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How to write a successful cover letter for a job application

Proposals 6 min read

How to write a successful cover letter for a job application

In this digital age very often your first communication with a prospective employer comes in the form of a cover letter. The key to employment then comes down to how well you write said letter.

To create the best cover letter for a job you can (and to join the ranks of the gainfully employed) means making a great first impression.

That’s what we aim to help you do here in this post.

In this how-to, we will look at the following points:

  1. What is a cover letter?
  2. Why is a cover letter important?
  3. What should a professional cover letter look like?
  4. How to structure a cover letter?
  5. Cover letter tips

Let’s start at the very beginning and discuss the basics. They are the founding blocks that will help you to take steps toward your future career. So before discussing how to write a professional resume or how to write a CV for a job, it’s best to learn more information about cover letters and how to write a good cover letter. The basics are the initial steps toward making you a superstar in your future employer’s eyes.

What is a cover letter

A cover letter helps an applicant apply for a job. It is often addressed to the Hiring Manager of the open position that the applicant is applying for.

The cover letter introduces himself/herself and provides additional information about their skills and experience in relation to the requirements of the job. Almost every job application requires writing a good cover letter.

A well-crafted cover letter should spark the interest of the Hiring Manager. Usually, the contents of an application letter can fit on one page.

Why is a cover letter important?

Before you ask “How to write a cover letter for a job application”, let’s make it clear why you should write a great one: it can make all the difference when applying for a job. It can drastically paint a picture of who you are and what makes you stand out from other applicants so you can win that job interview. The cover letter also shows why you are the perfect fit for the job.

If you write a bad or mediocre letter, chances are that your application will be ignored. So put your best effort and spend as much time as you possibly can to write a great cover letter.

What should a professional cover letter look like?

A professional cover letter should have the right font, font size, margins, style, and alignment.

  1. Stick to 1-1.5 margins. As a general rule, this is the choice for most documents.
  2. A 12-point font — not less — as you do not want to mess with the eyesight of an HR manager.
  3. It’s up to you to choose a font style. But choose one that is simple, easy to read and professional
  4. Alignment should be the same throughout the application letter. Experts suggest making the letter left-aligned or in other words, left-justified.

How to structure a cover letter?

What makes a good cover letter is the defined structure. It should include the following:

Contact information

You’ll want to specify details like your phone and email address so that an HR manager contact you. Usually, the employer’s contact information like their address is also included.

Introduction

You’ll want to detail the job title and the position you are applying for and how you found out about the position. Also, you should explain why you will be a good match for this position.

Body

This is where you should describe your personal experience and reference proper personal qualification required for this job.

Conclusion

Discuss possible ways to follow up with each other or simply say thank you for considering you for the job.

In general, the basic steps you should take to write a great cover letter are the following:

  • Create a professionally looking header with your info.
  • Make sure you correctly address the HR manager by the right name. Don’t forget to spell check!
  • Catch the reader’s attention by introducing yourself and presenting your achievements.
  • Show and prove that you are the one who is the absolute best candidate for the position.
  • Sell yourself to reinforce this impression. You’ll want to use of some kind of call-to-action to hit this out of the park.
  • End or sign off with a formal closing.
  • If possible, include a postscript with some intriguing information.

Cover letter tips

These are basic tips on how to write a cover letter for a job. The details below mimic a few points mentioned above.

Knowing the rules

We love the “new” rules – the ones that say that content is king and that “formal style” has gone to the wayside. But a cover letter for a job is no place for informality. This is when you have to prove that not only do you know the rules but also that you know how to play by them. Simply put, you need to know the rules of a cover letter.

To help you, here are the rules:

1. Personal titles

In the Web 2.0 world, your audience is always the second person – “you.” Such is not the case when writing a cover letter. This is the time to address people by their given names and titles.

In a cover letter, a man becomes “Mr.” and a woman becomes “Ms.” That is unless you are already aware of the woman’s marital status.

Keep in mind that Ph.D. holders are properly addressed as “Doctor” and judges, senators, and attorneys general become “the Honorable” in written communications.

A faux pas in any of these formalities can discredit your cover letter before it is even read!

2. Specifics

When it comes time to write your cover letter, “to whom it may concern” is not a valid opening. It is highly likely that your cover letter will get thrown in the garbage can or sent to the digital recycle bin. Be specific as possible when addressing the reader.

3. Tone and phrasing

A cover letter is not an exercise in academia; it is not blogging. Do not treat it as such. The tone of a letter for a job needs to be appropriate. The words you choose need to demonstrate that you are operating at the level of a professional in your field.

Are you applying for a job in finance? – Assume your recipient knows as much or more about finance than you do.

Applying for a job in geographic information systems? – Assume your reader knows what you know.

After all, you want to be in their world, not the other way around. Assume nothing more, and nothing less.

4. Communicating your superpowers

The main thing that you are trying to accomplish with a letter for a job is to communicate your superpowers to your recipient. That being said, you do not want to go overboard. And that brings us to the next point.

Avoid the following cliché phrases when writing a letter for a job:

  • “Maximize my potential”
  • “Achieve stability for myself”
  • “Opportunities for advancement”
  • “Excellent communications, both written and verbal”
  • “Team player” (the most villainous of all)

Think about the deeper implications of common statements like these. Don’t they sound like the kind of crud you are taught in high school career electives?

Phrases such as these are repellant to your prospective employer. Plus, if your recipient has been in their hiring role for long, they have seen such clichés a million times. Trust us, recruiters are not impressed by clichés.

Those are your “don’ts.” The list of “dos” is, thankfully, much more advantageous in the context of a letter for a job.

Here are the best ways to communicate your superpowers in a letter for a job:

  1. Focus on actions and outcomes
  2. List specifics – numbers, percentages, tangible results
  3. Use the present – your best work is not in the past

Ultimately, you want to show is that you are the right person for the job – not that you are, not that you could be, and not that you simply need to be. You, ideally, are the one.

5. Make it easy

The main thing you want to do with a letter for a job is to make it easy to hire you, plain and simple. The best way to land the job is to make it easy to hire you – really easy.

To make sure you stand the best chance of being hired, make sure you take care of the following:

  • Include contact information
  • Eliminate typos (how can you be attentive to detail, if you can’t spot a typo?)
  • Don’t write too much (less is more)
  • Don’t get too personal

A letter for a job is one of those formal writing exercises that demand attention to detail. Keep it professional and make sure it’s all correct, first and foremost.

If you need some guidelines to help you accomplish this, go ahead and grab our letter for a job template — which is sure to get you started in the right direction!

Streamline your HR document process with the PandaDoc HR tool

HR teams read cover letters every working day. HR managers see dozens of applications per day and hundreds every week. HR teams could definitely use an efficient way to reduce their amount of paperwork.

With PandaDoc, onboarding of new employees is fast, organized and easy. Learn more about how to accelerate the entire hiring process in the video below.

What’s the best cover letter you’ve ever sent? Did you get the job or not? We’d love to hear about your past employment applications, for better or worse, in the comment space below!

Originally published May 14, 2014, updated August 23, 2018

Alex Lamachenka

Alex Lamachenka Demand Generation Manager at PandaDoc

Alex is the Demand Generation Manager at PandaDoc who handles content and crowd marketing. His background covers sales, project management, and design. In his free time, you can find him traveling, hiking or tasting local foods.

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