It’s a good time to be a job seeker: U.S. job growth is strong, unemployment is on a steady decline, and openings are at an all-time high.
That doesn’t make the search any less daunting. Differentiating yourself from every other job seeker on the market is no small feat, and the monotony of filling out online applications can make the task downright exhausting. That’s where a killer cover letter comes in.
Done right, a great cover letter is like a secret weapon for catching a hiring manager’s attention. Next to your resume, it’s one of the most important, underutilized tools at your disposal.
Here are some cover letter writing tips, and a free, downloadable template, to make yours stand out.
Every cover letter you write should be tailored to the job you’re applying for — just like your resume. Study the job posting carefully, and make a quick list of any essential qualifications.
“Job seekers really struggle with what to say on a cover letter,” says Jessica Holbrook Hernandez, President and CEO of Great Resumes Fast. “Taking a second to think about why you’re applying, and why you’re a good fit for the company, makes the process a lot easier.”
If you’re adding a cover letter to an online application, use a business letter format with a header and contact information. If you’re sending an email, it’s OK to leave out the header, but be sure to provide a phone number (and an attached resume, of course). Make sure you’re clear about the position you’re applying for.
Avoid nameless salutations — it might take a little Google research, and some LinkedIn outreach, but finding the actual name of the position’s hiring manager will score you major brownie points. “Do not start a cover letter with, ‘to whom it may concern,’” Holbrook Hernandez says. “It concerns no one.”
2. Tell a Story
To grab a recruiter’s attention, a good narrative—with a killer opening line—is everything.
“The cover letter is a story,” says Satjot Sawhney, a resume and career strategist with Loft Resumes. “What is the most interesting thing you’re doing that’s relevant to this job?” Use that to guide your letter.
Ideally, the story that drives your resume will focus on a need at the company you’re applying for. If you’re a PR professional, maybe you have a list of clients in an industry the team wants to break into. If you’re in marketing, a successful promotional campaign might be the ticket in. “A hiring manager wants to see results-driven accomplishments with a past employer,” says Holbrook Hernandez. “If you’ve done it before, you can deliver it again.”
If you have a career gap or are switching industries, address it upfront. “If there’s anything unique in your career history, call that out in the beginning,” says professional resume writer Brooke Shipbaugh.
(Here’s a downloadable sample.)
3. Use Bullet Points to Show Impact
Hiring managers are usually slammed with applications, so short, quick cover letters are preferable to bloated ones, says Paul Wolfe, Senior Vice President of human resources at job site Indeed.
“Make your cover letter a brief, bright reference tool,” he says. “The easier you can make it on the recruiter the better.”
Bullet points are a good tool for pulling out numbers-driven results. Job seekers in creative fields like art and design can use bullets to break down their most successful project. Those in more traditional roles (like the one in the template), can hammer off two or three of their most impressive accomplishments.
4. Highlight Culture Fit
It’s often overlooked, but a major function of the cover letter is to show a company how well you’d mesh with the culture.
As you research a potential employer, look for culture cues on the company website, social media, and review sites like Glassdoor. Oftentimes, employers will nod to culture in a job posting. If the ad mentions a “team environment,” it might be good to play up a recent, successful collaboration. If the company wants a “self-starter,” consider including an achievement that proves you don’t need to be micromanaged.
The tone of your letter can also play to culture. “The cover letter is a great place to show [an employer] how you fit into their world,” Shipbaugh says. “Show some personality.”
5. End with an Ask
The goal of a cover letter is to convince the person reading it to make the next move in the hiring process — with a phone call, interview, or otherwise. Ending on a question opens that door without groveling for it.
“You have to approach this with a non-beggar mentality,” Sawhney says. “Having an ‘ask’ levels the playing field.”
Related: What Your Resume Should Look Like in 2018
Look through these sample cover letters to get an idea of what to include in your letter. Do not copy them directly!
The most important quality you can convey in your cover letter is enthusiasm, and this must be done in your own style.
Read our tips for writing a great cover letter. We suggest that you write the ﬁrst draft of your letter without using a sample to guide you. Once you’ve created your ﬁrst letter, those that follow will be much easier.
Sample Cover Letters
1 Lerner Hall 114th Broadway New York, NY 10027 | email@example.com | (212) 555-0000
February 5, 2017
CNN International Asia Paciﬁc 30/F
Oxford House, Taikoo Place
979 King’s Road
Quarry Bay, Hong Kong
Dear Ms. Chan,
I am writing to express my interest in your editorial internship as part of the Columbia Experience Overseas Hong Kong. I have a great interest in media production and journalism and am eager to explore these ﬁelds in one of the world’s fastest-growing markets. This summer I will be a rising sophomore at Columbia University studying psychology with a special concentration in sustainable development. I am excited to apply the cultural awareness and critical thinking skills gained from my coursework, as well as my creative and teamwork skills honed in my on-campus work experience and as a student-athlete, to this position.
For the past year, I have worked with the Columbia Video Network to develop online content for the Columbia University School of Engineering. My colleagues and I record classes and produce content that students living outside of the United States can rely on for their learning. In addition, I played a vital role managing our social media presence via Facebook and Twitter. My goal was to increase the network’s online exposure by sharing photos from our production room, writing posts about advancements in technology, and sharing engineering-related news and content that would be of interest to our students and followers. Through this work, I was able to acquire familiarity with media outlets and increase engagement with potential students.
Moreover, as a current Division I student-athlete, I have learned and mastered balancing both a demanding schedule and a fast-paced environment; characteristics I readily expect from CNN. Perseverance, mental stamina and time management, are but a few of the skills I’ve developed in my athletic career. I have also learned how to be an eﬀective communicator and leader as a liaison between my teammates and coaching staﬀ.
The chance to contribute to CNN as an editorial intern is very exciting and it would be an honor if chosen. I am passionate about visual media production and the ways in which we use technology as a tool for the transmission of knowledge. I look forward to the opportunity to learn about news production and grow as a journalist and creative thinker. Thank you for your time and consideration.
1234 Jones Way
Los Angeles, CA 93510
July 23, 2016
Running Specialty Group
The Gart Companies
299 Milwaukee St., Suite 500
Denver, CO 80206
Dear Hiring Manager:
If I were a running shoe, I’d be the Nike LunarGlide+ 4. This lightweight and supportive model is dynamic, low-proﬁle, and ready to race. It would provide a great ﬁt for the position of Associate Content Producer as posted on Mediabistro.com. As a journalist wielding a master’s degree and experience in the running industry, I ﬁt the position requirements and possess the skills necessary to help enhance the Run.com site. Sure, I love to run, but my knack for producing quality content supersedes my talent (not to mention my VO2 max).
As a senior editor, copy editor, and editorial intern, I’ve honed my writing and editing skills. I’ve produced compelling digital and print content for multiple platforms, from tablet magazines and social media to glossy print pages and online news sites. I’ve written about The Runner’s Center topics—training, racing, injury prevention, nutrition, weight loss, and inspiration. Peers and bosses alike come to me for proofreads, fact checks, top edits, and big-picture meetings. One of my editors recently called my reporting “meticulous.”
As a marketing and sales rep, project director, and coach, I’ve developed interpersonal skills that enable me to interact professionally and eﬀectively with superiors, freelancers, and interns alike. I’ve gained exceptional organizational skills while managing multiple deadlines. My competitive work ethic and trainable nature would support your daily sales and merchandising goals. Available to travel and work ﬂexible hours, I am willing and able to help the Director of Content and Community and RSG team successfully grow Run.com.
Please consider this letter and my attached resume. I would be delighted to discuss this opportunity at your convenience. Thank you for your time and consideration.
111 Lerner Hall 2920 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
March 11, 2016
51 Madison Ave #19
New York, NY 10010
Dear Mr. Winchester,
I am writing to express my interest in the Energy Analyst internship at Thornton Tomasetti. I initially learned about the position by speaking with Charlotte Greene at Columbia University’s Sustainability Career Fair. I am a senior at Columbia majoring in Mechanical Engineering and believe that my passions for helping the environment and engaging in complex engineering problems would make me an asset to your team.
My extracurricular and work experiences have helped me develop the strong critical thinking and interpersonal skills required of an engineer. As a summer intern at ERS, I pinpointed cost eﬀective retroﬁt measures on a very limited budget and manpower. While working on our heat load models, I realized that improving the insulation of a building could result in greater savings than the team’s HVAC focus. With approval from my boss, I was able to take initiative and create a new framework to implement insulation and envelope repairs. Using this idea, we discovered that one of our schools could save over $30,000 a year on electricity through insulation upgrades.
Currently, I am lead a project for the Columbia Formula SAE team aimed at wiring our car with sensors to increase speed and validate load predictions. This skillset will be extremely relevant to the energy eﬃciency industry as more sensors exist in buildings and retroﬁt projects need to be validated. Complementing this project experience is my current coursework, which focuses on statistical programming for modeling environmental problems. The goal for one of my ﬁnal projects is to use machine learning to predict which roofs in New York City need insulation.
I believe at Thornton Tomasetti I can showcase my understanding of mechanical engineering principles and data analysis while also learning from the team that delivers the best in energy eﬃciency services. I appreciate your consideration and look forward to hearing from you soon.