This post is sponsored by Southworth—you know, the brand you go to anytime you need beautiful resume paper.
Here at Career Contessa, we’ve covered hundreds of career advice topics, even some of the most obscure. But sometimes? You don’t want the shiny, glamorous new stuff. You just want classic.
That’s why we’ve created our Back-to-Basics series with the help of the team at Southworh to walk you through all the most essential parts of the job search process. Earlier we covered the essential of all essentials: the ideal way to format a resume. And today, we’re back to discuss that mysterious item known as a cover letter. Here are our five tips to ensure yours is on point and attention-grabbing.
1. KEEP IT TO ONE PAGE—ACTUALLY, NOT EVEN
Let’s start with the simplest rule of them all: keep it short. You probably already know that your cover letter should never go longer than one page. But actually, we prefer a cover letter that’s much shorter than that—two or three paragraphs max.
Like most aspects of the job search process, you’re dealing with modern-day attention spans and asking a hiring manager or recruiter to give you some of their valuable (and limited) time. So make your intro short, to-the-point, and memorable. The details come later.
2. WRITE A NEW VERSION EVERY TIME
Yes, really. In the past, you’ve probably read that you can write a template, just fill in the blanks, or “tweak” for each position. But your cover letter is your opportunity to catch a recruiter’s attention, and those recruiters? They’re smart, savvy people just like you. They know when they’re reading something canned.
If you need a framework to keep you on track, jot down some talking points you’d like to include in each of your cover letters and keep it on hand. But start a fresh document every time. The added bonus? You avoid any embarrassing moments where you forget to replace one company name with another, thus never getting a call back. We’d throw out a cover letter addressed to the wrong person or place—wouldn’t you?
So to reiterate: Dedicate the time to write a special cover letter every time that specifically calls out the reasons why you’d be a great asset to the company, a great fit for the role, and why you want this job in particular. And speaking of that...
3. PARALLEL THE JOB DESCRIPTION
Before you even sit down to write your letter, print out a copy of the job posting. Physically print it out. Then, with a highlighter, find the key phrases and qualifications they list. You may also want to circle keywords that clearly mean a lot to the person who wrote the posting (if they say something like “we need a self-starting go-getter,” then your cover letter better explain how you’re exactly that).
As you draft your letter, refer back to the phrases you pulled out to make sure you’re covering all your bases.
4. MAKE IT PERSONAL
Try opening your letter with something that shows you’re personally invested in the company you’re applying to. We always recommend that you do thorough research on companies long before you apply. Before writing your cover letter you should study up on what the company’s core values are, its recent triumphs or projects, who the CEO or founder is, etc. Then, try folding one of those details into your opener. Here are some approaches we like:
- “I recently read an interview with your CEO, Jane Smith, in Forbes and what struck me was…”
- “I’ve been following your company for awhile now because of your heavy focus on environmentalism…”
- “I heard one of your ad segments on one of my favorite podcasts last week and loved the approach your marketing team took with it because…"
5. SEND IT IN THE EMAIL BODY OR AS A PDF
“Should I send my cover letter as an attachment or just in my email?”
Boy, do we get this question a lot. This might sound like a cop out but: you’re going to have to use your best judgment. Start by reading the application instructions carefully. If they say something like “send a copy of your resume and cover letter,” you should probably send your cover letter as an attachment. If there are no instructions, or if you’re simply not sure, we typically advise that you send the cover letter as the email, attaching your resume. After all, that’s one less step for the reader (you know, the one who’s giving you valuable time). If you’re really not sure, though, do both. Mention in your email cover letter that you’ve also included a copy of your note as an attachment as well, in case they prefer it that way.
And three more points:
- Add links where relevant. Regardless of whether you’re sending an attachment or pasting your cover letter into the body of the PDF, make sure to include links to your portfolio site and LinkedIn profile here, as well as any others that might be relevant (so if you mention that you freelance write for Career Contessa, link to your author page).
- If you’re attaching, do yourself a favor and use a template that matches your resume. Using the same design will make everything feel more consistent, polished, and professional.
- Save as a PDF. Just like your resume, don’t mess up your careful formatting by sending a Word doc. Just don’t.
Who Do I Address It To?
Tough one since most times you don’t have a name. We prefer “Dear [Company Name] team,” to avoid any awkwardness with addressing your cover letter to the wrong person.
How Long Do I Wait To Follow Up?
One week. In your follow-up email (which should only be two or three sentences), offer to send them additional details and link one more time to your personal site or LinkedIn. If you still don’t hear back, follow up two weeks after that. After that, drop it. Move on so you can find the right job for you. After all, your time is valuable too.
Which Information Should I NOT Include In My Cover Letter
- Excess detail. You’re attaching your resume, right? And including a link to both your LinkedIn profile and a portfolio site if you have one. So leave the details out of it. This is the place to express your personality and cover top level items. Leave them wanting more so they open your attached resume.
- Don’t include a photo. Just like your resume, your headshot has no business here. Put it on LinkedIn and leave it at that.
- No references. They’ll ask if they want you to provide them. Mailing address. Why waste space on something that no one uses anymore? Replace it with a link to your LinkedIn and portfolio site (if you have one.)
This post was sponsored by Southworth. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Career Contessa.
Smart tips to help you format and write a cover letter
Struggling to write a cover letter that will catch an employer's attention? We've got tips to help you show your best self—and a sample you can use to get started.
There's nothing scary about writing a cover letter.
You've found the perfect job, hit the "apply" button, and started the process with your engines revved and ready. But wait! Slam the brakes! They want a cover letter. Oh no.
Don't let this request derail you. Here's everything you need to know to write a letter that truly sells your skills. Plus, scroll down to see a sample cover letter you can use to craft your own.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a one-page document that, along with your resume, is sent with your job application. A cover letter is your chance to tell a potential employer why you’re the perfect person for the position and how your skills and expertise can add value to the company. The letter should be professional but personable, and serve as a sort of introduction.
Do I need to send a cover letter?
A lot of job seekers today wonder if a cover letter is still appropriate to send with your resume—and the answer is yes! Even if an employer doesn’t ask for a cover letter, it couldn’t hurt to send one. In fact, it’s can help you get someone's attention in a different way, and it can be a great way to display your enthusiasm for the job and company.
What are the basic elements of a cover letter?
- Greeting: Address your cover letter to the proper person.
- Opening: Write a personable, inviting opening paragraph that notes how your skills are a perfect fit to the job and displays your enthusiasm.
- Hook: Highlight your past achievements as they relate to the job you're applying for.
- Skills: Emphasize additional relevant skills, such as computer languages or certifications.
- Close: Briefly recap your strengths as a candidate, and include your contact information.
Cover letter tips
1. Parrot the keywords: Just like with your resume, your cover letters should be customized for each job you apply to. Start by reviewing the job description. In it, you will find important keywords that let you know what kind of employee the company is hoping to find. Use these same keywords throughout your cover letter.
2. Adapt for the company: Each version of your cover letter should talk about how your skills will benefit the particular company that you want to work for. You want to target the company’s needs—not your own. Demonstrate how you could help them achieve their goals. Remember: You're selling yourself in a resume and a cover letter, but the employer has to want to buy.
3. Show you "get" them: Your cover letter should demonstrate that you have done some research into what the organization's pain points are. Presenting yourself as a solution to a hiring manager’s problem can help your cover letter take the right tone. If you’re applying to an administrative position, be sure to mention your time-management skills; if you’re an IT professional, include your expertise in improving efficiency. Always ask yourself: How can I help this company?
4. Proofread. Don’t assume spell check will catch every mistake (it won’t). Slowly review your cover letter to make sure everything reads properly. Have someone else read your cover letter for backup.
Need even more confidence before you start your cover letter? Below are some additional cover letter tips you could reference—or keep scrolling for a cover letter sample:
Cover letter mistakes you should avoid: From overusing “I” to being too vague, there are a bunch of pitfalls that can trip you up. Don’t let them!
Cover letter format and advice tips: Learn how to set up your cover letter and what each section should include.
Cover letter tips for new grads: You might lack real-world work experience, but your cover letter can be chock-full of activities that demonstrate your potential to succeed.
Cover letter tips for technology professionals: The ease of applying to online jobs has led many IT professionals to skip sending a cover letter, but that’s a mistake.
Cover letter tips for finance professionals: If you’re searching for a finance job or want to be prepared just in case, you will need a dynamic cover letter to grab the hiring managers’ attention.
Tips for better email cover letters: If you're emailing a resume, your cover letter will deliver the first impression. These eight tips will help you craft a better email cover letter.
Cover letter sample
Check out the sample cover letter below (or download the template as a Word doc) to get some inspiration to craft your own. And we've also got you covered if you're looking for a cover letter in a specific industry.
Once you've finished your cover letter, consider joining Monster—you can upload and store up to five cover letters and resumes, so that you can apply for jobs on our site in a snap!
Ms. Rhonda West
Customer Service Manager
123 Corporate Blvd.
Sometown, CO 50802
Re: Customer Service Representative Opening (Ref. ID: CS300-Denver)
Dear Ms. West:
I was excited to see your opening for a customer service rep, and I hope to be invited for an interview.
My background includes serving as a customer service associate within both call-center and retail environments. Most recently, I worked on the customer service desk for Discount-Mart, where my responsibilities included handling customer merchandise returns, issuing refunds/store credits, flagging damaged merchandise for shipment back to vendors and providing back-up cashiering during busy periods.
Previously, I worked within two high-volume customer-support call centers for a major telecommunications carrier and a satellite television services provider. In these positions, I demonstrated the ability to resolve a variety of issues and complaints (such as billing disputes, service interruptions or cutoffs, repair technician delays/no-shows and equipment malfunctions). I consistently met my call-volume goals, handling an average of 56 to 60 calls per day.
In addition to this experience, I gained considerable customer service skills during my part-time employment as a waitress and restaurant hostess while in high school.
I also bring to the table strong computer proficiencies in MS Word, MS Excel and CRM database applications and a year of college (business major). Please see the accompanying resume for details of my experience and education.
I am confident that I can offer you the customer service, communication and problem-solving skills you are seeking. Feel free to call me at 555-555-5555 (home) or 555-555-5500 (cell) to arrange an interview. Thank you for your time—I look forward to learning more about this opportunity!