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How to Write a Cover Letter: Full Template

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Posted by Rebecca Safier | May 19, 2016 1:00:00 PM

Career

 

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Are you on the hunt for a new job? If so, cover letters are an essential part of your applications. They’re often your first opportunity to communicate with a hiring manager and stand out from the crowd. 

Because cover letters play such an important role, they can often feel almost impossible to write. To help you break through writer's block, we’ve put together this comprehensive cover letter template with real examples. Scroll down for the full template, or first check out some tips to guide your thinking.

 

When Do You Need a Cover Letter?

Cover letters play a key role in the hiring process. Typically, you send a cover letter along with your resume when you apply to a job. You might also write one to make a general inquiry about potential opportunities with a company you’re interested in. If you’re enlisting a headhunter in your job search, then you’ll also need to provide a cover letter to help him/her understand your qualifications.

For the purposes of this guide, we’ll mainly stick to cover letters that you send when you’re applying to a job. The general advice, though, applies to all types.

To write an effective cover letter, you need to know what to include and what to leave out. To help guide you through the writing process, I've picked out the four most important characteristics of a great cover letter. 

 

What Should a Cover Letter Say? 

Cover letters can be challenging because you have to say a lot in only a few words. In most cases, your cover letter should just be one page. You have to strive to be concise while describing how your qualifications match up to the new job description. Plus, you want some of your personality to shine through and connect with the reader! 

There are several elements to a great cover letter, but I've highlighted the four most important ones. When you’re writing yours, keep these overarching goals in mind. Your cover letter should accomplish the following:

 

1. Focus On What You Can Do for the Employer

Rather than talking about how great the job would be for you, you should instead focus on what you can bring to the organization. This might a subtle shift, but it helps you keep your cover letter focused and on point.

Before you start writing, make sure to deconstruct the job description and investigate the industry. Gain a clear understanding of the new position and its requirements and express this understanding in your letter.

Then you can analyze your specific skills, knowledge, and qualifications in relation to the job requirements. Consider both "hard" technical skills and "soft" transferable skills and professional behaviors.

Even if you haven't worked a related job or have jumped around, you can show how your skills would transfer to the role. Transferable skills can be just as if not more important than a directly related work history. Present your skills in terms of the contributions you could make and value you could bring to the organization.

 

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Use the STAR framework - Situation, Task, Action, Result - to brainstorm specific examples for your cover letter.

 

2. Give Specific Examples with the STAR Framework

Your cover letter is an opportunity both to personalize your application and to differentiate yourself from other candidates. It shouldn’t simply be a repeat of your resume.

To make your letter unique and personal, you should incorporate a specific example or two of your accomplishments into your letter. If you focus on your marketing skills, for instance, then you could provide a specific example of an especially effective marketing campaign. If you say you helped students improve their English language skills, then you might add a sentence or two about a student and the activities you implemented to help her learn.

One useful framework for brainstorming specific examples is called the STAR approach. It stands for Situation, Task, Approach, and Result. To use this framework, consider a situation you faced or task you were assigned. Then think about what approach you took to address it. Finally, what were your results?

This framework isn’t just useful for your cover letters; it’s also a helpful approach when you interview. It helps take your ideas from the realm of the abstract to the real. Instead of vague descriptions, this framework helps you zero in on specific demonstrations of your skills and experiences. It helps you tell a story about who you are.

 

3. Communicate Enthusiasm

Now that you have an initial sense of the content of your cover letter, let’s talk for a second about tone. Overall, you want your letter to communicate a strong sense of enthusiasm.

In many ways, your cover letter is your marketing tool. It communicates your personal brand, the bundle of skills, experiences, and behaviors that defines your professional identity.

You can use it to reveal some dimensions of your personality. As the best cover letters are highly customized, they should express excitement about the specific position and organization. Often, the most memorable cover letters are the ones with the most personality and enthusiasm.

You might start out by saying how pleased or excited you were to learn about the position or state your great interest in joining the team. Your enthusiasm, as well as the effort you put in to craft a strong letter, should shine through your whole cover letter.

 

4. Be Readable, Clear, and Brief

Another important, if challenging, feature of your cover letter is its readability. Consider the perspective of the hiring manager. They may be pressed for time and reading lots of applications. They want to be able to get to the heart of what you have to say without putting in lots of effort. For any Lit majors out there, think Ernest Hemingway rather than James Joyce.

Your letter should cut to the chase and present its points in a clear and straightforward way. Aim to be concise and precise. Ultimately, your goal with a cover letter is to say a lot in a few words.

This can be a challenging task, but don’t worry - even if your letter starts out wordy and scattered, you can tighten it up as you edit. First drafts are supposed to be unpolished. By revising and proofreading, you can bring your cover letter into its best form.

The level of formality might vary by industry. A traditional corporation might look for a more formal letter, while a start-up in a creative industry might want to see something untraditional and conversational. Changing up the style and format can work in your favor and help you stand out, but make sure that your writing remains clear, concise, and approachable!

Now that you have an initial sense of what should go into your cover letter, let’s take a closer look at the form of the letter itself. First, an important disclaimer about application instructions. Then read on for the full cover letter template, explained piece by piece!

 

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Your cover letter's not the time to wander off on tangents. Aim to be clear, concise, and readable.

 

Disclaimer: Follow Application Instructions 

As you just read, there can be a lot of variation among cover letters depending on the job, industry, and your personal style. Another key factor that determines what your cover letter looks like and how you send it is the application instructions.

Many jobs will give you certain guidelines, so you should make sure to abide by them. They might ask you to apply through a job application portal and paste your cover letter and resume into text boxes. Similarly, they might ask you to paste your cover letter and even resume directly into the body of an email. If this is the case, then you don't have to worry too much about formatting, as this plain text format will largely remove any special features. 

On the other hand, you might be instructed or choose to send your letter as a hard copy or a Word attachment. If you attach your letter, then you can just write a brief message in the body of the email telling your reader to check out the attachments. In these more traditional modes, you can customize your formatting more.

The instructions might also give you a word limit or tell you about next steps. Some jobs explicitly say, "No calls," to make sure the office doesn't get bombarded with communication. Make sure to read and follow any application instructions as you prepare your materials. That being said, let's dive into the template to help you guide your cover writing letter from start to finish.

 

How to Write a Cover Letter: Full Template

At the risk of undermining the template you're about to read, I want to start with a word of caution. Don't follow this template too religiously! The best cover letters are unique and customized. You want to stand out from the crowd of other applicants, not blend in and lose your edge. 

At the same time, the strongest cover letters typically do have certain features in common. Most start with a strong opener, followed by two to three body paragraphs that argue for your candidacy. Finally, they end with an enthusiastic conclusion and your name. 

The first part of your letter depends on how you're sending it. You may add a header, or start right in with the salutation, as you'll read below. 

 

1. Choose Your Format

To start your letter, you may add a header or start right in by addressing the hiring manager. Traditionally, cover letters included a header at the top with both your and the hiring manager's contact information. If you're sending a hard copy of your cover letter or attaching it as a separate Word document, then this format is a good one to use. 

However, many other applicants simply copy and paste their cover letters directly into the body of the email. Other companies use job application portals that ask you to copy and paste your letter into a text box. In these cases, you can skip the traditional contact information at the top and just start right in with the salutation. 

If you're using a traditional format, then you'd write your name, address, and the current date at the top. You might also include your phone number and email address. Ideally, your header would match the one you use on your resume to give your entire application a cohesive, packaged look. Your letterhead could look something like this: 

Gina Sullivan
55 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02138

June 1, 2016


Again, some people also have their phone number and email at the top. Others include it at the bottom, after their signature and printed name. Either way is fine, as long as the hiring manager can clearly see how to contact you.

Below the date, you could insert the hiring manager's contact information. Ideally, you can write to a specific person who has the power to hire you. If you can’t find any specific contact information, then you could just put the company and its address. Here's an example of the contact information for a school principal:

Dr. Joss Nichols
School Principal
Cityville Middle School
1 School Road
Cityville, NJ 08008

 

Below this contact information, you'd start right in on the salutation. Again, if you're pasting your cover letter into an email or text box, then you can skip all this formatting!

Truth be told, the format of your cover letter is not a huge deal, and it definitely shouldn't be a dealbreaker in the hiring manger's eyes. The content of your letter is much more important. Before delving into that content, let's consider the salutation, or how to address your letter. 

 

2. Add a Salutation 

Addressing your cover letter can be a source of anxiety for some people. Best practices usually dictate that you should address your letter to a specific person, but what if you have no idea who you're writing to? 

First off, it really is a good idea to try to address your letter to a specific person. Try your best to track down the hiring manager via Google, the organization's website, or LinkedIn. If you can't find the specific person, you might consider writing to the head of the department, if applicable.

If you really can't find anyone, then there's one other potential way to personalize an otherwise anonymous salutation. You could specify the position by writing something like, "Dear Content Manager Search Committee" or "Dear Data Scientist Hiring Manager." These greetings indicate that you're writing with a specific audience in mind, even if you don't know who exactly he/she is.

If you can't find any point person, then don't sweat it! You can just write, "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Hiring Professional." You should probably steer clear of "To Whom It May Concern," as it's become a bit overused and sounds distant. Likewise, avoid the antiquated "Dear Sirs."

Again, don't worry too much about the salutation. The content of your cover letter is the part that deserves most of your attention. So without further ado, let's jump into that content, starting with the introduction. 

 

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There are several tried-and-true phrases you can use to start your cover letter. This, however, isn't one of them.

 

3. Introduction

Your first paragraph is your introduction. It might be three to four sentences and should contain some essential information. First, you should state who you are and why you’re writing. Let the hiring manager know how you learned about the position.

If you spoke or networked with one of its employees, share her name (assuming the employee has good relationships at the company). Finally, you should make an impactful statement about your qualifications for the position. You might give a succinct summary of those qualifications before delving into them in the body paragraphs.

Some possible openers include the following: 

  • I was pleased to see your posting for...
  • I was excited to see your listing for...
  • I’m writing to express my strong interest in...
  • I am responding to your job posting on...for…
  • I’m writing to express my interest in joining your team.
  • I am applying for…
  • As an experienced [position], I was excited to find the [position] opportunity with your organization. 

 

While the above lines can work well, you might also think outside the box and start your letter in a creative way. You could start with a story or some sort of personal connection to the organization. Here are a few examples of unconventional cover letter starters: 

  • When I tried Instacart for the first time last month, I thought I'd died and gone to grocery store shopping heaven. I've been raving about the company to friends and family ever since, so I thought I should make it official by joining your company as your next Community Manager.
  • For as long as I can remember, Friday nights meant dinner at Windward. Windward has long been a family favorite due to its amazing food, comfortable atmosphere, and friendly staff. As I take my first steps into the restaurant industry, I'd be thrilled to join your team and treat customers with the same hospitality and care that I've always enjoyed. 
  • My last boss told me I could probably hold a conversation with a tree (which I took as a compliment). Conversing easily with people from all walks of life has always been a major strength of mine, and it's one that I'd bring to the role of Sales Professional with Match.com.

 

You should probably steer clear of tired phrases that sound pompous or overbearing. For instance, a line like, "If you're looking for an organized, driven worker with great communication skills, then LOOK NO FURTHER" might not make the best of impressions.  

Once you've gotten your introduction sorted out, you should indicate where you learned about the position in the first sentence. 

  • I learned about this opportunity from..
  • I came across this opportunity on..
  • I’ve been interested in your organization for several years and recently saw that you had an opening for a [position] on your website.
  • I've been interested in joining your company for a long time, so I periodically check the open positions listed on your website.

 

Finally, you might briefly summarize your qualifications for the opportunity. You could give an overview of your skills or simply set up what you’ll discuss in the rest of the letter. Here are a couple examples:

  • I would bring to this position...
  • As a [profession] with [#] years of experience, I have the skills and experiences to excel in this role.
  • Please allow my to highlight my skills and experiences as they relate to your stated requirements.

 

Now that you have a sense of what should go into the introduction of your cover letter, let’s put all these pieces together with a few examples. Below you’ll find three examples of cover letter introductions, one for the position of speech language pathologist, another for a web designer, and the third for a software salesperson.

 

Cover Letter Introduction: Three Examples

Example 1: I was pleased to see your posting for a Speech Language Pathologist (position #357) on SchoolSpring.com. I will be earning my Master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology from Boston University this May, and I have extensive experience working in schools with students in grades K through 8. I would bring to this position strong clinical skills, fluency in Mandarin, and a demonstrated commitment to serving young learners.

Example 2: I was excited to see your listing for a front-end web designer on your website. SunStar has great appeal to me because of its mission to make solar energy affordable to the average consumer. As an experienced web designer who's committed to living a sustainable life, I have both the technical skills and personal passion to excel in this role.

Example 3: I’m writing to express my strong interest in joining Voxacorp’s sales team, an opportunity I discovered on Monster.com.  With my five years of experience in software sales, I possess the skills and knowledge to excel in this role. Please allow me to highlight my qualifications as they related to your stated requirements.

 

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You can consider the main part of your cover letter to be your argument for why you'd be right for the job. Aim for enthusiasm over aggression, though.

 

Argument: 2-3 Paragraphs

The body of your cover letter is typically two to three paragraphs. Two is usually best, unless you’re applying for an especially advanced or specialized type of job. Your cover letter shouldn’t go over one page, so two paragraphs usually hits the mark.

You might choose to use bullet points here, rather than traditional paragraphs. To give you a sense of how to do this effectively, the third example below is presented in list form. If you're applying for a position that involves a lot of writing, though, then you should probably steer clear of bullet points. This format won't give the hiring manager much insight into your writing skills.

There are a few different ways to format the argument portion of your cover letter, but they should all share the same mission: to reflect the employer’s top needs and explain how you match them in terms of your skills, knowledge, and experiences.

Here’s where the STAR approach (Situation, Task, Action, Result) described earlier come into play. Depending on the position, specific examples that incorporate data can be useful here. Presenting specific numbers about your sales record or number of accounts you manage, to give two examples, that measure your achievements could make a strong impression.

In the argument part of your cover letter, consider ways that you can go beyond your resume points, personalize your candidacy, and tell a story about who you are and what you'd bring to the job. Present your most relevant experiences and points first. Below are three examples of body paragraphs for the same positions as above, Speech Language Pathologist, Web Designer, and Software Sales Professional.

 

Body Paragraphs: 3 Examples 

Example 1: During my internship at the Briar Middle School in Salem, I created and adapted activities to address students’ specific functional needs, including receptive and expressive language skills, articulation, and social pragmatics. To give one example, I worked with a first grade boy throughout the year on pre-literacy and phonological awareness skills. We used reading, oral motor, and explicit phonics activities, along with computer assisted instruction. I relied on my coworkers and current research to determine how I could best help him and consistently collected data and reviewed his progress. By the end of the year, his letter-sound correspondence and oral reading skills had greatly improved.


Example 2: As an experienced web designer, I have the technological and design skills that you described in your job posting. I’m fluent in CSS, HTML, and JavaScript and have expertise with WordPress and WordPress plugins. Recently, I designed the main pages for the sustainable clothing company, Oak Tree Co. One major project I worked on was the company’s central logo. I reflected Oak Tree’s aesthetic of stylish sustainability in the logo it now uses across its site, social media channels, and newsletters. As a web designer with SunStar, I would similarly create text and graphic content with visual appeal and a cohesive corporate identity.

 

Example 3: 

Your Requirements My Experience
Establish and maintain accounts

Established # new customer-to-customer and customer-to-business accounts and maintained # accounts with Waretech; sales record in top 15% of team.

Clear communication

Spoke with customers daily about their specific business needs; led trainings and presentations for coworkers and new employees.

Strong understanding of technology

Thorough knowledge of Waretech’s software systems; excellent computer skills; hold ISACA CISA certification.

Professional, personable, and passionate

Motivated and committed sales professional with strong character references from coworkers; head of Social Committee; lead weekly in-office spin classes.

 

 

Closing Paragraph

The body paragraphs are the most challenging part of your cover letter. Once you’ve finished them, you can sum everything up with a concise concluding paragraph.

In your conclusion, you might restate your interest in the position. Let the employer know if you attached your resume or any other documents, like reference letters. Let them know when and how to contact you. 

Some professionals advise applicants to end proactively with a statement about what you’ll do next to continue pursuing the position. Rather than just telling the employer how to get in touch with you, you could say that you plan to contact them in the next few days. You might say you’ll call the following week to set up a meeting or discuss the opportunity further. Of course, you have to make sure you get in touch when you said you would!

However, a word of caution about this approach. Some hiring managers might perceive this call to action as pushy, even aggressive. You especially should avoid it if application instructions explicitly say, "No calls." Prioritize the application instructions first and foremost. Then consider whether the company is one that would appreciate this forward approach or would be turned off by it. 

As with all aspects of your cover letter, be thoughtful about your conclusion. It's your last chance to make a strong impression. Below are a few examples of closing paragraphs for our example candidates. After your conclusion, you should add “Sincerely” and sign and print your name. If you didn't include it in the header, then you could add your phone number and email under your name.

 

Closing Paragraph: 3 Examples

Example 1: My clinical skills and experience in educational settings make me well qualified to serve as a Speech Language Pathologist to youth at Lafayette Middle School. As someone who shares Lafayette's commitment to social justice and equity in education, I would be thrilled to join the educational team. I look forward to discussing this position with you and can be reached by phone or email anytime. Thank you very much for your time.

Example 2: As an experienced designer and committed environmentalist, I could bring great value to SunStar in the role of web designer. I have attached my resume and hope you will not hesitate to contact me at 508-664-6644 or sara.smith@gmail.com to arrange a meeting. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to meeting with you.

Example 3: My skills and experiences as a software sales professional make me well qualified to join the Voxacorp sales team. I would be thrilled to join such an innovative and forward-thinking company. Please don't hesitate to contact me, and I will call you on Monday to see about arranging a meeting. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to speaking with you.

 

Once you’ve written your conclusion and signed your name, you should spend some time editing for clarity and proofreading for errors. Now that you have a sense of each piece of your cover letter, let's put them all together into the final cover letter template!

 

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Pay attention to little details, like spacing and word choice, to make sure your cover letter looks great.

 

Final Cover Letter Template

As you saw above, most cover letters share a certain structure. At the same time, you can do a lot to personalize your letter and inject your own personality. This template can help steer your writing, but it's your job to consider the best content and format to use to make an authentic impression! 

If you're sending your cover letter as an attachment or hard copy, then you should include your contact information, the hiring manager's contact information, and the date at the top. Additionally, you could choose a traditional font, like Times New Roman or Garamond in a 12-point size. The template below reflects this traditional format.

If you're pasting your letter into the body of an email or a website's text box, then don't worry about this formatting. In these cases, you could start right in with the salutation. 

Check out the final cover letter template below, and then scroll down for some final tips on producing a great cover letter that will land you that coveted first job interview.

 

Your Name
Your Address
Phone number and email (optional)

Date


Contact Person
Title
Department
Company or Organization
Address


Dear (Contact Person):

Introduction: 3 - 4 sentences: I’m writing to express my strong interest in joining [organization]’s team in the position of [job title]. I learned of this opportunity from my close friend and [organization name] manager, [name of contact]. I would bring to this position [two to three main skills]. Please allow me to give three examples of my qualifications as they relate to your stated requirements.

Argument: 2-3 paragraphs: As a [profession] with [#] years of experience, I have experience with [skills, knowledge, qualifications]. To give one example...

The body paragraphs should reflect the employer's needs and how your skills, knowledge, and experiences match up with them. If applicable, try to use specific data here.

Closing paragraph: I’ve attached my resume to give you more information about my professional background. I'm excited to learn more about this opportunity. You can contact me at 555-555-5555 or me.myname@gmail.com. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you. 

Sincerely,

[Signature]

Printed name
Phone number*
Email*

*If not present in header

 

As you saw above, there are several different ways you can phrase your skills and qualifications, and some people choose to present all or most of the body paragraphs in bullet point or list form. As long as you follow general guidelines, you have a good amount of wiggle room in the body of your letter. 

Above all, you should focus on communicating a sense of professionalism, competence, and cultural fit. In closing, read on for some final tips about writing a cover letter for your next job application! 

 

Writing a Cover Letter: Final Tips

Searching for a job can feel like a full-time job in itself, and there’s no scarcity of competition. While writing a cover letter can feel like a hurdle in the application process, you can also see it as an opportunity to give your candidacy an edge.

A well-crafted cover letter can catch the reader’s attention and differentiate you from other applicants. It goes beyond the resume to personalize your application, show your professionalism, and flesh out your qualifications and experiences.

The tone you use may vary depending on the position you’re applying for. Some start-ups or creative industries expect a more conversational tone, while more traditional jobs may seek a formal style. Regardless of the approach you take, you should make sure to express enthusiasm for the opportunity and the organization.

A strong letter shows your writing skills, attention to detail, and understanding of the employer’s needs. If you’re serious about a job, take the time to craft a concise, persuasive argument that proves you’re the best person for the job.

 

What’s Next?

Now that you understand the structure of a great cover letter, check out some samples of cover letters. This guide has more tips for writing your cover letter, along with six free cover letter samples!

In addition to a cover letter and resume, your job application might call for recommendation letters. Check out this template for writing a recommendation letter, along with a full recommendation letter guide containing 9 free samples.

 

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Rebecca Safier
About the Author

Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.



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