letter.
- FIGURE OUT THE EMPLOYEE’S NAME AND CONTACT INFORMATION
Knowing the name of the employer to send your letter to, their position in the company, and the address of the company is crucial. Spelling their name wrong gives the employer an easy reason to toss your application in the trash. Put all this information on your cover letter — it may seem tedious but it’s professional and it gives an immediate indication that this isn’t a mass-produced cover letter.
“If you can get someone’s title, that’s very important,” Conyngham tells Her Campus. To find someone’s title (if it is not on the job listing) try Googling the company’s website, searching the person’s name on LinkedIn, or calling the company to ask a receptionist who will be able to give you more information. You don’t necessarily need to put your own address on the letter, especially since that information should be on your resume, but definitely include contact information like your email and phone number (more on where to put this info later).
- CHOOSE A PROFESSIONAL FONT
While a font choice may seem insignificant, it’s actually really important. If your font hurts the eyes or isn’t easy to read, the employer may give up on finishing it halfway through, reducing your chances of getting to the next round in the hiring process.
One way to play it safe? Opt for Times New Roman whenever possible. It’s a classic font that most people are familiar with, and it won’t steal attention away from the actual content of your letter like a flashier font might.
- Start with a formal salutation
So now we get to the hard part: actually writing the letter. Even the way you say hello can change the way an employer feels about you, according to Conyngham.
“It should be Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs., and a colon. A comma is informal and casual and a colon is business-like, and this is business,” she explains. But what should you do if you’re faced with a gender-neutral name like Devon or Ryan, and you’re not sure how the employer identifies?
Conyngham suggests doing more research before taking a gamble on choosing a gendered honorific. “Ambiguous names, that’s always a quandary,” Conyngham says. “The proper thing to do would be to call the company and say, I’m writing a letter to Devon/Ryan. Should I address them as Mr. or Mrs.?” You can also search the person’s name on Google or social media, where more and more people have normalized sharing their pronouns. While doing so might feel awkward, you want to avoid getting it wrong at all costs. Not only would misgendering them reduce your chances of moving on to the next round, but it’s also personally disrespectful.
- INTRODUCE WHAT JOB YOU’RE LOOKING FOR (AND YOURSELF!)
Start with a basic introduction sentence to the cover letter, such as: Please consider this letter and my attached resume for employment as a summer sales intern at Best Company, Inc.
“Every cover letter should be very specific to the job you’re going after,” Conyngham tells Her Campus. “If you’re applying for a job, it should be in response to your ad on Monster.com or wherever you saw it. Reference the job, where you found it, and the date. If there is a number beside it, you should reference that as well. You want to give the reader as much explicit information as you can about the job to which you are applying. Make it easy for them.”
Then, don’t forget to say who you are! Quickly introduce yourself, your school, and your year. This is especially important if you’re applying for a job in a big company. Tell them you’re applying for an internship in the specific department you’re interested in, or tell them what job you want. The more specific you are, the more they can accurately evaluate your qualifications for that particular role.
- COMPLIMENT THE COMPANY, in specific terms
In an effort to avoid the “mass-produced” cover letter that employers can tell you’re sending to 10 different companies, you’ll want to specifically call out why you’re attracted to this role at this company. (And make sure to spell the company name right!)
“Say something specific about the company before you talk about yourself,” Conyngham advises. “For example, ‘I’ve always been passionate about Your Company’ or, ‘it’s always been in line with my career goals.’ This is either at the top or the bottom of your cover letter, not in the middle. There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to do that, but it’s got to be included.”
Make sure you make it clear why this is the company you want to work for. Make them feel special and as if they are your number one choice. For example, if you wanted to get a summer job at Forever 21, you could say: “Forever 21 is a fast-paced environment, which is ideal because I like working under pressure and quickly. I am particularly impressed with Forever 21’s ability to quickly take high fashion inspiration and turn it into affordable clothing that is exceptionally fashion-forward.” If the company has a clear mission or purpose, referencing it in your letter can let them know that you’ve done your research. Once you’ve done that, congrats! You’ve finished your first paragraph.
- TELL THEM WHY YOU’RE qualified, with examples
Now that you’re on to your second paragraph, it’s time to talk more about yourself and your qualifications. Choose your best qualities and state them clearly and efficiently — and avoid the classic job app mistake of using meaningless adjectives without examples to back them up, Conyngham warns.
“Avoid the buzzwords and, in a sentence or two, say something that really captures your experience and why you’re appropriate for this role,” she tells Her Campus.
Say you write this sentence, for example: I feel I am well qualified for this position because I am deadline-oriented, organized, a leader, a professional, a self-starter, a hard worker, creative, dedicated, positive, punctual, eager to learn, adaptable, sociable, dedicated, dynamic, reliable, mature, efficient, a team player, analytical, a problem solver, dependable, communicative, motivated, and have great attention to detail. All you’ll do is bore them with buzzwords — they can’t even confirm for themselves whether any of those qualities are true, because you haven’t given any concrete instances of where you exemplified those traits.
Instead, Conyngham says, “You should talk about your resume and the experience that relates to this job. My experience makes me uniquely qualified because of this, this, and this.” You can name the specific events you planned for your club, the number of articles you write per month for your school paper, or other more detailed instances that demonstrated these qualities. Show, don’t tell!
- Leave your contact information at the bottom
With the amount of cover letters that come in for each open position, you don’t want to be the person who makes the work of reading them even harder for the employer. So, Conyngham advises reaching the point quickly, and including all necessary information they might need from you.
“Say when you’re available for an interview in person or on the phone and how to reach you,” she explains. “You should also say, ‘If I don’t hear from you, I will follow up with you next week.’ A cover letter should be followed up with an absolute date of when you will follow up with them if they don’t follow up with you.” Promising to follow up shows your commitment and interest to the role, and might also motivate them to get back to you sooner.
- Thank the employer, and say goodbye
Conyngham’s advice? Close with a “very best regards” and your name, and call it a day. “I think you only want two main paragraphs. Short and sweet,” Conyngham says, noting that reading cover letters gets tedious.
There is an exception to this rule, however. If something on your resume needs particular clarifying — a unique position or a gap in employment, perhaps — it’s okay to clear it up, as long as you aren’t repeating what’s on your resume. This will give employers a fuller picture of yourself, and they may be more inclined to follow up if they have answers to their questions.
- PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD
There are few things more embarrassing than spelling the employer’s name or company’s name wrong, and accidentally misstating information about your qualifications can also get you in trouble later. Plus, if you want to make it clear anywhere in your letter that you are detail-oriented, you’ll want the whole thing to be completely typo-free. All of these mistakes might be genuine and small, but they can sink your chances and have your cover letter end up at the bottom of the reject pile. So proofread, multiple times.
You can utilize spell-check on your computer, or download a program like Grammarly to catch all those small mistakes. You can also send it along to a friend or to your college’s career resources center to get a second opinion. Then send that thing out and wait for a call or email back (and if you don’t get one, touch base with them!).
An example cover letter template
And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for: This is a sample cover letter to show you how to put it all together! You should replace all information with more specific details about the company and their mission or achievements, as well as your own background, interests, and experience.
February 8, 2022
Ms. Jane Smith
Vice President of Sales Best Company, Inc.
118 5th Ave. New York, NY 10036
Dear Ms. Smith:
Please consider this letter and my attached resume for employment as a 2022 summer sales intern at Best Company, Inc. My name is Cara Sprunk and I will be completing my sophomore year at State University in May. I am extremely interested in working at Best Company, Inc. Since I first became interested in sales I have had extreme respect for Best Company, Inc. and believe it truly personifies what a great company can do with an innovative product. Not only do I think that I would learn a great deal about the sales industry from Best Company, Inc., but I also think my unique skills would make me a highly valued intern.
At State University, I am president of the sales club, the marketing manager of the marketing club, and a sales associate at Clothing & Co. These positions have helped me become extremely organized with my time, as well as taught me the inner workings of marketing including psychological marketing techniques and the relationship skills to facilitate good employee-client relations for continuous sales. I would love to speak on the phone to learn more about the sales internship or to schedule an interview. I can be reached at (201)-555-5555 or email@example.com anytime. If I do not hear from you, I will contact you on February 15 about the sales internship. Thank you so much for considering my candidacy.
Very best regards,
Once your cover letter is drafted, edited, and proofread, send it off with your resume and make sure to follow up if you haven’t heard back in the time you allotted. Now you’re prepared to show all of your dream companies what makes you a great employee, and that you deserve the roles you’re going after. Good luck!