Here’s what a cover letter should include:
- The header section
- The right salutation & greeting
- The opening introduction
- The main body
- Closing paragraph & signoff
Right off the bat, these are the main components you need to include in your cover letter. Each of these sections have different objectives which will help you focus on the overarching goal and purpose of a cover letter:
To show the recruiter why you’re the best candidate for both the job and company.
It’s your responsibility to make the hiring manager come to the conclusion you’re a strong, qualified fit for them.
In any case, we’re going to break down each of the sections your cover letter needs to include.
Be sure to stay until the end because I’ll be sharing a secret on how you can create your own tailored, company-specific cover letter in less than a minute. Sounds interesting to you? Then, keep reading on!
The Header Section
Your cover letter needs to include the basic information. These are:
- Contact details
- Phone Number
- Website (optional)
This should be at the header of your cover letter and the very first thing the hiring manager notices when reviewing it.
The Right Salutation & Greeting
The salutation shouldn’t be overly casual. It’s also best to avoid the infamous greeting, “to whom it may concern”.
Don’t greet your hiring manager like that because it shows you haven’t done the background research to know the names of your employers. The best way to address them is by their first names. For example:
- Dear John
- Dear Stacy
- Dear Mr. Smith
- Dear Mrs. Smith
If you don’t know their first name despite doing the research, the last name works too.
In the scenario of not being able to find your hiring manager’s name no matter what, address them by the following:
- Dear Hiring Manager
It’s a last resort if you can’t find their names. It’s more personal than greeting them as a stranger because you’re directly addressing who the cover letter is for.
The Opening Introduction
This is arguably one of the most important sections of your cover letter.
You want to start with a bang. Without hooking in your reader and giving a solid first impression, they probably won’t stay engaged or pay attention to the rest of what you have to say.
The best way you can hook the hiring manager is by emphasising the following:
- Curiosity - make the recruiter curious about yourself by mentioning your passions and what motivates or drives you to keep on going
- Relevance - talk about your skills, work experience, or significant achievements then directly relating that back to the company’s brand mission or values they’re keen on. In other words, take a benefits-driven approach from the get-go
- Purpose - emphasise your career objectives and goals, then get straight to the point to the purpose of why you’re genuinely interested in working for them
There are some common cover letter mistakes that come with this. For example, don’t be cringy and say something along the lines of, “since before the womb, I’ve always wanted to be a doctor...”
Also, avoid using generic lines or phrases such as “I want to work with you because…”
Not that it’s a huge problem, but it’s similar to everyone else. It’s more powerful to show rather than literally explaining as there’s more meaning derived from it.
The Main Body
The main body can contain one, two or three paragraphs. However long it goes, make sure your cover letter doesn’t exceed one page.
This section is the bulk of your cover letter where you really dive into the specifics for showing why you’re the best person for the job and company. You should also be focusing on how you can make a difference and benefit them if you were a part of the team.
Any skills, qualifications or achievements mentioned on your resume, now’s the time to talk about the behind the scenes of what happened.
It’s where you can justify your values and why it makes sense to hire you.
Since there are multiple things you can focus on talking about, I’m going to break each of them down. Let’s start with the first point:
Going Into More Detail From Your Resume
Some things mentioned on your resume could be expanded on. If you didn’t have a chance to include that on your resume, you can talk about it on your cover letter as long as it’s relevant.
Take the approach of only saying something if it’s useful for the hiring manager.
Your ATS resume might’ve talked about your roles and responsibilities that resulted in a positive outcome. But, employers might want to know more of the specifics and what it took for you to get there.
Matching The Company Values
This is where you emphasize why you’re a good match for the company’s values. Not only in terms of skill and work experience but because of your mindset and motivations.
It’s a cover letter. The purpose is to solely present why you’re a good company fit.
When you’re lacking in work experience but your long-term objectives, goals and motivations are aligned with the company’s mission, they’ll consider you a greater asset in the long run.
Including ATS Keywords
While it’s more important to embed the keywords on your resume to beat the applicant tracking system, you also want to be including them on your cover letter. This makes it tailored for their job advertisement.
The applicant tracking system may also scan your cover letter, so it’s best you’re prepared for it.
For the hiring manager reading your cover letter, keywords makes it twice more tailored and correspondent with the company needs.
Nevertheless, avoid unnecessary jargon and forcing keywords. It’s noticeable and won’t leave a good impression - it needs to flow nicely and be used in good context. A good way to check if it flows well naturally is by reading your cover letter out loud and noticing if there are parts that sound wrong.
By using the right ATS keywords from the job description, you’ll beat the robots and demonstrate a good level of understanding for what they need.
Closing Paragraph & Sign Off
Lastly, to complete your cover letter you need to sign yourself off professionally.
Just before you do that though, you need to finalize your cover letter and put the nail in the coffin. A simple call to action for how you’re ready to embrace the job works. Adding a personal note works nicely too.
If you suddenly signoff right after the main body, it won’t be a satisfying ending and can appear abrupt.
For your signoff right after the closing paragraph, the five best examples are:
- Thank you for your consideration
- Your sincerely,
- Best regards
What a Cover Letter Should Not Include
Throughout these steps, there are common mistakes to avoid. To clarify the key points, here’s a quick rundown of what your cover letter shouldn’t include:
- Mimicking your resume - if you have no real value or anything new to add from your resume, it’s best to consider whether a cover letter is necessary or not.
- Not staying relevant - your cover letter needs to always relate back to the company’s needs.
- Focusing on yourself - remember, it’s not about you. It’s about the company and how you can benefit them. While it’s important to talk about what they can do for you and show your motivations, the bigger focus should be on what you can do for them.
- No keywords - without any keywords from the job description, your cover letter probably won’t be read by employers since it won’t pass the applicant tracking system
- Fluff - don’t be be vague or repeat the same thing over and over again
- Focusing on the salary - again, it’s not about you, but the employer. Show you’re self driven and passionate about what you want to do for them
How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?
It’s best to respect your hiring manager’s time and keep your cover letters one-page long.
If all the information is nicely intact and everything is shown in the most minimal word count and space, it’s better for your recruiters. Expect them to be flooded with resumes and cover letters from several candidates. It would be easier for them if they were reviewing one-page cover letters that get straight to the point.
Final Tips & Tricks
Here are my biggest tips for what your cover letter should include:
- Easy readability - make your cover letter simple and easy to follow. If there are keywords or difficult vocabulary, be sure the context is understandable.
- Personalize every cover letter you send - this is one of the main advantages a cover letter gives you, so if you’re not personalizing it you’re doing yourself a disservice. Even if it’s the same job position, your cover letter should be personalized specifically for each company you apply for.
- Future pacing - by this, I mean to focus on the future and imply the benefits of having you onboard. Don’t focus on any negative events in the past when it’s unnecessary.
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