Cover Letter Guide

Industry-Backed Cover Letters

One of the top questions we receive is, “do I really need to send a cover letter?” The answer is YES! When done well, a cover letter can be a powerful tool for your application package, helping you stand out among the competition. Cover letters aren’t subject to the same constraints as resumes. They allow you to tell your story with passion that transcends your skills and accomplishments.

Think of a cover letter as an extension of your resume. It frees you from the confines of bullet points and allows you to connect the dots for the employer. Why are you interested in this work? What makes you a unique candidate? How have you demonstrated these skills in the past? Why do you want a career change? How does your past career translate to your desired role?

A cover letter is an opportunity to take ownership of your narrative. Don’t pass it up!

Industry-Backed Cover Letter Criteria

Salutations

  • Header (This should match your resume header to create a cohesive application package.)
  • Employer’s physical address
  • Formal salutation to hiring manager addressed by name

PRO TIP: Always try and find the name of the hiring manager and address the letter specifically to them.

To find the hiring authority’s name, consider:

  • Check the job posting: the hiring manager’s name is often included near the bottom of the posting.
  • Check the email in the job posting.
  • Check LinkedIn: using the search bar, type in variations of the role and company to identify managers in the department of interest.
  • Check the company website: small and mid-size organizations may have employee information and bios listed directly on their websites.
  • Ask connections: do you have any connections working at xyz organization? Ask them who the hiring manager is for the role you seek.
  • Call: consider calling the front desk and asking the office manager.
  • If you are unable to find a specific name for a hiring manager, simply write, “Dear Hiring Manager.”
  • Be mindful not to assume a person’s gender pronouns in your salutations.

Introduction

  • Your introductory paragraph should address the following:
  • What job you are applying to and at what company.
  • How did you find out about the role? (If you were recommended for the role, list the recommender’s name here.)
  • Why are you an excellent fit for this role?
  • Why are you interested in this specific company?

Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs should describe your most relevant work experience, skills and experiences, and how you plan to apply those elements to the position you’re applying for. It should be very clear to the reader how your experience/interests directly connect to the position you’re applying for.

  • Choose either a narrative (two or three paragraphs) or bullet points. A narrative format is more traditional and best to convey qualitative soft skills; however, if the position is data-driven, you may benefit from using bullet points to convey metrics and impact.
  • Step 1: study the job description and identify three to five required or preferred skills.
  • Step 2: address one or two skills per body paragraph and provide direct evidence of how you’ve demonstrated these skills.

PRO TIP: To further emphasize how well you match the employer’s needs, consider using BOLD to highlight key skills noted in the job description.

Conclusion

  • Restate your excitement and passion for the company/role.
  • Reiterate how your skills match what the company is looking for.
  • Avoid being overly confident or using cover letter cliches such as, “I am uniquely qualified” or “ I am the perfect fit for this job.” Let your skill tell the story!
  • Express gratitude for their time and consideration.
  • Express interest in continuing the conversation.

Design and Format

  • No template language or blank areas.
  • Design does not obscure necessary text/content.
  • Text fills the page without overcrowding.
  • Balanced margins, between 0.5-1.”
  • No more than one page if new to the field, two pages if relevant experience included.
  • Name and headlines stand out.
  • Few or no hanging lines (where just a few words take up an entire line).

Consistent and Professional Text

  • Font size of 11 or 12.
  • Consistent and professional font style. It’s okay to use different fonts for the headings and body. Professional font styles include: Arial, Calibri, Cambria, Georgia, Helvetica, and Times New Roman.
  • Consistent use of bold, italic, and underline; same bullet point style for all lists.

Correct Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation

  • Consistent punctuation throughout.
  • No grammatical or spelling errors.
  • No unnecessary abbreviations or acronyms.

Professional Tone

  • No jargon or slang
  • Avoid superlative adjectives like, “great,” “good,” or “awesome.”

Cover Letter Breakdown and Template

You can break a cover letter into three sections; each serves a specific purpose:

  1. Why am I interested in you?
  2. Why you should be interested in me.
  3. Where do we go from here?

Section 1: Why I am interested in you.

Try to keep your first paragraph conversational. Present the reader with information that will let him/her know that you are authentically interested in the position/organization.

Example: My interest in Fidelity began two years ago when I heard a presentation by Chairman Edward C. Johnson entitled, “Issues Facing the Mutual Fund Industry.” Since then I have kept a keen eye on your website with hopes that an appropriate opportunity may become available. I was thrilled to learn of your new marketing campaign that targets the Hispanic and Caribbean communities in Albany, where I have significant experience.

Section 2: Why you should be interested in me.

The organization is expecting you to do the matching work for them. If you can understand their needs and communicate your ability to solve their problems, you’ll stand out from the competition and be more likely to get an interview. Pick three to five of the most important bullet points from the job description based on the strongest skills in your background. Use those to write a short list or a few paragraphs that describe how your skills, experience, and knowledge allow you to meet their requirements. By doing this, you make it very easy for the reader to determine how and why you’re a good fit.

Example: I would bring to Fidelity an advanced degree from ABC University School of Information Studies with an emphasis in finance and organizational development, and eight years of experience with social service agencies in Albany, culminating in my most recent position where I managed a $7.5M housing trust and a staff of 23. Additionally, I have advanced Spanish and Creole language skills and experience working abroad in El Salvador and Belize as an intergovernmental relief liaison.

Section 3: Where do we go from here?

This is your closing statement to reiterate your interest, share a professional or personal characteristic (if warranted), and why you are a viable candidate for the position. Graciously ask for an opportunity to discuss the role and your qualifications in more detail. Close the paragraph by thanking the employer for their consideration.

Example: I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about this position and my potential contribution. I am available for an interview at your convenience. Thank you for your consideration.

Build Your Own Cover Letter

Here is a template you can use to start creating your cover letter. Simply save a copy of the template sheet so you can edit and adapt it. Be sure to replace text in green with your own and remove instructional content once finished.

Note that there is not one “right” way to write a cover letter. We encourage you to infuse your voice into your writing. 

Cover Letter Template

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