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Written by Karl KahlerKarl Kahler

How to write a cover letter

13 min read
How to write a cover letter
An effective cover letter acts as a complement to your CV by adding some much-needed personality, highlighting your fit within the specific role, and setting the tone for your interview.

When you have only a single page to make your job search case, it is well worth pausing for thought when you write your cover letter. You have an opportunity to connect with your future boss, but what do you want to say to them?

This guide will look at the strategies of writing a cover letter to guarantee you that interview invite. Here is what we will consider in this cover letter guide:

  • Making the most of the cover letter format
  • Options for how to start a cover letter
  • Creating compelling arguments in the middle of the cover letter
  • Writing accomplishments that a hiring manager will remember
  • How to end a cover letter on a positive note
Expert tip

For occupation-specific advice, check out our 125+ free cover letter examples , complete with writing and formatting tips for job seekers in every field and at every level of experience.

How to start a cover letter

As with any communication, it is important to set the tone from the beginning. The start of a cover letter contains three main elements: the header, the greeting and the introductory paragraph. Each has their own purpose, so we’ll answer the follow questions below:

  • What do I put in the cover letter header?
  • What should I consider when writing the greeting?
  • How do I compose a compelling introduction?
  • How do I ensure it is relevant for the job description?

Don’t neglect the cover letter header

The cover letter header section is the most functional, but also the most essential. You might think that it is enough to include your email, mobile number and social media details on your CV, but what if the hiring manager does not have your CV immediately to hand. Why wouldn’t you want to give them the option of emailing to invite you to an interview you then and there?

The cover letter header also serves as some empty “white” space to give the reader a fraction of a second to focus their concentration on the vital task of taking in your first words.

If you are sending your cover letter via email or uploading it to a job board, the contact info can always be included after the sign-off at the end.

How to write a cover letter greeting

Equally, the cover letter greeting is something that will only stand out if you get it wrong. Double checking the recipient’s name is not hard to do and if you do not know to whom the letter should be addressed, it isn’t the worst excuse to phone the company and politely enquire. You may wish to ask any other questions when you are on the phone – receptionists can be very helpful if you ask nicely.

Most cover letters should start with a version of “Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms (etc) Surname” and if you genuinely do not know the recipient, then “Dear X Team works too. Whatever you do, avoid the “To Whom It May Concern” variant. You might think that it sounds professional, but it is seen as being cold and impersonal. Not how you would want to start important job search correspondence.

Expert tip

Mirror the corporate tone of voice

People buy from other people that they like, and one way of getting someone to like you is to sound like them. When making the ultimate “purchase” decision of hiring a new employee, if they sound like they belong it will make a huge difference. Mirror the language and tone of any corporate writing that you can find. It could make all the difference and will show that you are ready to fit in.

How to write a cover letter introduction

Now, if you only have two sentences to persuade this particular employer to invite you to an interview, what would you tell them? You had better make sure that you share parts of your story that are relevant for the role and quantify your achievements so that you don’t sound like you are simply parroting the job description. 

Employers know what you will have to do, but they need to know exactly how you can back up your claims that you can do it. The cover letter introduction needs to hook them in with enough conviction that they want to read further. In actual fact, the whole cover letter is one big personal sales pitch. You have to keep their interest from those first few short lines.

You might want to consider one of the following approaches:

1. How have you made a unique difference in your professional sphere?

Example

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. Personal touches add extra depth to your motivations.

Example

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

Explain your “why” when writing your cover letter.

Motivation is a key consideration for any hiring manager, so if your “why” matches up with the demands of the role, that interview invite gets a little bit closer. Speak directly to the hiring manager – tell them why this is the job for you. 

The middle part (body) of a cover letter

The middle part of a cover letter is big enough for a candidate to expand on whatever they deem relevant. It is generally best practice not to repeat what is in the CV, instead focusing on the fit with the role and starting to tell the specific stories that they may wish to tell at interview.

A cover letter will contain numerous beginnings of job search conversations, so the body paragraphs and sentences do not have to fit into one continuous narrative. Talk about those things that are most likely to get you that interview and use examples to back up your claims. Create a sense of curiosity, use bullet points and fonts to make your accomplishments stand out and don’t be shy in selling yourself.

Here are a few ideas for the middle part of your cover letter

1. Go deeper into why the role is a great fit.

Example

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. Start a conversation and leave the rest for the interview.

Example

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. Show that you understand the employer’s needs.

Example

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

Bring up the pain points that you can solve.

You will be employed for certain reasons, so it is only natural to bring up some of these reasons in your cover letter. Demonstrate that you understand the issues at stake and show that you are uniquely placed to turn them into wins. 

How to write achievements in a cover letter

The worst thing that you can do in a cover letter is to copy the job description. Your employer wants to know what you are capable of, so it is important that your achievements pack a punch. With the help of a basic structure and a few action verbs, these are the sorts of things that you might consider:

  • Which achievements do you wish to expand upon at an interview?
  • What tasks were your responsibility and what were the outcomes?
  • How do you pick suitable action verbs to illustrate your accomplishments?
  • Add both timescale and context to each accomplishment.
Expert tip

An achievement in a cover letter typically consists of 3 parts:

  • Action verb to demonstrate my skill
  • Specific task that I completed.
  • Quantifiable outcome for my company.
How to write a cover letter with no experience (with examples)
Related article
How to write a cover letter with no experience (with examples)

If you’re struggling to write a cover letter with no experience to show, never fear! This blog will help you create a compelling argument for your employment no matter your background.

How to end a cover letter

Any sales pitch should end on a positive note that makes the reader want to find out more. This call to action at the end of a cover letter is vital, so the ending to a cover letter can make all the difference. Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • There are multiple ways in which you might wish to end the letter.
  • Strike a balance between hopefulness and excitement.
  • How do you want to make your future boss feel as they finish reading?
  • Let them know that you are looking forward to meeting for an interview.
  • What valediction do you opt for – sincerely or best regards?

1. Make one last play for the role with some personal characteristics.

Example

I am a committed team player, a meticulous planner with an eye for details. I go to great lengths to avoid errors in my work.

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2. Describe what it is like to work with you.

Example

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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Call-to-action in a cover letter

Once you have completed your CV and cover letter , the final call to action for an interview should come as no surprise. You have set out your suitability for the role, so it is only natural to be keen to make the next step as a matter of urgency. You expect to be in demand, after all. Be confident in your application.

1. Remind them about your motivation.

Example

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. Let them know about your personal contacts with the company.

Example

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. The call to action is one last chance to sell your “why.”

Example

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.

Copied!

Key Takeaways

  • Tailoring your cover letter to each specific position will give you a big edge on candidates who submit the same, generic copy to many jobs.
  • Your cover letter should play up your strengths, but also offer a look into your personality and human side. This is the place to make yourself stand out as a person, not just a profile.
  • Start and end strong. Some energy, an anecdote or mentioning a connection to the company can help you set yourself apart from other applicants.
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