The Anatomy of a Good Cover Letter

Making a good first impression in one page or less.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

A cover letter is the first image that your client’s going to have of you. It’s a bit more personal than a resume but less personal than a full bio, meaning it’s a hard balance to strike.

This might be intimidating to someone who hasn’t done it before and can feel strange, artificial, or narcissistic to write. I know it did for me when I first started writing them. Now, though, I’m so used to the format that I write solid cover letters almost automatically.

Hopefully, having a basic template to work from can make it less scary. Let’s break it down, part by part.

General Formatting

To write a good cover letter, you need to (unsurprisingly) format it like a letter, adding a couple of cover-letter-specific details as you go. This means that it needs:

  • A proper greeting
  • An introduction
  • A body of information about your skills and qualifications
  • A sign-off that invites conversation and includes contact information.

Your letter should generally be right-aligned in a standard font (like Times New Roman, Ariel, or similar). The presets for most word processing programs are fine for cover letters; some even have templates you can work from!

If you do decide to use a template (such as the one at the end of this article), triple-check your letter before you send it — it’s very unprofessional to leave a fill-in bracket unfilled. You’ll also want to personalize every letter you send to the company you’re applying for to show that you care about the position you’re applying for.

Greeting

You’ll want to greet your reader calmly and confidently with a standard letter greeting. Because this is a business form, using the classic “Dear” isn’t necessarily appropriate. You can, however, use things like “Hello,” “Hi,” or the recipient’s name on its own.

You can also use “Greetings,” but this is a bit too formal for most positions. There should always be a comma after your greeting, which should take up its own line at the top of the page.

If you can, try to include a specific recipient name in the greeting. This shows that you’ve done your research and know who you’re talking to; most companies will list their hiring or personnel manager on their websites. Include only their first name (“Hello John,”), or address them by their title (“Hello Mr. Smith,”).

Introduction

Your introduction is the first proper paragraph in your cover letter. It serves to give your potential client or employer the basic information they need to make a decision as quickly as possible so that it can be reviewed by skimming. This is the part of the letter that will make them want to read more.

Your first sentence should tell the reader what you are applying for and where you found the listing. Your second sentence should tell the reader who you are and what you do. You can reverse these two sentences if you want to without much change in effect; this is just my personal preference for the organization.

After that, you’ll want to explain in one or two sentences why you think you would do this particular job well. Give your most relevant experience and education here.

And that’s it! It’s short, simple, and to-the-point.

Image by Please Don’t sell My Artwork AS IS from Pixabay

Skills and Qualifications

Once you’ve gotten your introduction out of the way, it’s time to really sell yourself to the reader. In the next paragraph, you’ll want to list your relevant education. If you have a college degree or any official certifications, show them off! They help to give you concrete credibility, or, in simpler terms, they make you look like an expert.

Next, list your relevant skills and give proof for them. Are you a talented writer? Awesome! Say that, and list a relevant published piece they can read. Are you a graphic designer? Excellent! Tell them, and tell them about your last happy client. The most important part of this section is being able to prove that you have these skills.

This is the part of the letter that often feels like bragging, which can make people uncomfortable. But that’s the thing — in a cover letter, you’re supposed to brag. You’re supposed to show off. That’s the point. A cover letter is like the product description on something you're thinking of buying; it needs to convince your client that you are worth the money they’re about to pay.

Signing Off

This is the last part of the letter. Here is where you say that you’re hoping to be hired, and invite more conversation by saying that you’d be happy to talk more about anything you’ve written about, including answering any questions. This is also the part where you mention what you’re attaching with the cover letter, such as your resume or any samples.

After that, sign off with a simple conclusion, such as “Sincerely,” “Yours,” “Respectfully,” or just “Thank you.” Then put, on their own lines, your name, title, and contact information (usually a phone number and an email).

A Sample Cover Letter

Let’s put all of this together into a template you can work with.

Hello [Hiring Manager’s Name, if available],

I saw your advertisement for a [job title], which was posted [location]. My name is [name], and I am a [title]. Given [qualification], I feel that my skills would be a match for [job, something generic].

I have [qualification, if applicable], and can apply this to [job, explain how]. I also [other qualification, repeat as necessary]. I am confident that I will be able to apply [skill] to [job, explain how].

Please see the attached resume for my full work and education history. I would be happy to discuss this position further with you via phone or email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Respectfully,

[Your Name]
[Your phone number]
[Your email]

We can use this template to create an example, so it’s a little more clear how you fill in some of the blanks.

Let’s say that Jane Doe is applying for a competitive position as a beauty blogger for a popular company. This is what her cover letter might look like.

Hello Mr. Smith,

I saw your advertisement for a content creator for your beauty blog, which was posted on Indeed. My name is Jane Doe, and I am a freelance writer and editor. Given my years of experience in the beauty industry and my influence in the beauty community, I feel that my skills would be an excellent match for your needs.

I have a Cosmetology certification through the Aveda Institute in Ohio, and can apply this professional education to create engaging content for your audience. I also run popular beauty review accounts on Facebook and Instagram, which have garnered a following of more than 500,000 in less than two years. I am confident that I will be able to apply the principles of growth that I have used with this account to bring new readers to your blog quickly.

Please see the attached resume for my full work and education history. I would be happy to discuss this position further with you via phone or email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Respectfully,

Jane Doe
555 515 5515
janedoe@gmail.com

This is obviously a best-case scenario letter. Not everyone is going to have a decade or more of experience, high-profile accounts, and certifications from top schools; in fact, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of people who have more than two of those factors at a time.

It’s even harder to find any of these qualifications among the younger generation in the workforce — most people my age have only a few years of experience to work with, if that. This can make writing a convincing cover letter especially hard to do.

Image by Ronny Overhate from Pixabay

Be Confident In Your Writing

When I first started out, my cover letters were bland and empty. I’m still not one of the miracle people who have golden standards of qualifications. Even now that I have a degree to refer to, I rely mostly on experience to prove that I’m qualified for a job.

The best thing you can do is keep trying. Gain whatever experience you can, wherever you can, even if it means working for free on occasion, though you should really only do this if it’s a project you’re passionate about or one that will look good on your resume. Write that experience down with all the details: what it is, how long it took, and who was involved. Then show off whatever you’ve got.

Most importantly, don’t doubt yourself on paper. Even if you don’t think your skills are worth it, put them down anyway. The worst that can happen is they say no and you try for a different position. You are worth more than you think you are, and you deserve to try for positions you want just as much as anyone else does.

Go out there, be confident, and write good letters. You can do this.

Hello! I’m Cat, author and amateur fandom historian based out of Georgia. I write about literature, theater, gaming, and fandom. Personal work: catwebling.com.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store