What to Write in Every Cover Letter: A 7-Step Checklist

What is the tried and true wisdom for writing good cover letters? Maybe it’s, “Show, don’t tell!” We’ve all heard this old advice about writing. And we also know you’re supposed to proofread your application materials until you’re cross-eyed. But beyond displaying your brilliance in an error-free letter, what else should you be including in the all-important cover letter?

Simply put, a good cover letter tells your story effectively to an employer. Each cover letter you write should be customized for the job you’re applying for, but following a few common standards will keep you honest. Don’t miss a simple thing again with this list of the elements you should include in every cover letter.

Use the hiring manager’s name

Always address your cover letter to an actual person, not the generic “To Whom It May Concern.” How are you supposed to get the hiring manager’s name, you ask? Surf the company’s website, dig around in LinkedIn, find someone you know at the company and ask them, or just try the old-fashioned method and pick up the phone and call. If you are pleasant to the receptionist, he or she might be willing to give you a name. It may take a little sleuthing, but the end result can pay off in spades, as your materials will go straight to the decision maker instead of getting stuck behind one or more potential gatekeepers.

Write a compelling opener

Hiring managers are only human, and most are tired of seeing a boilerplate “I’m writing to apply for so-and-so position with your company.” Writing a cover letter is a lot like writing a news story – you need to hook your reader early and persuade them to keep reading. The best way to get the manager’s attention is to quickly demonstrate what you can do for them. Use the intro to show how you can help them with whatever problem they’re trying to solve by hiring for this position.

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Prove you understand the job

Recruiters and hiring managers want to see that you have done your homework and understand the company’s goals. Show that you’ve read the job description. Examine the listing and then reiterate key points and the organization’s needs in your cover letter so that they know you get it. If you can go beyond the job description with your company and industry research, even better.

Connect the dots: your skills to their needs

Here is where you need to explain how your experience and skills will serve the organization in this role. Paint a clear picture of how you can help them. If your experience isn’t exactly what they’ve asked for, you need to explain why they should still consider you and how your skills measure up. If possible, demonstrate an idea you have for specifically helping the company grow and succeed. Make sure your ideas and examples of work experiences are directly relevant to the company’s needs.

No more Me, Me, Me!

Write more about how you’ll contribute, and less about what you’re looking for. The hiring manager doesn’t really care about how you spent your gap year trying to find yourself. He or she has a pressing problem to solve, or the company wouldn’t be looking to hire a new employee. So focus on trying to find the employer’s pain point, and then show them how you are the person to address it.

Close with an opening

Keep it short and sweet. Invite them to call or email you to discuss the opportunity further – and include that contact info!

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Match styles with your resume

It’s so easy to create a professional impression by simply matching your cover letter to your resume. Use the same fonts, font size, formatting, and paper (if submitting a hard copy version). Avoid quirky fonts that can look unprofessional. Also make sure that the information presented in both documents is up to date and consistent. A cover letter and resume that match in appearance and content send a message that you are attentive to detail.

I know, the list above might seem like a lot. It’s significant territory to cover in a few short paragraphs. If it helps, here are a few cover letter templates to get you started, but be sure to customize the text to make sure the writing sounds like you. The key to cover letter writing is about getting the employer’s attention and showing them you’re A. right for the job, and B. professional and prepared. Once you’ve got one or two well-written cover letters under your belt, you will be in a much better position to tailor the next documents to new opportunities. A well-crafted cover letter may not actually land you the job, but it can persuade the right employer to give you serious consideration!