New! Fishbowl by Glassdoor. Dive into authentic, anonymous conversations with a community of professionals like you. Learn More.

CV & Cover Letter

How to Write a Cover Letter

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Guide Overview

What is a Cover Letter?What to Include in Your Cover LetterTips for Writing a Compelling Cover LetterWhat to Leave Off a Cover Letter?How to Submit a Cover Letter?Learn More!

Guide Overview

A Guide to Writing a Persuasive & Powerful Cover Letter

Cover letters can seem daunting to write, but they’re an integral part of the application process. Plus, they let you show your personality and further explain why you’re the best fit for the job. The key is making sure that your cover letter is customised and crafted for the position you want. As you apply for jobs, use the following steps to write a cover letter that gets you the job you want.

What is a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is your chance to elaborate on relevant skills and experience in your CV by telling stories of past accomplishments and successes while explaining how they are relevant to the position you are applying for.

The Society for Human Resources surveyed organisations on cover letters and found the top three things that must be covered in a cover letter are:

  • How a candidate’s work experience meets job requirements.
  • How a candidate’s skills meet job requirements.
  • Why a candidate wants to work at the organisation.

Your cover letter needs to provide this information and leave the reader convinced of why you are the right person for the job.

To accomplish this, you should be using the requirements of the job to dictate the content of your cover letter and following these best practices.

What to Include in Your Cover Letter

In order to write an effective cover letter you need to know the basic format and high points that you need to cover before you can write a great cover letter.

Here’s what you should include in a cover letter:

  1. Your contact information at the top
  2. The specific role that you’re applying to
  3. An address to the hiring manager
  4. A brief description of why you’re a good fit for the role (more on this next)
  5. Your relevant experience and skills
  6. A conclusion that reiterates your interest and ends with a call-to-action
  7. Your signature

Here’s a good example of an eye-catching cover letter format:

Tips for Writing a Compelling Cover Letter

Now that you know what a cover letter is and how to structure one, here are our top tips for writing a good cover letter.

Show how you can solve specific problems

Saying you’re a ‘problem-solver’ is about as helpful as explaining your preference for chocolate croissants over regular croissants. Don’t tell them about your amazing problem-solving skills. Explain the details of a particular problem you were key in solving and how exactly you employed your skills to solve it. Better yet, if you know the company has a particular problem you could help solve, outline how you can help solve it.

Pick an appropriate voice and tone

You should write like yourself, but you should also pick the appropriate voice and tone for the company you’re applying to.

Researching the company will help dictate the tone you want to use, which may differ greatly, depending on where you apply. For example, the tone of your letter for a legal consulting firm will likely differ from a tech startup.

Tell your story

Telling stories from your career is a great way to demonstrate your skills and give hiring managers some insight into your personality and work style.

When looking for the right stories to tell, always look to the requirements for the position in the job description.

It is also helpful to research the company further online to get a sense for the company’s culture. Before drafting your cover letter, compare your skills with the requirements for the position.

It can be helpful to use Venn diagrams to brainstorm and find what competencies you want to highlight and what specific experiences you want to share. After you create this diagram and identify what falls into both circles, overlapping subjects will direct and inspire the content of your cover letter.

Let’s say you’re applying for a marketing director position. Among other aspects in the description, the job requires several years of marketing experience, a deep knowledge of lead generation, and strong communication skills. Describe how, in your previous role as a marketing manager, you ran several campaigns for your clients and exceeded their expectations of lead generation (with specific numbers, if possible), and how you also trained and mentored new associates on how to manage their own accounts, which improved client retention rates.

Your anecdote is accomplishing a lot at once—it’s demonstrating one of your top hard skills, lead nurturing, and showcasing how you can collaborate with trainees, communicate effectively, and educate new employees on processes and client relations. You’re proving that you can meet the communication standards and marketing knowledge they’re seeking.

Honesty is the only policy

Dishonesty on your cover letter isn’t in your best interest.

Implying or stating that you have a skill that you don’t actually have will come back to bite you upon being asked to use that skill in the interview or on the job.

Don’t sound like everyone else

“Hi, I’m ___. I’m a detail-oriented, multi-tasking, natural-born leader and I am perfect for your company.”

Hiring managers are going to read the same basic cover letter repeatedly, and you don’t want to be the last template email the hiring manager discounts before lunch. Adding a little word variation helps you stand out against other applicants.

Instead of describing yourself as creative, try imaginative. You’re inventive, not innovative. You’re not determined, you’re tenacious. These word variations at least show that you can think beyond what the average applicant is willing to do.

End with a call to action 

End your cover letter with a reason for them to contact you. But don’t add remarks like, “I’ll call to schedule an interview.” This doesn’t make you a go-getter, it crosses a boundary.

Instead, let the call to action be polite and open ended, suggesting that you are excited to offer more information and that you’re looking forward to talking with them.  

Proof your cover letter

Always proofread your cover letter for errors and have friends and family read through the cover letter.

Tell a compelling story

Everyone loves a good story, and recruiters and hiring managers are no exception. Telling compelling stories from your career will make your cover letter unique and memorable for whoever reads it.

Just be sure that the stories you choose demonstrate proficiency with the skills, tools and concepts that are required by the job you’re applying for.

What makes this company your go-to choice? Why is this company special to you? Perhaps you’re attracted to the workplace culture, or perhaps you’ve always admired the business philosophy that the company lives by.

Address the recruiter or hiring manager by name

Now it’s fine to just use “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern” when addressing the recruiter. In fact, I can tell you from experience that most people use precisely these words. However, I can also tell you that most people don’t get the job. If you want to make a strong impression, take time to research who you’re addressing

You may have to make a few phone calls or try several searches before you find the right name, but, the harder they are to find, the less likely other applicants are to do it and the more impressed they will be with you. 

Related: 5 Perfect Opening Lines for Your Cover Letter

Give your cover letter a unique visual format

A unique visual format for your cover letter can help you stand out from other candidates in a positive way. Just be sure that the unique format you use is appropriate for the company you’re applying to and their industry. 

Be Very Specific

Do not send a generic cover letter. Repeat: DO NOT send a generic cover letter. They can be spotted a mile away and are as fun to read as they are to write. Try your very best to find a name you can address your letter to. A name is one of the most effective ways to make the letter feel more personal.

Visually Match Your CV

The heading of your letter should correlate with your CV, the font should be the same and the paper (if you’re printing it) should also be the same. Along with your CV, your cover letter is part of a pair, and this pair should be visually consistent.

matching cover letter and cv

Consider Using a Template

This is an especially good idea if you’re already using a template for your CV. In fact, if your CV is templated, your cover letter absolutely should be too. A template is a great way to get some structure going. It can help make a big, blank, white page a little less intimidating.

What to Leave Off a Cover Letter?

Recruiters and hiring managers read thousands of cover letters and CVs, so make sure that you avoid these cover letter errors:

Avoid overused phrases 

The average cover letter is going to be extremely generic and contain overused expressions such as “Thank you for taking the time to look at my CV” or “I believe that my set of skills make me a great fit for the job.” While none of these lines hurt your chance of getting the job, they certainly don’t help either.

Career coach Angela Copeland says, “stay away from phrases that are known to annoy hiring managers, such as ‘heavy lifting’ or ‘think outside the box’ or ‘game-changer.’”

Here are some more phrases that make recruiters and hiring managers groan: 

  • “To Whom It May Concern”
  • “I’m not sure if you know”
  • “Dynamic”
  • “Please feel free”
  • “Significant”
  • “Self-Starter,” “Detail-Oriented,” and “Forward-Thinker”
  • “Really, truly, deeply”

Recruiters and hiring managers go through hundreds of cover letters and get tired of these clichés. They’re waiting for something new and refreshing to come along and it’s in your best interest to do so.

Never include irrelevant information

Never include irrelevant information in your cover letter. Irrelevant information can confuse or bore the reader, causing them to miss important points in your cover letter.

How to Submit a Cover Letter?

The longer you “sit on” a cover letter to edit and re-write it, the longer you prolong the opportunity for someone else to get the attention of the hiring manager you want to impress.

You should submit your cover letter as soon as you are certain that:

  1. Your cover letter, CV and portfolio work are free from errors.
  2. Your cover letter is written in a way that balances professionalism with personality.
  3. Your cover letter catches the reader’s interest from the first sentence and maintains it throughout.
  4. Your cover letter uses the requirements for the job and information on the company as a guide for its content.
  5. Your cover letter tells stories that are filled with examples that satisfy job requirements and make you stand out positively as an individual and a potential employee.

Submitting your cover letter

Always follow the submission instructions laid out in the job description when submitting your cover letter.

If you are submitting the letter though a website with fillable fields, be sure that no formatting or content errors have occurred.

Learn More!

Related Career Guides