How to write a perfect cover letter

Probably the most daunting part of applying for any job is writing a cover letter. What do you even say? How long is it supposed to be? What is the secret to writing a perfect cover letter?

From my experience on both sides of the table, along with advice from those in the know, here’s the formula you need to create the best cover letter. Ever.

Step #1: The Salutation

Whether or not you get the job of your dreams could all depend on who you’re writing to.

Now, the safe thing to do here is to write “Dear Hiring Manager,” and leave it at that. But you’re in the age of technology, my friends, where it’s super easy to find people online!

I’m guessing you found this job posting you’re applying for online, right? Chances are, there’s probably an email address or a “reports to” job section that you can research further. If you find an email address that’s someone’s name, try searching for their last name plus the company you’re applying to online. From there you’ll probably find something on the company’s website or their personal LinkedIn that you can take their name from. Suddenly the correct but kind of impersonal “Dear Hiring Manager,” becomes “Dear Mr. Gardener,” or even “Dear Tom” if you’re feeling ballsy.

If the job posting you’re looking at doesn’t have any information, you can try searching for the posting on other websites, including the company’s own website. Some posting websites don’t allow personal contact information and use their own in-house system instead to process applications.

If you still can’t find anything and you  really really really want this job, call into the company and just ask someone. Shocking, right? Asking someone who to address your cover letter to. Now, you might get a generic “well we all look it over”, but you might also get a full name and even a title. It’s always worth a shot.

Step #2: The Introductory Paragraph

Just like with any other essay or letter, you need a killer opening paragraph. Your opening paragraph should say:

  • what job you’re applying for,
  • how you found the posting, and
  • that you’re literally perfect for the job, and why.

The person reading your cover letter and resumé are intelligent but ignorant, as my high school physics teacher would say. They know what you’re talking about, but you have to actually tell them. Just like you wouldn’t know I’m a graphic designer and marketer if I didn’t tell you, but you know what graphic designers and marketers do without me explaining it to you.

Next, why are you so awesome for the job? Think of three big reasons why you’re a perfect (or damn near perfect) fit for the position, and put those in your opening paragraph. You can get into them in more detail later.

Here’s a sample:

I heard about your open position for a Marketing Assistant from my connection John Johnson on LinkedIn and believe I would be a perfect fit for the job. I recently graduated from Prestigious University with my Bachelor in Commerce, Concentration in Marketing, and have been working as a Marketing Coordinator for Cool Company LLC ever since. In this position, I have been in charge of social media, collaborating with external designers, and running analysis on digital ad campaigns.

And guess what. You can be darn well sure that the job description for the role mentioned “experience in digital ad campaigns” as one of the ‘nice to have’s.

Step #3: The Middle Paragraphs

This is the part of your cover letter to keep short and sweet if you can, but it’s still acceptable to be longer if you have more relevant information you’d like to share.

Your cover letter should be the bridge between your resumé and the job posting that you’re submitting your application for. Remember? Intelligent but ignorant. A hiring manager isn’t going to spend the time making assumptions from your resumé and ticking off checkboxes in the job posting. You have to do the heavy lifting for them.

So if you ran a massively successful ad campaign and they’re looking for someone with experience with running ad campaigns, say so! If you’ve got experience with a certain program that’s essential for your job, or a certification you’ve received, say so!

Here’s an example:

The first thing I do in the morning is check social media. It’s also the last thing I do before I go to sleep. Intense? Maybe, but that’s what you’re looking for in a social media coordinator. Ever since I was introduced to social media for business purposes during a course I took in university, I’ve been obsessed with how to increase engagement, build relationships, and drive sales results using social media.

While I mostly focus on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, I also have experience with LinkedIn, Snapchat, YouTube, and Pinterest. I routinely set up post scheduling using Hootsuite, Buffer, Tailwind, and Sprout Social, as well as analyze the results of my posts to create better social content.

I sound like I’m pretty knowledgeable in those paragraphs, right? I’m telling you what I’ve worked with, and why I’d be perfect for the role of Social Media Coordinator. All of this information bridges the gap between a bullet point in the job posting, “must have experience with Hootsuite and social media platforms”, with the bullet point in my resumé, “maintained and optimized social media accounts.

Step #4: The Closing Paragraph

Also known as the “so what?” paragraph, the closing paragraph is when you bring everything together. In your introductory paragraph, you let the hiring manager know what you wanted to do, which was apply for the role that you listed. In the middle paragraphs, you explained in further detail why you’d be amazing in this role. Now it’s time to get them to do something with it!

Your closing paragraph is like the nice sign at the end of the bridge saying “Welcome to the Other Side”, which in this case is your resumé.

Here’s an example:

Thank you for taking the time to look over my application. I’ve attached a copy of my resumé to this cover letter for review. For more information on my social media skills, please visit my LinkedIn profile (and link it!), where I’ve kept track of my social media accounts’ performance and given analysis. If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to reach out. I look forward to speaking with you further.

Not only have I thanked the hiring manager for reviewing my application (because I know for a fact it takes a long while), I’m telling them what to do next. I’m saying, straight up, to go stalk my LinkedIn profile because I know for a fact that I can fit a lot more information on my LinkedIn than I can on my resumé. I’ve also got reviews on my LinkedIn, as well as links to a whole bunch of other information about me to show that I know what I’m talking about.

Finally, finish off your cover letter with a simple “Sincerely, Hannah Warren”, but with your name, ya know? Add a signature if you’d like, although make sure it’s not the same one that you use on your bank cards or anywhere official. If your document gets into the wrong hands, it’s super easy to take those image files and use them for nefarious purposes.

Step #5: Style

So now you’ve got the information for your cover letter, but you’re wondering how to format it. There’s 2 ways you can go about this.

In an Email

The first way is directly in the email of the person you’re sending the resumé to, while attaching your resumé to the email.

In Your Resumé’s File

The second, and slightly more complicated way, is to attach the cover letter before your resumé. If you go this route, make sure that the format of your cover letter matches the format of your resumé. Now, I don’t mean file formats here. Remember what I talked about before, with the cover letter being the bridge between the job posting and your resumé? Make the cover letter match the same typography, colours, and format of your resumé. This makes them look like one whole cohesive document rather than two separate files you squished together, which only helps to smooth the transition from your cover letter to your resumé.

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