How to Write a Stellar Cover Letter: Simple 5-step Formula
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Writing a great cover letter is like telling a concise story. You're the main character, and the most relevant skills and experiences from your CV are the defining moments of the plot. Tie those in with the job description, and your cover letter will demonstrate you’re the best person for the role.
While some application processes don’t require a cover letter, you should always submit one if given the opportunity, as 74% of recruitment decision-makers prefer to receive job applications that include cover letters.
“When required, a cover letter can play a very important role when deciding whether to move forward with a candidate. A cover letter will give you a good idea of how much the person knows about the company or product, if their skillset and experience are a good match, and sometimes can go as far as letting you know if they could be a good culture fit. Everything in just one letter.” — Laura Cortes, talent acquisition specialist at Deel
Encapsulating your work experience into a powerful 250 - 400 word (max) story while linking it to all the needs listed in the job posting is challenging, even for the most adept writers. Fortunately, we’ve created a simple formula to help you craft a compelling cover letter in five simple steps:
- Step one: Identify the hiring manager’s problems or desires from the job description
- Step two: Use your answers to craft an introductory paragraph
- Step three: Back yourself up with examples
- Step four: Demonstrate company knowledge and why you’re applying for this role
- Step five: Review, refine, and close
Step one: Identify the hiring manager's problems or desires from the job description
Hiring managers are looking for people who can help them solve problems. Review the job ad and list the primary needs, desires, or challenges outlined in the description. Remember, cover letters need to be concise, so you won’t have the space to address every point in the job description. Choose the aspects of the role that you feel are most integral.
Once you have a list, use the same terminology to explain your experience and how it relates to the role. Don’t worry about perfecting your sentences at this stage.
Here’s an example:
Original job descriptionThe Senior Developer Role
Our Senior Developer role is varied and will appeal to you if you are happy to develop and grow as you understand our business and clients. Reporting to our Chief Architect, your key duties will include:
This would be a great career move if you:
Your bullet points and related experience
Note: If you find matching your experience to the job requirements challenging, you may be underqualified for the role. While it’s great to be ambitious, you should also be realistic. You will have greater success if you apply to opportunities where your experience is more closely aligned.
If this is your first job or you’re hoping to make a career change, apply to entry-level positions that don’t have rigid requirements and draw upon your education, hobbies, and any relevant experience from your personal life to address the company’s needs.
Step two: Use your answers to craft an introductory paragraph
This step involves stitching your answers together to create a powerful and succinct introduction. You may need to play with sentence order and cut sections to ensure it flows and remains punchy.
Dear Hiring Manager,
Note: If you have some unique experience that is particularly interesting or impressive and relevant to the role, include it here too.
Step three: Back yourself up with examples
Once you’ve introduced yourself in alignment with the job description, it’s time to provide some supporting evidence. The most effective way to do this is to provide three to four bullet points highlighting your notable projects and achievements. Include data and links where possible to illustrate the success of a project.
Over the course of my career/in my current role/in the last month, I have:
Depending on the role you’re applying for, you could attach your online portfolio, provide an overview of last month’s exceeded sales targets, or include a link to an impressive client review (without breaking NDA rules with your current employer). The idea is that you want to back up claims with hard evidence.
“Data is always a huge plus. Data gives credibility to your achievements. My recommendation is to add it everywhere, to your cover letter, your CV, your LinkedIn profile.” — Laura Cortes, talent acquisition specialist
Step four: Demonstrate company knowledge and why you're applying for this role
The final section of your cover letter will help the potential employer understand why you want this role and prove you’re knowledgeable about the company. Do some research by looking at the company’s website, blog, and social media channels to find answers to the following questions:
- What is unique about this company? What makes it stand out from similar companies?
- What conversations is the company engaging in online via social media or on its blog, and why do you think they are important?
- What is the company’s overarching goal or ambition, and why do you want to participate?
Your answer could look something like this:
[Company name] is a leader in X, Y, and Z. I respect how it differentiates itself from the competition by X. I’m particularly interested in the company’s recent engagements in X. I feel that these [topics/products/services] are essential to X and that my skills in X, Y, and Z, along with my passion for X, will support [Company name] in achieving its overarching goal to become X.
“Applicants should personalize their application as much as possible, adjusting their cover letter or CV to the company and role, connecting with people from the company on LinkedIn, and even sending messages to recruiters and hiring managers can give you extra points. Have a clear idea of what you bring to the table and how this will contribute to the company’s goals.”— Laura Cortes, talent acquisition specialist
Step five: Review, refine, and close
You’re almost done writing your cover letter. Your introduction speaks directly to the company’s needs, the examples substantiate your claims, and the final section demonstrates you’ve done your research and have a passion for the role.
Before you sign off and submit, take 20 minutes to polish your cover letter, check for any spelling or grammatical errors and typos, and, if you can, ask someone you trust to proofread it.
Running your cover letter through free writing software, such as Grammarly, is a great way to fine-tune your writing and ensure the style, tone, and delivery are on point.
Finally, add the date and your contact information to the top, and a polite thank you at the end. After that, your cover letter will be ready.
Here’s a cover letter example you can use for inspiration:
[Your full name]
[The title of the role you’re applying to]
Dear Hiring Manager,
In my current role, I have:
[Company name] is a leader in X. I respect how it differentiates itself from the competition by X, Y, and Z. I’m particularly interested in the company’s recent engagements in X. I feel these [topics/products/services] are essential to X and that my skills in X, Y, and Z, along with my passion for X, will support [Company name] in achieving its overarching goal to become X.
I appreciate your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Frequently asked questions about cover letters
Do I need to use a personal greeting?
Don’t sweat the greeting too much. Many online sources say identifying the hiring manager’s name is essential. However, don’t let this hold you up if it’s not immediately apparent. It’s unlikely that a hiring manager will turn down a strong candidate just because you didn’t address them personally.
Here are several perfectly acceptable greetings you could use:
- Dear [Department] Hiring Manager
- Dear Hiring Manager
- To whom it may concern
- Dear [Department] Team
One salutation to avoid is the overused “Dear Sir or Madam”.
Should I write in the first or third person?
It’s totally up to you. Some people find it easier to talk about themselves in the third person, but this shouldn’t impact the hiring team’s decision to proceed with an applicant.
What if I don't have the option to submit a cover letter?
Many companies now use online application systems that don’t allow for a cover letter. You may be able to figure out how to include one in the same document as your résumé, but that’s not a guarantee, especially because some systems only allow you to enter data into specific boxes. If possible, find someone from the hiring team to whom you can send a brief follow-up email, including your cover letter.
Does every cover letter need to be unique?
Yes. You should tailor every cover letter to the specific position you’re applying for. Once you’ve mastered the formula above, you will find this process much easier and will create customized cover letters faster.
Should my cover letter match my CV?
Using similar fonts and styles to your CV is a nice touch if you create a separate document for your cover letter. However, don’t feel you need to create an elaborate design; the hiring team will appreciate a clean and simple format they can quickly scan.
Is it okay to use humor?
Getting the tone of your cover letter right is essential. While it’s nice to show aspects of your personality, humor could be misinterpreted and maybe best saved for the interview. Keep your cover letter professional, positive, and friendly.
Can I express that I'm desperate for a job?
Unfortunately, coming across as desperate won’t help you land the job and may suggest you are inexperienced. Conveying passion is always a better approach.
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