Cover Letters: How, When, and Why to Write Them

August 13, 2018

A cover letter is, it’s an incredibly helpful tool when it comes to justifying your candidacy for different positions.

You can only fit so much into the bullet points and fragmented sentences of your resume, and your cover letter provides the opportunity to fill in the gaps, share a little personality, and prove why you’re worthy of an interview.

So, what else do you need to know to write a standout cover letter that actually helps you get your foot in the door? Let’s dive into the details.

When Do You Need a Cover Letter?

Unless the job application instructions explicitly state that you don’t need to submit a cover letter with your materials, you should absolutely plan to include one.

Why? It highlights your qualifications, and colors in some details to the outline of your resume,  elevating your candidacy.

Sure, not all hiring managers read cover letters, but it is important you give yourself every edge possible.

The Elements of a Great Cover Letter

With that in mind, it’s time to take a hard look at what constitutes a solid cover letter. There are a few key things that you should make sure to touch on:

Keep it Short: Even if you’re a prolific writer, an employer won’t take the time to read a War and Peace-sized letter. Your cover letter definitely shouldn’t go over a single page. The more concise you can be, the better.

Watch Your Greeting: A surefire way to wind up in the recycling bin? Starting your letter with a generic “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” Do your research and find a real person to address it to. That could be the hiring manager, the department head, or—if you can’t find anybody else—the CEO or owner of the company.

Start With a Story: It’s easy to start your cover letter with the old standard, “I’m writing to express my interest in…” But, hiring managers see that everywhere. So, why not start with something a little more attention-grabbing and personality-filled? A story is a great example. Maybe you knew you wanted to be a vet tech ever since you were sticking bandaids on your stuffed animals. Or, perhaps one inspiring conversation led you to making a major career change. That’s all interesting and memorable, so share it!

Pull Out Specific Skills and Accomplishments: The most important thing to remember about your cover letter is that it shouldn’t be a regurgitation of your resume. It’s supposed to tell a story and supplement your qualifications. So, within the bulk of your letter, pull out and explain your key skills and the major things you’ve accomplished so far. Think of your cover letter as your opportunity to draw attention to those experiences that qualify you for this role.

Tailor it For Every Job: You should tailor and tweak your letter (yes, beyond just the address!) for each and every position you apply for. If you want to prove yourself as a no-brainer fit, you need to invest the elbow grease to show how you’re uniquely qualified for that specific role.

Writing Your Cover Letter: A Template

While you absolutely should plan to change up your cover letter to fit the open position that you’re applying for, you can get a general structure in place—there’s no need to reinvent the wheel each and every time.

Here’s a helpful fill-in-the-blank template you can use to craft your own cover letter:

Dear [Name],

Ever since I [your inspiring or attention-grabbing anecdote].

Since then, my passion for [career field] has only grown stronger, and I’m eager to find my next opportunity that lets me leverage my experience with [aspect of position], utilize my skills in [relevant skill or requirement], and make a real, measurable difference as part of the [department] team.

As a candidate, here are a few of the qualifications that I bring to the table:

  • [Relevant Skill #1]: In previous positions, I’ve utilized my aptitudes in [skill] to [result of skill]. I’m confident that I could use these competencies to help [company] reach [goal or objective].
  • [Relevant Skill #2]: With over [number] of years of experience in [skill], I have extensive knowledge in this area that could bring significant value to your [department] department and drive results for your team.
  • [Notable Accomplishment]: [Short description of an award or other highlight you’d like to draw the hiring manager’s attention to].

I know that I would make a great addition to your [department] team, and I’m excited to speak with you to find out more about [Company] and your goals for this position.

Looking forward to hearing from you, [Name]!


[Your Name]

How to Submit Your Cover Letter

When you have your cover letter drafted, there’s one more issue that trips many job seekers up: How should you submit it? Do you send it in as a separate document with your job application? Or, do you paste it into the body of the email that accompanies your application?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear cut answer here. However, that can also be good news—it means you really can’t go wrong either way.

If you find it easier to paste your cover letter content into the body of the email, go ahead and do so. It serves as a strong introduction and also increases your chances of the hiring manager actually reading that information.

But, if you’d rather go the traditional route and attach your cover letter as a separate document? That’s fine too. Within the email body, you could then write something short and sweet like:

Hello [Name],

I hope you’re doing well!

Attached you’ll find my application materials for the open [title] position at [Company]. Don’t hesitate to let me know if you need anything else for consideration. I’m happy to send over whatever you need.

Looking forward to finding out more about this opportunity.


[Your Name]


Remember, unless the job application provides explicit directions, how you submit your cover letter really all comes down to personal preference.

Over to You

Writing a cover letter is a task that most job seekers dread. But, if you’re eager to make a positive impression on that potential employer (and, you should be!), a cover letter will be your secret weapon for highlighting your qualifications and expanding on your resume.

Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be an awful undertaking. Use these tips and this template, and you’ll take the pain out of the cover letter process.


Written by Kat Boogaard.

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