How to Write a Targeted Cover Letter
This is a very simply written guide — follow it, and you will land interviews faster.
A cover letter is a one page document that you send with your resume when applying for a job. It is meant to:
- Introduce yourself to the hiring manager
- Argue why you’d be a good fit for the job
- Fill in places your resume cannot describe
- Further explain other aspects of your resume
By hitting those 4 aspects, a cover letter can be a convincing and powerful companion to a well-written resume.
Does anyone read cover letters?
Yes, someone will read your cover letter.
Will they read it carefully? It depends on the hiring manager. Some use cover letters to “weed out” candidates out of a huge stack, while others believe that the candidate’s interview skills are more important.
Either way, you’re going to need to write a strong cover letter, in order to give yourself a higher chance of getting a job.
5 Rules of Cover Letter Writing
Follow these rules to ensure that you’ve written the best cover letter possible.
1. Find out to whom you’re writing.
Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes for a second.
Would you like to be addressed as “Dear Sir or Madame?” or “To whom it may concern?”
“Dear Sir or Madame” makes you sound like you’re from the year 1865, and “to whom it may concern” is very irritating to hiring managers.
You can easily avoid this problem by doing your research. Look through the company’s website, LinkedIn, or even give the company a call to ask for the hiring manager’s name. Even if you get it wrong, it still looks like you’ve made an effort.
2. Write a targeted cover letter
By writing the hiring manager’s real name, you’ve already earned quite a few brownie points. Don’t screw it up by sending out a template e-mail filled with clichés, vague sentences, and jargon. You can avoid these pitfalls by adhering to the following cover letter format, which consists of the four paragraphs below:
- The first paragraph should contain a self-introduction. You should write who you are, where your expertise lies, where you found the job posting, and why you want to apply for the job.
- The second paragraph should respond directly to the job description written by the hiring manager. Describe how your previous job experiences, skills, and abilities will allow you to meet the company’s needs. To make that easier, you can (and should) literally include words and phrases from the job description in your cover letter.
- To go the extra mile, do some research about the company, and try to find out what they are doing — and why — given the current state of their industry. Explain how you can fit into that schema, and help push the company forward and achieve any goals you suspect they may have.
- The final paragraph is called the “call to action” portion of your cover letter. Inform them that you’d love to get interviewed. Give them your contact information. Tell them that you’ll be in contact with them in a week if you don’t hear back. Thank them for spending the time to read your cover letter.
If you can follow those steps, you’ll be better than the majority of applicants. Too many people write terrible sentences like this:
Dear Sir or Madame, I am a strong candidate who would like to work at your company.
A sentence like that will only make the hiring manager roll their eyes and skip over you.
3. No spelling or grammar errors
This one really goes without saying. Don’t make a mistake – not even once. The hiring manager will think that if you’re careless on your job application, that you’ll be careless at your job. Spelling mistakes make an awful first impression.
4. No bombast
Imagine that you’re going to interview someone for a job. This person walks into your office, and tells you that they are “the best candidate” and “the number one choice.” They give you no explanation why that is the case. Then they shake your hand, smile at you, and insist that you give them a job.
You would feel embarrassed for that person.
Don’t do that in your cover letter, either. It’s tempting to write bombastic filler because it’s easy to do, and it’s commonly believed that overconfidence is more important than modesty when searching for a job.
The rule of thumb is that you’re allowed to be as boastful as you want – so long as you have the evidence to back it up!
5. Make your cover letter Applicant Tracking System (ATS) optimized
If you don’t know what an ATS is, you absolutely must read up on it before sending in your next job application. Applicant tracking systems are mostly designed to read through resumes, sifting through keywords and key-phrases to statistically determine whether to let you through to the next stage. 70% of jobs are filled via an applicant tracking system.
Some ATS software is designed to read through cover letters as well, while others are not. You might as well be completely prepared.
The good news is that simply by following the instructions I’ve written above, your cover letter should already be in good shape. If you’ve responded directly to the hiring manager’s job description, and included language from it in your own cover letter, you already have a high likelihood of hitting statistically important keywords and phrases.
More Cover letter samples
1. Sales Cover Letter Example
The following cover letter sample is written in a traditional style.
Dear (Hiring Manager),
My name is (Your Name). I have over 6 years of experience in sales for various industries, ranging from electronics to online software. I came across your job posting in the newspaper, and was immediately interested in the position. I believe that I could provide a valuable service for your company, and that my abilities would suit the role you need filled perfectly.
I believe this for several reasons. Over the course of my career, I have proven myself to be a dependable source of income for the companies I have worked for. I have a natural ability to convey trustworthiness, and also possess strong persuasive abilities. As a result, I consistently surpass the sales average among my co-workers. This has been true across a range of different companies, in different markets, with different customer bases.
My skill base and industry knowledge makes me a particularly strong candidate for this job role. Having researched your company, I can see that you’ll be targeting wealthier customers in the south-east of the United States. Not only have I previously worked within this industry segment, I myself am a native of that area, giving me keen insight into how people in this region tend to think.
I would love to have the opportunity to interview with your company, and explain my capabilities in more detail. I am certain that you are very busy, and would happily interview at your convenience. I can be reached at (xxx)-xxx-xxxx any time of normal working day, including weekends. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
2. Student / Entry Level Cover Letter Example
The following cover letter has been written as a direct response to the hiring manager’s job description. The applicant responds individually to each bullet point with her own qualifications and experience listed as bullet points. This is an acceptable way of writing a cover letter for entry-level jobs.
Dear (Mr./Ms./Mrs. Last Name),
I am interested in the desk clerk position advertised on the school bulletin board. I have attached my resume to this email for your review. Given my prior professional experience doing similar work, I believe I’d make a strong candidate for your consideration in this job.
- Responsible for monitoring collection of IDs and maintaining accurate records of guest exit and entry
- Work in cooperation with Facility Management, Public Safety, and Residence Hall Staff to ensure smooth and safe operation
- Quickly learn the rules covered in the desk staff training manual, housing contracts
- Maintain compliance with all school policies and procedures, both as a student and staff member
- Experience doing clerical work as a student government representative during several school events, ensuring their smooth operation
- Received my school’s Citizenship Award in recognition for my consistent participation in school and community events
- Achieved a 3.9 GPA and scored over 1400 on the SAT
- Possess excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- Over 400 hours as a baby sitter, caring for children ranging from toddlers to teenagers
Thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to further discussing my qualifications for this job.