Imagine that you can get solid job search advice directly from someone with experience in hiring and human resources. Wouldn’t that be helpful? Now you can do just that thanks to our new series of interviews Recruiter Reveals! Every month I interview our resident HR expert Christy Morgan on various job search topics, whether it’s resumes, cover letters, job interviews, or anything marginally career-related.
Loved by few, hated by many. Cover letters are a necessary evil in job hunting, whether we like it or not.
But there is a way to do it much easier: doing some research and following the correct cover letter outline.
We’ll tell you what it is and go over some of the most common content and formatting errors so you can avoid them.
Oh, and to make it even easier for you, we’ve attached a great cover letter example at the end of this interview (along with a link to over 900 cover letter examples that you can filter by profession).
In this interview, you will discover:
- What an ideal cover letter looks like;
- Why should you bother writing one;
- What is the best cover letter outline?
- How long does it need to be;
- What to research before you start writing;
- What cover letter mistakes to avoid;
- What is the best way to send it?
- If it can be rejected if someone else writes it for you
Let’s start with a simple question: why do employers ask for a cover letter? What do you want to know about me as a possible candidate?
First of all, it is a traditional courtesy to send a cover letter with a resume. Second, they want to know if you are a great candidate for the position or why they should read your resume. And sometimes they try to get a feel for your personality. Cultural fit is important to many companies.
In other words, employers read my cover letter first and then my resume, is that correct?
It really depends on the company and how they received the request. If it goes through your ATS system, it reads both documents at the same time. But still, a resume is the main document of the ATS and has a higher weight. However, if a recruiter is going to read it manually, they may first take a look at the cover letter because it is a much shorter text. So they quickly check the relevant things like “He is a software developer, okay, let me read the resume.” But it really depends on the individual recruiter and if they are using technology.
In one of our previous interviews, we also talked about a common myth in job hunting: that cover letters are dead. Did you not agree and say that it is still a courtesy to send one?
There may be a recruiter who is not going to read it, but you do not know who he is and who he is not. So, like I say, prevention is better than cure. If you are applying for a job and they only allow you to upload one document, of course just a resume is fine. But when you email it, unless they have specifically said there is no cover letter, you should send one.
You may get an occasional recruiter who won’t appreciate it. Or I don’t know how many, but there are also recruiters who will say “Oh, they didn’t send a cover letter, why didn’t they make the effort?” In most cases, it is still considered a courtesy to send one. And if it’s you and a very similar applicant, a cover letter could be a way to show a potential employer that you are a better fit.
Now let’s imagine that I am a job seeker. I want to apply for a job but I have no idea how to write a cover letter. Where should i start?
First of all, focus on what kinds of jobs you are applying for. Pick relevant jobs that you are qualified for and then it will be much easier for you to write a cover letter. Second, research the company and its tone of voice. Look at their website and you will get the idea. Then you should adjust the voice of your cover letter to it.
For example, startups are generally personality-driven companies. They are small and generally run by younger people with a lot of energy who are not as formal. If you are very serious in your cover letter, they will be like “What the hell?”. Therefore, in your cover letter, you should sound professional but friendlier and not overly serious. Show a bit of your personality.
On the other hand, if the company is quite formal, keep your cover letter very polite and formal.
Ok, I have chosen specific jobs, I have investigated the tone of voice of the company. Now what?
Look for examples of cover letters specific to your position online, for example, on Kickresume. Pick a few examples that fit your role and use them for inspiration. Then look at the job description for the roles you are applying for. Identify the most experienced and skillful keywords and insert them into your letter in the relevant sections. And put it in your own words.
So you don’t have to think of 100% original content. Just look at what you have experience in, what the descriptions are looking for, what the company wants, and you put it all together. From then on, your template should need minimal tweaking and will work for both the recruiter and ATS systems. And of course, don’t forget to tailor your cover letter to each position you are applying for.
That is great advice! What people get wrong many times is that they use a generic template that they find through Google image search. 😀
Exactly. Don’t use the first generic template you find on Google, because recruiters can tell. First, get the correct template. Choose a template that is specific to the types of jobs you are applying for. And then modify it to be yours.
What are some other common cover letter mistakes to avoid?
Making it too general. Without telling me why you fit in well. This is why the first paragraph of your cover letter is so important. I should address it there. Make it specific from the start.
Avoid fluff from cover letters. Many people think it should be a specific length, so they try to fill it with fluff. Then they use cliches like “I am detail oriented, I like to work in a team” etc. Keep that confusion to a minimum and focus on what the company is looking for.
Then the voice of the letter. Sometimes people are too formal or too informal. As I said earlier, research the tone of voice of the company and adjust your cover letter to it.
Pay attention to greetings. Not “Hi John”, but “Dear John”. And the end too. It’s something that I see more and more people use “Best regards, best regards”. That’s the language of email, and it’s not appropriate in cover letters for people you don’t know. In general, use “Yours sincerely” (UK English) or “Sincerely” (US English), plus your full name.
Also avoid sounding arrogant. Some people do that. They write “I’m the best…” without evidence, and it puts recruiters off a bit, particularly in certain English-speaking cultures like the UK, where modesty is often more appropriate. But if it’s true and you can prove it, stating the facts objectively can definitely help you sell it.
Last time, you also mentioned that a big problem with cover letters is that people repeat a lot of what they have on their resume.
Yes, that can be a problem. Of course, there may be things like your credentials or professional achievements, but it really should address what the company is asking for. But don’t include irrelevant things on your resume or go into a great deal of detail at this stage.
What is the ideal format for a cover letter?
Cover letters should be clean and pleasing to the eye. It should be about three or four paragraphs, maximum one page. No text walls. You should use a font size between 10 and 12. And make sure there is no text on the icons or graphics because the ATS will not detect it.
And the content? Can you give us a good summary of the cover letter?
- Your contact information + company information.
- Greetings: “Dear (first name)“(Or” Dear Mrs. (last name) for formal companies).
- Introductory paragraph: introduce yourself and show that you fit in well, p. Ex. “As a software developer with more than 3 years of experience in digital technologies, I am enthusiastically applying to this opportunity.” Be brief.
- Second paragraph: Give them a bit of your experience; be more specific about your relevant achievements and experience and match them with what they are looking for.
- 3rd Paragraph: Write a little about any other relevant knowledge / hard skills area they are looking for, as well as any degree.
- Fourth paragraph: Briefly, what can you contribute and what is the attractiveness of this company. For example, “I have seen on your website that you focus a lot on cryptocurrency projects. As a cryptocurrency enthusiast, I would love to join your team.”
- Final paragraph: “I am enclosing my resume. Thank you very much for your time and I look forward to hearing from you on the next steps.”
- Firm: “Yours sincerely” (UK English) or “Sincerely” (US English), (Your full name).
And that is. Easy.
You may also want to pick a specific problem from the job description, what a person in this role should solve, and then use the cover letter to show how you can help them solve this particular problem.
Yes, exactly. That could be the part of the second paragraph or the fourth paragraph.
How about using bullet points or bold fonts to highlight something important? Or do you prefer to write it in full paragraphs?
Either format is fine. Full paragraphs are completely fine as long as they aren’t too bulky. Usually I do paragraphs, but sometimes I also use bullet points to highlight specific accomplishments. For example, “In my last job I managed: …” and then he listed the accomplishments in bullet points. Statistics, figures, and bullets are easier to view in bullet format. So if you have specific things that you can point out, bullets are good. Bold font to highlight important information is fine too, but don’t overdo it.
Do recruiters care if I’m using matching design templates for both the resume and cover letter?
In general, it should always look clean and not too fussy. So, I think it’s good to combine your resume and cover letter template and it will give the recruiters a very good impression.
Since you also write cover letters for your clients, do you have any special tips on how to stand out?
To start, make sure you fit well. Many people apply for jobs for which they do not meet the essential requirements, so recruiters will positively note that they are a good fit. Of course, follow the instructions we mentioned earlier. And if it is a normal company that is not based on personality, you can stand out by giving them what they want, no nonsense or boring them to tears. When it comes to personality-driven businesses, you’ll stand out for putting a bit of character into them, so they see that you’re fun, enthusiastic, or whatever they’re looking for.
All right, I wrote my cover letter and I will email it. Many resources recommend copying the cover letter into the body of the email. What is your view on this?
In fact, it is a good question. You can do it in two ways. You can attach cover letter as document and add short text in email like “I enclose my cover letter and my CV for position X” – that’s the easiest and safest way to do it. Or you can paste it into the body of the email.
However, if the company uses an ATS system, it can be difficult. ATS systems give the highest weight to a resume, then a cover letter, and then possibly consider other texts like an email. But it also depends on how each company uses it. If you are not sending a cover letter as a document, you can still consider the email text, but it will probably have a lower weight. Therefore, I recommend attaching it.
What about combining the two? You can include the cover letter in the attachment AND preview the body of the email. Could this help grab the recruiter’s attention?
Yeah that would be cool, you can do a little introductory thing like “As a software engineer with 4 years of experience working with digital technology platforms, my cover letter and resume are attached for your consideration.” You can even copy the entire first paragraph of your cover letter. That might be the best way to do it. But no more than that if you attach a cover letter.
If I submit my cover letter through an online form, will it be read by a recruiter or just the ATS?
If it is submitted online these days it is almost always sent to the ATS first. It may eventually be read by a human, but the ATS does the initial evaluation and weighting.
Ok, let’s say you have received my documents, I am a good candidate for the job, I have a well written resume, but my cover letter is really bad. Will it affect my chances of getting a job?
Generally not, because if you can do the work, you can do the work. But of course, if you play a role where written communication is important, you probably do. In the cover letter you have to express yourself. That’s where employers get information about your language and your writing skills. If they are deficient and these skills are necessary for a position, it could disqualify you.
What if the opposite happens? My cover letter is great, but my resume is not.
There would be a question mark: Why is there such a big difference between the two? Did someone write your cover letter? In the end, we will hire you primarily for your resume and work experience. So you may have the best cover letter in the world, but still your resume is more important.
Have you ever read a cover letter that you knew was not written by the person who sent it?
Oh, you get it many times. I also write cover letters for my clients, so I’m already very sensitive to that. But I’ve never seen a big difference myself between how a person’s resume and cover letter were written.
Are people rejected for that?
No, I never heard of that happening. Unless there is a big difference between the resume and the cover letter, it is usually not that important. It is the content of the resume that counts.
Key takeaways: how to write a cover letter
Writing a cover letter doesn’t have to be painful if you do your research and know how to write it. Put in a little work and it will be a lot easier for you. These are the key things to follow:
- Do your research first: Pick relevant job titles and research the tone of voice of the company. Later Look for sample cover letters for your specific role. Take it, tweak it, and make sure the main keywords of the job description are in your template.
- Cover letter format: Keep it to three to four paragraphs, maximum one page. Use a font size between 10 and 12. Keep it clean and attractive. Ideally, have a template that matches your resume. Make sure your paragraphs aren’t too bulky, and bullet important facts, statistics, or accomplishments.
- Cover letter outline: Start with the introductory paragraph where you introduce yourself. In the second paragraph, tell a little more about yourself and the weaknesses or needs of the company and the experience you have that can help them. Then in the third paragraph write a bit about any additional skill / knowledge areas they are looking for, as well as their qualifications. In the fourth paragraph, tell them why you would like to work there. End by thanking them and a call to action. Add a greeting and your name.
- Don’t make these mistakes: Don’t feel like you need to fill the entire page, stick to the main points, don’t fill it with fluff. Make sure to adjust the template according to the job description and what the company is looking for. Adjust your tone of voice.
- Sending a cover letter: If you are only requesting one document, please submit only one resume. But whenever possible, send a cover letter as well. Add it as an attachment and provide a sneak peek in the body of the email (you can even use the first paragraph of the letter).
Cover letter example (audio engineer)
USE THE SAMPLE AS YOUR FIRST DRAFT
OR Explore 900+ other cover letter examples from your profession.
Why do we like this example?
- Is personal: The writer uses the recruiter’s name, which is fine if you are applying for a job at a company with a non-formal culture.
- A strong opening: The introductory paragraph reflects the job title and required experience. You immediately show the recruiter that you are a potential candidate.
- Tailored to the needs of the company: The second paragraph goes into more detail about the specific experience / skills the candidate possesses that match what you are looking for. Then in the next paragraph you expand on it with other important skills / knowledge keywords.
- Explain why and what: In the second last paragraph, explain why you are looking for a new position and what attracts you to this particular company. Even though he was fired at his previous job, he keeps it on a positive note.
- Polite ending and a call to action: In the final paragraph, politely thank the reader for their time and confidently anticipate that they will get in touch (without sounding arrogant).