If you think you can ditch the cover letter, it's probably because you haven't seen a really good cover letter do its magic. In any event, we don't think you should skip this step, and in some cases it will be a requirement. In this document, we have put together five stunningly effective cover letter examples based on our clients' and students' fabulous work.
The cover letter is your BEST chance to match yourself to the job. It's the best opportunity, early on in the game (you'll have another chance at interview stage), to target your unique content to the position you are applying for. Unlike a resume, which is more a testament to what you can do (a historical record of accomplishments) the cover letter is forward looking and highlights and ties together the key themes from your resume for the prospective employer. A resume - if done well, if you've really optimized and nailed down those bullets following the P-A-R formula + quantification - isn't always easy to adapt or tweak each time you apply to a new position. That is the job of the cover letter. This is where you match, as precisely as possible, what the job description is asking for with the skills and work experience you bring to the table.
In the basic structure that we most often use, the cover letter has THREE distinct parts: i) an introductory para; ii) the body, which is the meat of the letter and where the above-mentioned magical matching happens; and iii) a short concluding para and call to action.
Let's tackle each of these:
- One main para or two short paras, but keep it to no more than 10 lines in total.
- Introduce yourself, and give the top-line- name, school, years of experience in XY industry and/or functional area.
- Mention interest in company/team. Be specific- pick a feature unique to them.
- End this section but stating that you'll be a great fit for position, and will bring your unique combo of skills+experience to make a contribution in this role. Specifically.. and this leads to the main section..
- The Body starts with some version of "Specifically I would like to highlight the following skills and experiences:"
- Pick 3 - at most 4- skills/competencies/experiences to highlight, GIVEN what you think they want to see.
- For each, give one or two examples. Focus on a clear and specific result where possible. Quantify/ add numbers.
- Keep these three bullet mini-paras to a maximum of 6 lines.
- You may opt for a longer list of bullets (5 to 7 points) where each is 2 to 3 lines of text. You'll see this approach in Sample Letter 2. But avoid a long list of vague or general bullet points that don't say anything concrete or have no results/numbers at all - again it's a letter not a laundry list.
- You may add one more thought - e.g.:
- Wrap up by re-iterating your interest, thank them, and indicate a next step -e.g. looking forward to interviewing.
Why we use this structure / method
This structure is the clearest way to get your key points across to the recruiter. It's an optimal way to make the you-job match in a clear and most powerful way. You are literally giving it to them on a platter. Any other format will make the clean ruthlessness delivery of this primary objective harder.
Are there other interesting, creative ways of writing cover letters? Yes. Check out our Sample Letter 5. You could write a story. You could write a chronological narrative, where each para builds on the one before. But free flow full para CLs are difficult to pull off unless you are a prolific writer, and even then there is always the risk the key competencies part gets lost in the picture.
Remember that no matter what you do - whatever maybe the icing on the cake- the cake itself is always, without exception, the way you make a match between your skills and their requirements.
Other Key Tips
Cover letters should be ONE page unless you are a 20+ year senior level hire, or applying for a research/academic position.
- Use a header with your information - its nice and clean.
- Include date, company name + address in the top left corner
- Name of recruiter or hiring manager if you know it
- You may reference the position either just above the "Dear.. start of the letter Or in the opening para. Don't do both.
- If your letter is on the short side -center the content- position the letter be in the middle of the page, don't leave black space at the bottom. If you have full one-page content- great! - just ensure that margins on all sides are no less than 0.6 inches.
- In the middle section. you may use bullets OR bold the headings. Don't do both, as that looks like overkill. While bullets and bold text helps structure key points for the reader it should still have the overall feel of a letter. Avoid underlining, sub-heads, sections, or any other formatting beyond the middle para call-outs.
Best practice + samples
This is a good example of a (real-life) client cover letter, and we will use it as a quick tutorial to take you through the main points. In this document we present you with four more recent samples of cover letters we think are powerful. All four of these clients got the interview- and eventually the job - that these cover letters were for.
Download both documents here.