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Parts of a Cover Letter

This diagram identifies the essential parts every cover letter should include so that you can see exactly what you’ll need.

All cover letters consist of these parts in this same order:

  1. Your name and contact information
  2. The company’s name and address
  3. A greeting
  4. The letter body
  5. A signature

That’s all you need! A cover letter is just a straightforward business letter.

Most of these sections won’t require a lot of thought or effort to write except one: the body of your cover letter.

The cover letter body is where you will have to be really thoughtful and persuasive in your writing. This is the center stage because it has the most impact about whether or not you’ll be considered for a job.

To make sure you write a great letter body, let’s break down the cover letter body even further into these three parts:

We’ll take an in-depth, focused look at how you nail each part of the body.

Before we get to the specifics of what to say in your letter –– let’s take a look at a few quick things you should do to prepare before you write. It will save you a lot of time and stress!

Essentials to Prepare

Prior to writing, take these steps because they will help ensure your cover letter is more focused and speaks directly to the needs of a hiring manager.

We’ve broken it down into three steps that really only take a few minutes, but will really impact the strength and quality of your cover letter!

1
Pay extra-close attention to the job post.
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Just like you should do to prepare to write a resume, pay specific attention to the terms and language used in the job post. Try to identify keywords and phrases that best align with your skills.

Make sure the crucial ones appear in either your resume or cover letter at least once, but don’t overdo it. Anything that seems really important, you might want to mention in the introduction paragraph of your letter.
2
Research the company.
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If you’re not super familiar with the company that you’re applying to, do a little bit of research and try to get a feel for their brand tone.

What are they all about? Do they have a corporate motto –– what is it?

Are they lighthearted and fun, like a game company? Or are they serious and professional, like a medical supply business?

Getting a feel for how the company presents itself will give you a good idea for the kind of tone and attitude you should take in your letter. They want a candidate that matches their company culture!
3
Find the name of the hiring manager. Use it for the greeting!
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It is considered very outdated and also comes off as impersonal to address a cover letter to “Dear Sir or Madam” –– it is not advised!

Instead, take the time to do this research to find out the name of the person who determines whether or not you will get the job.

Check the company website. If you can’t find it there, you could call or email to ask what the name of the appropriate manager or recruiter is.

If it says not to contact a business about a job post –– don’t! –– you should address your letter to the department head or hiring manager.

For example, if you were applying to a job as a shipping clerk in a warehouse, you could address the letter: “Dear Shipping Manager.”

Alternatively, if you were applying for a job as a software developer and couldn’t find a contact name, you would address your letter to the “Development Production Manager.”

Addressing your letter to a specific person is a very important step!

It shows your professionalism and real enthusiasm for the job. It will also give you a serious advantage over any candidate who neglected to do this legwork!

How to Write the Introduction Paragraph

Your introduction paragraph conveys some important formal information as well as serves as your biggest opportunity to grab the attention of an employer and get them interested in you.

The formal information needs to cover these bits of info:

  • Give a brief explanation of who you are.
  • Cite the specific job you are applying to.
  • Explain why you want to join the company and why you might be a good fit.
  • Mention how you became aware of this position.

This last point is important because if you have a connection to the company, this is the place where you should let employers know.

It helps employers to know how their applicants became aware of the opportunity: Was it a sign in the window? An advertisement in the newspaper? A Craig’s List ad? LinkedIn post? Did a friend tell you?

Here’s an example of a solid basic introduction paragraph:

Having seen the advertisement posted in the Eureka Times-Standard for a building maintenance manager at the Harborside Apartment Complex, it seems a perfect fit for my skills. As an experienced carpenter with a background in plumbing and electrical, I can handle every issue related to your buildings’ maintenance and upkeep.

Here’s an example of a good introduction that references an online job post:

Upon seeing Marshall School District post on the HiredBoard for an experienced language arts teacher, it became imperative for me to apply. As a devout professional with great lesson planning and curriculum adoption skills, this opportunity speaks to my passions. Your school’s charter statement is closely aligned to my own beliefs in how students can achieve success.

Obviously, it’s always a brilliant move to mention if you have good relations with a current or former employee of the company. Those individuals may then be used as a built-in reference that the employer can use to inquire more about you.

Here’s an example of how it looks to include a company-reference in your cover letter:

The opening for a copywriter position came to my attention from your VP of marketing, Alison Dalio, a former work colleague who recommended that I contact you. My skills delivering top-notch email campaigns have increased conversion rates and kept mailing lists growing –– there’s no doubt that I can create engaging content that keeps your users clicking.

The attention-grabbing part of the introduction is achieved in all three of these examples by trying to speak directly to the employer.

Notice how all three of these introductions, whichever job they’re for, try to make an appeal to the employer about what top skills they bring to the table that are going to help the company continue on their mission.

It’s a dual effort: While you want to explain in explicit detail what role you’re applying for and why, you also need to convince employers that you’re the right person for the job and will help their business thrive. Mention a few of your top skills or a specialization that makes you the perfect fit for this role.

Keep your language simple, you also shouldn’t flatter an employer to win their attention –– in fact, that will make you seem desperate. Just make the simple case for what you want and why you think you’d be the right person for it.

Another idea to increase the attention-grabbing ability of your introduction paragraph is to include an impressive number or statistic from your career.

If you’ve got a really impressive number or statistic from your resume and want to give it a place to shine, you could also feature it up here in the introduction statement of your resume.

Here’s an example of using a number or statistic in an introduction paragraph:

One of your recruiters, Antonia Blanca, reached out to me via LinkedIn to notify me about your company’s opening for a senior level accountant and I’m very interested. The fact that I have been able to lead my current employer to an overall 18% reduction in company overhead over the past two years speaks to the quality of my skills in budget analysis and market research. Seeking a new challenge I want to bring the same kind of financial restructuring that your company is currently seeking.

How to Write the Main Body

The main body is the star attraction, the center stage of your cover letter. Its core objective is to make your most persuasive case for why you should get the job.

It’s also the trickiest part of a cover letter because it’s where you’re going to have the most options for what you want to say and how you can say it.

First, you’ve got to decide what you want to say in your cover letter.

Everybody’s different! So, we’ll provide you lots of good ideas for things you could say in your main body.

Then, we’ll outline your three main options for how to say it.

Step 1
Decide what to say.

Before you can write your cover letter, brainstorm. After all, how can you know what to write before you know what you want to say?

A cover letter should do more than rehash what your resume already says. That’s repetitive and not a good use of the space for your cover letter.

  • Instead, there are two things that you need to do with the main body of your cover letter:
  • Describe your skills in action and make the case for why you can meet the company’s needs.

Don’t just tell them you’re right for their needs –– tell a story that illustrates why you’ve got the skills required to execute the role. It’s not enough to say that you’re “right” or “perfect” for the role, give them a story that shows them you are!

Build on the details listed on your resume to tell a story or anecdote about how you overcame a big challenge with a positive result.

Here are the kinds of things that can be good to focus on in the main body of your cover letter if you have a lot of experience:

  • Respond to the skills mentioned in the job post or ad with good examples of how you’ve utilized these skills in your career.

See how this candidate demonstrates their skills in a more concrete way by discussing how they were applied:

As a store merchandising manager, my attention to detail was so great that every inventory we performed was on-point to the fiscal dollar. It carried through to every element of the store: how each employee dressed, the frequency with which we adjusted displays and the courtesy showed to each and every customer. To me, it’s the details where people find luxury and it serves as my guiding philosophy as a manager. It is this same detail-oriented comprehensive work approach that I hope to bring to Grayson’s Boutique.

  • Discuss the most notable career achievement featured on your resume in greater detail, expand upon its significance and your work to reach it.

Here’s an example of a candidate breaking down a big achievement they reached into a comprehensive demonstration of their abilities:

My tenure as the head accountant at Brigtsen’s Lighting led to a 34% increase in company revenue over a two-year period, this was a multi-step process. My initial analysis uncovered that our biggest losses were coming from inefficient shipping practices. However, once we found more cost-effective logistics solutions, I spearheaded an audit into every element of our production and operations. From there, we performed further analysis to minimize losses by working cross-functionally with production managers to source cheaper packaging materials. It is through these creative solutions we were able to maintain a high-quality product while increasing overall efficiency by a third.

  • Give a problem-action-solution example of a challenge you faced in your career and how you overcame it.

When I was working as the marketing manager at Browne Agency, we were approached by a client with a unique problem: Their brand of wristwatches was well-recognized in Europe but had virtually zero brand awareness in U.S. markets. I led several brainstorming sessions with our creative team. Then, I implemented our collective strategy using connections I have in the talent industry and managed to get the product featured with some of social media’s top influencers. The result: Not only did brand recognition shoot up, but sales in the U.S. market were seen to increase 22%! My visionary execution ability will contribute to your firm’s cutting-edge reputation.

If you don’t have loads of experience, talk a little bit about your passion for the career and what motivates you:

  • Provide examples of you demonstrating your top skills in school, extracurricular activities, or in your personal life.

What sets me apart from other applicants is my leadership and self-motivation skills. When I transferred into Westlake High School and there was no lacrosse team I didn’t let that stop me — I made one. I started by organizing a petition to show that there was student interest in the sport. Once that had achieved school recognition and funding, I met our team’s financial needs for equipment by planning a raffle event and bake sale. I was honored to be made the team captain for my efforts. That’s why I can confidently say that I would excel if given the opportunity to become head lifeguard. I’m organized and take responsibility.

  • Talk about your passion for the industry, especially if you’re applying for an internship or entry-level role. Give examples.

I believe I would be a great fit as a summer intern for Blaine Capital Investments because of my unwavering dedication to developing my investment skill set. For the past three years of college, the main focus of my studies has been market trend analysis; it’s something that has transcended the hobby level. I read daily reports to guide my own minor personal investments and make larger scope predictions. This is what I want to do with my future. As an industry thought-leader in capital investment, there is no other group with whom I would like to share my vigor and passion to learn from.

So, before you get to writing try to think about what it is you want to say to an employer about why you’re the right person for the job. It depends on what they’re asking for and what you bring to the table.

Step 2
Decide how you want to say it

Once you’ve come up with an idea of what you want to talk about in the main body you have a few options for how you can discuss it.

Paragraph Form

So far, all the examples we’ve used on this page have all been in paragraph form. Just normal paragraphs like you’re reading a page of text.

Historically, this was the format that all cover letters have been written in!

For most traditional jobs or professions cover letters written in paragraph form work very well. Especially for jobs that we consider a little more old-fashioned like accounting, academics, law or medicine.

Bullet Form

Today, it’s popular for candidates to use bullet points in place of a paragraph for the main body.

This has the effect of leaving more whitespace on the page and making it easier for a reader to scan over your cover letter and get the important information that you’re trying to convey.

Using bullet points can be a more effective way to drive crucial information home to employers in your cover letter.

It can be particularly effective if you work in a career that is in a modern, updated or data-driven field such as business, marketing, PR, tech, or web development.

Bullet points work well as a space to feature numbers or statistics in your cover letter because the whitespace naturally draws the eye there.

Use short, punchy phrases in your bulleted lists.

Here’s an example of how a candidate could use bullets as their main body:

Working as an administrative assistant for two different genetic testing clinics has honed my skills in the following areas:

  • Professional phone manner, customer service and oral communication
  • Fluency in Office Suite, GSuite, Slack, Asana, Jira and Trello programs
  • Office hardware knowledge and problem-solving
  • Multitask patient processing duties with phone reception, data entry and office management
  • Typing speed of 75 wpm
  • Great sense of teamwork and boosting office morale

Combination Form

The full-on bulleted approach to the body might not be for everyone. After all, in order to use bullet points the information you feature is going to have less of a narrative flow and because the points come off as stand-alone.

So, it’s also appropriate to do a combination of paragraph and bullet form.

That way you feature fewer bullet points and they get more impact. But you also have text around it to give it more context.

Here’s an example of how you could use a hybrid paragraph and bullet form in your cover letter.

Overall, in the course of my time as a web developer I spent over two years at McClusky Developers working to develop my base skills. Furthering my professional education going to work for Beastcorp, I began asserting myself as a leader and more of a presence in our group meetings. I’ve earned a reputation as an expert when it comes to the following areas:

  • C++ and Java fluency
  • Debugging pages when no error code structure is given
  • Increasing performance and stability through troubleshooting

As you can see, the main difference between these three formats is how much of the text is going to be written in complete sentences and how much with hard-hitting bullet points.

When in doubt though, recognize that the all-paragraph form of a cover letter has stayed classic for a reason.

How to Conclude Your Letter

The last paragraph of your cover letter is a lot easier to write than the body.

In it, you only need to achieve three things:

  • Reaffirm your interest in the role.
  • Thank the reader for their time looking over your documents.
  • Express interest in a future meeting.

It’s simple. Here’s an example of a closing paragraph at its most basic:

Again, the opportunity to work at your school seems in perfect alignment with your needs and my professional growth. Thanks for your time in reviewing my resume. Please reach out if you need any further information and I hope we can discuss my experience further in an interview.

Include a simple professional closing salutation such as “Sincerely” or “Regards” and underneath type your name or include your electronic signature.

If you’re going to submit a hard copy of your resume and cover letter, you can also hit ‘enter’ two times under the salutation to leave some space to write your signature in ink above your typed name.

One other thing that some people use the close of the letter to do is to mention any enclosures that may be included with the cover letter. This is particularly important if you work in the arts or a creative field and are including a portfolio with your application documents.

There are two ways you could handle this. You could mention it in the last paragraph:

Thank you so much for your time in reviewing my application. I’ve attached my design portfolio as well as my resume so that you can see examples of my work. Again, I’m very excited about this opportunity. So please let me know when we’d be able to meet and discuss it further.

Kind regards,
Micah Daniels

Or, alternatively, you could put underneath your signature a little enclosures section like this:

Kind regards,
Micah Daniels

Enclosures: A copy of my digital portfolio and resume

Otherwise, this section is pretty straightforward and once you’ve got it down, your letter is complete!

The last step that you need to take is to proofread your letter. Read it out loud so that you hear each word and catch any errors!

It also never hurts to have a trusted friend look over your cover letter and resume before you send them out.

Why Cover Letters Are Important

Unless a job post or ad specifies not to include a cover letter, you should always include one because they’re important.

The reason is that cover letters are more advertising space that you have to talk about yourself. You’ve got the attention of a hiring manager, it’s important that you use it!

Otherwise, you’re at a serious disadvantage to any candidate who does include a cover letter.

Beyond that, cover letters allow you to express more of your personality than your resume allows.

It’s a chance to use the power of storytelling to really capture the reader’s attention and make sure they’re paying attention to your application!

FAQ

How to write a cover letter for a specific position?

To really tailor a cover letter to a specific position you have to really focus on the job post or ad and find some of the key phrases in there to reflect back to the employer.

That’s the way you can most directly speak to an employer — respond back to them using their own terms of reference to outline your career.

If you can, identify some of the top skills that the employer is looking for. Then try to show them how you embody these skills by sharing a story about putting them into action.

What parts does a cover letter consist of?

All cover letters consist of the following parts:

  • Your contact information
  • The employer’s address
  • A greeting to the hiring manager
  • The body of the letter
  • The closing
  • Enclosures (if applicable)
They all follow this exact same format and don’t deviate. This is really just the same organization as a standard business letter.

How do you sell yourself in a cover letter?

The best way to sell yourself in a cover letting isn’t by telling, but by showing!

The biggest mistakes that most people make is that they use a lot of flattering adjectives to describe themselves. Or, they merely list their skills instead of providing examples.

It’s easy to make those claims and say that you’ve got attention to detail. What's really going to impress an employer is if you can tell a story that shows how you put that skill to use in your work life.

Give examples of your skills in action, don’t just list them.

What are three types of cover letters?

There are three different types of cover letters: the application cover letter, prospecting cover letter and the networking cover letter.

Without question the application cover letter, the one that this page focuses on, is by far the most popular.

The prospecting cover letter is similar to a cold-call version of an application cover letter. It’s where you’re applying for a job, but you’re not certain that an opening exists so that you explain that in the letter.

The hope is that you catch an employer who needs a role filled but has not advertised it.

A networking cover letter is similar in that this is an application for a job that has not been formally posted yet. However, with a networking cover letter the difference is that you have been tipped off by someone who works at the company that an opening is about to pop up.

Networking cover letters can be used to give yourself a head-start and apply for a role before most other candidates even know that it exists.

In practice, all three of these cover letters are going to do the same job of trying to prove that you’re the right person for the job. The main difference between the three is in the introduction.

If you’re writing a prospecting cover letter, your introduction should mention that you want to work for the company so much that you’re reaching out in hopes you can help them with your specialization.

Meanwhile, with a networking cover letter, you need to mention the name of the insider who tipped you off about the role before it was announced to the public.