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Written by Paul DruryPaul Drury

How to write a cover letter - expert guide [2022]

40 min read
How to Write a Cover Letter - Expert Guide [2022]
Here is exactly how you can write a cover letter that will stand out from the crowd, and help you land that interview.

When job seekers sit down to ponder how to write a cover letter, many break into a cold sweat. Writing a cover letter for a job is different to a resume. You have to inject some personality and set the tone for your future conversations. 

A cover letter is written as a competitive advantage for your application, as it covers career gaps, provides personal context and establishes a connection with the hiring decision-makers.

In this guide, we will show you the tricks and strategies of how to write a good cover letter for a job that will leave hiring managers and recruiters rushing to press the invite send button. Whether you are writing a cover letter for a graduate job or a board role, we will investigate every avenue:

  • Exploring the cover letter format
  • Why is a cover letter important?
  • How to start the cover letter
  • Writing the cover letter middle part
  • How to end a cover letter
  • How to write a cover letter and avoid mistakes
Blog - How to Write a Cover Letter Expert Guide 2022 - In this guide we’ll cover
Blog - How to Write a Cover Letter Expert Guide 2022 - In this guide we’ll cover

We have  75+ FREE cover letter examples  and guides with profession-specific advice to demonstrate what we consider to be best practice. As every application is different, the following advice on how to write a good cover letter will cover the main considerations. 

Expert tip

Explore the essence of your “why” in your cover letter.

For many employers, cover letters contain the notes of individuality and passion that the formal limitations of a resume fail to deliver. When you have a blank page to fill, you can say what you like. Within reason. Great cover letters distil the essence of a candidate’s “why.” They allow them to speak directly to the hiring manager in a free-flowing format. It wouldn't be difficult to explain the motivations in a cover letter for a contact tracer position, for example. We were all affected by Covid-19.

Exploring the cover letter format

While the basic structure of most cover letters will be similar, there are a myriad of nuances in  how to format a cover letter. We will explore the cover letter format in great detail together over the remainder of the blog. To start with, here is an example of a Resume.io cover letter format that has been broken into individual components:

  • Header
  • Greeting
  • Introduction
  • Cover letter middle paragraphs (body)
  • Conclusion
Cover Letter Example
Cover Letter Example

Why is a cover letter important?

A cover letter compensates for the weakness of a resume by expanding on gaps, adding context and establishing an emotional connection with the hiring manager. Last but not least it helps an applicant to stand out in today’s competitive job market.

Cover letters are as important as resumes. Fact.

AJobvite survey in 2015 concluded that only 10% of cover letters are read. If you consider that a cover letter will likely only be read if a resume has ticked the right boxes, is this statistic really that useful for a strong candidate? 

Do you know how many speculative applications are made for each position where candidates have little to no hope of success? Lots and lots. Now put that 10% of cover letters being read into perspective. Interesting.

The only time that you should not send a cover letter is when you are explicitly told not to in the job description. If that instruction isn’t there, get thinking about how to write your cover letter. 

Expert tip

100% of RELEVANT cover letters will be read.

The truth is, if you applied to a relevant position and have a strong resume, your cover letter will only empower it and improve your chances, raising you above the competition. If you are an employer, whose interest has been piqued by a candidate, why wouldn’t you want to read a free-flowing personal commentary about their application?   

Why you need a cover letter outline and how to write one (tips + examples)
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Why you need a cover letter outline and how to write one (tips + examples)

A cover letter outline lets you focus on the quality of what you’re writing, while keeping the quantity of words in check. Resume.io is here to help with step-by-step practical tips for cover letter outlines, along with adaptable examples.

How to start a cover letter

A cover letter starts with three main elements. The header, the cover letter greeting and the cover letter introduction. Each of these elements has their own purpose and function, where we will explore how to write a cover letter below.

If you are sitting there staring at a blank screen wondering  how to start a cover letter , you can take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. There will definitely be a few pressing questions at the front of your mind about how to begin:

  • What do I put in the cover letter header section?
  • How to write a cover letter greeting?
  • What should I include in the introduction?
  • What tone of voice should my cover letter adopt?
  • How can I make sure it is relevant for the job description?

Don’t neglect the cover letter header

If the employer is considering inviting you for an  interview , you have to make the process as easy as possible. Applicant tracking systems will expect your contact information (including your full name, phone number, email and even LinkedIn profile if required) to be in the cover letter header section (or near it, depending on the cover letter design), and even the white space that the header creates will cause the reader’s mind to pause before they take in the genius of your letter.

You don't need to include your full home address in the cover letter header. There are data protection issues here. Do you really want every potential employer to know where you live (and store it in their system for years)? You can share your address at offer stage.

If you are sending the cover letter via Gmail or uploading it to a job board, your contact information can be added at the end after your sign-off /  cover letter ending .

How to write a cover letter greeting / salutation

I’m not sure how many times we have mentioned this in our various cover letter guides, but getting the simple things right is essential in avoiding unwelcome distractions. Finding the correct variant of greeting plus surname (or name of team) is key to striking the right initial note.

Most letters should start with a variant on “Dear Mr. Jones”, "Dear Hiring Team" or "Dear Company ABC Team". Alternatively, "Dear Company ABC Family" or "Greetings” might be more suited to a more informal culture. Just as you wouldn’t turn up on a suit when everyone is casually dressed, so your greeting should match the culture.

Starting a letter  with “To whom it may concern” is an immediate turn-off, no matter how much effort you have put into the letter itself. Scientific studies have shown that people have positive neurological responses to seeing or hearing their own name. Consider phoning the company to find out if you are not sure. You may get the chance to ask some additional questions if the receptionist is talkative.

Expert tip

Cultivate the right tone of voice in your cover letter

In any communication with a potential employer, it is important that you try to sound like “one of them.” In mirroring the tone of their content, you are making it that bit easier for them to imagine you as an employee. If they use a fun, humorous tone, a little bit of humor in your cover letter can work in your favor. If they’re more formal in the way they talk, follow suit. Sales people do this well. Mirror them and you win.

How to write a cover letter introduction

After the salutation, the first paragraph is where the rubber hits the road. Does your cover letter introduction really deserve to be in the race for this job? Grab their attention, keep it brief and make them want to read more. 

Surprise them with an incredible achievement, include a number for maximum impact or name drop an impressive previous employer or how you won an award. Most importanyl, it needs to be relevant for the role in question. You need to make them want to read more. While your career  is far more than this one sentence, you have to create some momentum that leads to them inviting you to interview.  

The introductory paragraph of a cover letter should make your future employer want to know more. Whether you share a jaw-dropping contribution, pull back the curtain on a personal story or simply highlight your years of experience, the introductory few lines need to be show-stoppers.

1. What is your impact on the world and how has it been recognised?

“Having contributed to the design and manufacture of 35+ devices that have been used by millions of patients over the past decade, Engineering News recently voted me one of the top five mechanical engineers in the medical devices field.”

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2. Add some personal touches to explain how you make your difference

As someone whose mild dyslexia remained undiagnosed throughout their childhood, I know how it feels to struggle silently. Every child has their own issues, big or small, and my role as an elementary teaching assistant is to use my skills and empathy to smooth their progress.

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Expert tip

Is a 300-word cover letter too short? In a word, no. If you use your 300-word cover letter to add depth to your more factual resume and make a tailored case for a specific role, then 300 words is plenty. You don't need to sell your career story in detail in a 300-word cover letter - give just enough information to tempt a hiring manager to invite you to interview. Use those 300 words thoughtfully.

How to write an initial message to a hiring manager (with examples)
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How to write an initial message to a hiring manager (with examples)

A message to a hiring manager at the beginning of the hiring process could go two ways. Here is what you need to do to make sure that it secures you that crucial interview.

The middle part of a cover letter

After you have written a powerful opening introduction, you have the freedom to explore the aspects of your career story that you feel are most relevant for the role in the middle part of your cover letter (the cover letter’s middle paragraphs).

Base the middle paragraphs of your cover letter around the role requirements. Describe how hiring you would make a difference. Use examples to back up your claims and be confident in your assertions. 

These couple of paragraphs will be viewed as the central part of your application. Choose your examples and words carefully. In a cover letter for a contact tracer position, you would need to share examples of where you stuck with a difficult task until completion, with an eagle eye for detail and an unshakable belief in what you were doing.

Using bullet points in this section can create a powerful impact and it allows you to address different achievements in a short section of the page. Feel free to use bold cover letter fonts  in certain header sections to draw the eye. A page full of text is actually incredibly hard to read and process.

1. Explore your motivations for why you want the role.

My passion remains helping psychiatrically diagnosed adults to transition from long-term hospitalization and reintegrating into the community. As someone whose mother suffered with mild schizophrenia all her life, this is close to my heart.  

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2. Sow the seeds of whatever you want to discuss during a potential interview.

It is my flair in identifying flavour combinations (gained from 18 months traveling in the Far East) and my innovation that sets me apart. I would love to tell you how I cook my Korean-Mexican inspired Galbi.

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3. Write from the perspective of what the employer actually needs.

Amongst other challenges, you expect your interns to analyse press coverage, manage your clients’ social media campaigns and write compelling press releases. You need them to possess a sharp analytical mind, a savvy approach to maximising social reach and a spellbinding way with words.

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Expert tip

Offer solutions to employer pain points

You are being hired to solve a problem. Maybe a number of problems. Show in your cover letter that you understand the issues at stake. Talk about how you will make the difference, preferably right in the middle paragraphs of your application letter. Do your research. Develop an opinion about what you might change. Show why you are the best person for the job.

How to write accomplishments in a cover letter

A cover letter should not be a list of previous responsibilities or duties. It should be all about the achievements and how you made them happen. How to write accomplishments in a cover letter is a conundrum that has stumped many a job seeker. With the help of some sound advice and a few suitable action verbs, we are sure that you will smash it.

  • How can you prove that you can hit the KPIs of your future role?
  • Which stories do you want to tell in more detail at the interview?
  • What tasks did you take on and how did the outcomes benefit your company?
  • What different sorts of accomplishments might you be able to share?
  • How to write a cover letter with powerful action verbs.
  • What about the timescale and context of your accomplishments?
Expert tip

A cover letter accomplishment typically consists of 3 parts:

  • Action verb to demonstrate my skill
  • Specific task that I completed.
  • Quantifiable outcome for my company.

Be selective. Only choose the most relevant accomplishments to share. You will be sure to be discussing them in more detail during an interview.

Choose the best action verbs for your cover letter

The best accomplishments always start with a unique action verb. We selected 300+ of the most impactful across 15 different categories to help you choose the best action verbs  for your cover letter.

  • Elevate your accomplishments when you use evocative vocabulary
  • Avoid cliched or passive language will set your cover letter apart
  • Use “better” but similar verbs to those in the job description

15 categories such as teamwork, communication, achievement and creativity can be found in our extensive blog on the subject. With 20 bespoke action verbs per category and real examples to demonstrate their impact. What are the best action verbs for a cover letter for a contract tracer position? Identified, chased, reached, persevered.

What is a cover letter?
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What is a cover letter? What should it cover? How can a page of writing make an incremental difference to the chances of securing an interview?

Make the most of cover letter bullet points

The cover letter bullet point is an incredibly powerful literary device in any piece of persuasive sales text. When you are selling your achievements to a potential employer (when space is at a premium), there is no better way to bring across the quantifiable aspects of your application when considering how to write a cover letter.

When a hiring manager sees bullet points on a cover letter, they expect to read impressive numbers and percentages. It might arguably be the part of the  letter  that sticks in their mind the longest. Here are some examples:

  • On shelf availability averaged 99.2% and shrinkage kept under 0.5% (1% target).
  • Created award-winning cloud invoicing and activity tracking system for 800+ temps.
  • Lead analyst on $850m M&A of US/Saudi natural resources acquisition.
  • Annual sales uplift of 120%, driven by a + 50% customer increase and +30% ATV.
Blog - How to Write a Cover Letter Expert Guide 2022 - Examples impressive bullet points
Blog - How to Write a Cover Letter Expert Guide 2022 - Examples impressive bullet points

After reading your bullet points, the employer should be nodding inwardly and imagining what you might be able to achieve with them. If they are not exciting, they should not be there.

Expert tip

Quantify with numbers and offer a context

There is nothing more impactful than backing up your claims with quantifiable data and numbers, but there is another important consideration here. When you are sharing numbers, it is crucial to give some context.

$1.2m might sound impressive to one company but paltry to another. Share the numbers; but offer a context where possible. On an obvious note, only share where you made a material difference to the result.

How to end a cover letter

The conclusion of your cover letter is your call to action. Rather than limp to an uninspiring finish, it is vital that you put as much thought into  how to end a cover letter  as you do into the introduction and the middle part.

  • There are multiple sentiments on which you may wish to end.
  • It is important to get the tone right to finish on the right note.
  • How do you want the hiring manager to feel after the cover letter ending?
  • There is no shame in saying that you are looking forward to an interview.
  • What can I use instead of “sincerely” or “best regards”?
1. Make sure that the characteristics fit the role that you will be doing

I am a committed team player, a meticulous planner and detail freak. I cringe at the possibility of committing an error.

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2. Paint a picture of what it is like to work with you

When I create a physical therapy care plan with a player, I make sure that it is comprehensively tailored towards their needs. You cannot do this without an intensely personal and compassionate approach and as such I still feel a part of the wider team. It is like being back on the field again.

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The middle part of the cover letter has laid out the persuasive arguments and the bullets have outlined the undeniably impressive facts. The conclusion offers a final opportunity to describe some of your more personal characteristics. 

Expert tip

How to write a cover letter for an internship. There are various specific situations in which a cover letter assumes particular importance. Explaining personal motivations is difficult within the format of a resume, so for career changers and interns, a cover letter is a critical tool. Use the internship cover letter to outline why you are interested in the role and where it fits into your future career plan. Showcase your transferrable skills and share what you would like to learn from the experience. A motivated intern is a productive intern.

Call-to-action in a cover letter

The whole point of a resume and a cover letter (and going through the rigors of the application process) is that you think you would be able to do a great job. 

Any cover letter that ends with a “What do you think? Am I any good?” tone would be viewed with suspicion. Be confident in your application. 

1. Remind them why you want to work there (again).

Your organization is a beacon for social care in the city and I would love the opportunity of an interview to find out how I might play a part in your incredible impact.

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2. Insider connections can form a bridge to a potential meeting.

I became aware of the role from your department manager Joanne Grey, who is a personal friend, so I have an insider understanding of your culture and would love the opportunity of an interview to discuss how I might fit in.

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3. Use the interview call-to-action as one last chance to sell your attitude.

You can’t be a programmer without being a player – you have to know what fun feels like. If you need a gameplay programmer who combines a mathematical mind with a limitless imagination, I would love the chance of an interview to discuss how I can contribute.

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Mistakes to avoid for great cover letter writing 

Sometimes, what you don’t do is as powerful as what you do. When it comes to cover letters, there are definitely a few things to steer clear of if you want to get a new job that's worth the effort.

1. Typos  

Basic grammar mistakes such as typos are cited among the top reasons candidates are rejected. Imagine that your application is neck and neck with three others going into the final interview stage. Sadly, the potential employers have noticed the various spelling and grammatical errors and reject you because of your lack of care.   

This happens more than you can imagine, based on our recruitment experience. If you cannot take the time to check your application, what does that say about your attention to detail?

Print out your cover letter and read it aloud. Double-check and triple-check the spelling, get a friend to proofread it. Alternatively, use a cover letter builder that has a built-in spell-check function.  

2. Formatting errors

This is an aspect of job search that is often forgotten. Just because you can read your resume on your device, it doesn’t mean that it will look exactly the same for the various recipients. Some applications will require a PDF and some will ask for a Word document. Typically PDF is the safest variant and using a proven template will show you exactly how a reader will view your application. 

Avoid large blocks of text where possible. They are hard to digest when on a screen. Keep sentences short and limit paragraphs to three or four sentences. If you please the eyes first, it will make it easier to engage the brain. 

Our  resume templates  allow candidates to match their cover letter designs to their resume templates. Adding a professional sheen to your application couldn’t be easier.

3. Generic copy and paste

Everyone wants to feel that they are special. Imagine that you receive a love letter but get the sense that the same words had been written to dozens of people before. That would make anyone feel unloved, for sure. 

The generic “I am writing to apply for the role of X at company X” is just one example. Copy/paste language that should be avoided like the plague. Tailor your language for each application.

4. Too much personal information

When we suggest  personalising the cover letter , we mean to make it a personal application for a specific role. We don’t mean that you should spill the beans on your personal life. By law, there is no requirement to share detail on race, age or marital status (at least in North America). Leave those aspects until a later stage. You should not and hopefully will not be judged on such matters. 

Also, much as they might be delighted to hear about your Pokemon collection, love of Jeff Goldblum or the dietary requirements of your cats, you can leave the personal details to the very latest stages of the interview process. You have to impress them enough before you can try to bond on that personal level.

5. Too many words

According to a survey by Saddleback College, almost 70% of employers want a cover letter to be less than one page. 24% say the shorter, the better.

As a general rule, your cover letter should be 200-400 words or about four to five short paragraphs long, on a single page. In an emailed version, where you might be able to include links to a portfolio or website, it could be shorter. 

In our experience, three-quarters or a page offers ample “ white space ” to give the reader time to pause and think about what they have read.

Blog - How to Write a Cover Letter Expert Guide 2022 - Common mistakes cover letter
Blog - How to Write a Cover Letter Expert Guide 2022 - Common mistakes cover letter
Expert tip

The role of visual design in a cover letter

Humans are visual creatures. While  choosing the right font  is the first step, symmetry, white space and aesthetics matter to us all. That’s why one of the key features that Resume.io offers (besides an amazingly easy-to-use online builder tool) are professionally designed and recruiter-approved cover letter templates. They are 100% free, as well!

Our cover letter template collection is divided into categories based on style and nature of your job: Creative , Modern , Professional and Simple (classics / basics). Since all our templates are all made by professional designers, you can actually match the style of your resume to your cover letter!

Cover letter tips: 20 ways to make yours work
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Cover letters are a critical part of the job application process, and yet many struggle with how to write them. The cover letter writing tips in this guide will help you move beyond amateur errors and into the realm of a job-winning professional.

3 industry-specific cover letter examples (and why they are effective)

Sometimes you just need to read some industry-specific cover letter examples to understand what you like (and what you don’t). These examples are taken from our  75+ cover letter examples  , and we have offered a few thoughts for each one as to why we think that they are effective:

INDUSTRY COVER LETTER EXAMPLE: MARKETING MANAGER

“In the Marketing Manager role at Chewy, you will need someone who has experience of delivering monthly new ranges with engaging comms and viral marketing, someone who can write articles to rank at the very top of the Google listings and who can help pet parents to realize their dreams of making their little darling’s life that little bit more pleasant.”

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What we like about this example: In any cover letter, it is important to write it with the employer’s needs in mind. If you demonstrate an understanding of their pain points, you elevate yourself above the typical “this is what I have done, what do you think?” approach of most job seekers. However, any marketing letter needs to go one step further. Consider the needs of the employer’s clients and customers. That will get the employer imagining you in the role before you even walk into the interview.

INDUSTRY COVER LETTER SAMPLE: RETAIL MANAGER

“Both expectant and experienced parents alike tend to stop for that little bit longer in the baby section of RetailMart. 34% longer, according to the research. Analysing customer flow patterns and product sales data, I estimate that over the past thirteen years, I have helped over half a million of them make the best decisions for their little people. That is a lot of baby chat. At an average of 16% YOY sales growth.”

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What we like about this example: Retail is detail. Any retail cover letter should show a grasp of the numbers as that is the only way that you are going to quantify how you are serving your customers. Percentage sales growth is typically a more effective approach than simple numbers as the turnover of any business can vary significantly. This extract explores the impressive detail of this employee’s impact on his customers over thirteen years. These “wow” moments can make all the difference to get you on that interview list.

INDUSTRY APPLICATION LETTER EXAMPLE: CONTRACT TRACER POSITION

“I have been involved in many voluntary activities throughout the duration of my medical career, and while I am on parental leave from my nursing role I would like to apply for the part-time contact tracer position. I have been personally affected by the pandemic and I hope to do my part before I am due to go back to work next year. Contact tracing is a critical part of the prevention strategy and I have the determination to make my difference."

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What we like about this example: A cover letter that comes from the heart is a piece of writing that will be hard to resist. It is important to show that you are suited to the role as well as explaining your motivations. When the job in question is relatively simple it comes down to desire and drive. So many cover letters for contract tracer positions will have been written over the past few years and many people will have grown  a great deal from the experience.

Key Takeaways

Everyone knows that a job search can be a long and mentally draining process. It is well worth finding some hidden reserves to compose the best possible cover letters.

Too many people fall into the trap of thinking that a generic cover letter will be fine and that you will have a chance to tell your story at the interview. 

If you take this approach and your competition ace their cover letters, there may not even be an interview to attend….

Writing an amazing cover letter is an opportunity that is too good to miss. Dedicate yourself to coming up with something truly compelling. Use one of our cover letter templates to make it look visually stunning.

What are you waiting for? Get your dream job now! Start building your own cover letter.

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