A cover letter literally “covers” your résumé or CV: it’s your opportunity to say why you want the job and to present yourself as a candidate in a way that impresses a prospective employer and makes you stand out as a prospective employee. Employers may receive hundreds of applications for a job, so make sure your cover letter creates the right impression.
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Example cover letters
Speculative job applications
Letters requesting an informational interview
- Tailor your letter to the requirements of the job. Read the job posting carefully.
- Research the organization. This will show prospective employers that you really are interested.
- Keep it brief. Your goal is a clear and concise explanation of your suitability for the job. Your résumé is the place for more details.
- Use keywords. Make sure the same keywords you used to describe your skills and experience on your résumé are also present in your cover letter.
- If you know who you’re writing to, use that name, exactly as it appears in the job posting. If no name is provided, write Dear Hiring Manager.
Read more top tips for cover letter writing.
Use formal letter format for a letter you’re mailing or handing to someone in person. If you’re emailing your cover letter, omit both your own return address and the address of the company. Application instructions may tell you what to put in your subject line. If not, make sure to include the job title and one or more keywords, if you have room.
Your first paragraph should open with a clear statement of the job you’re applying for, by title and reference code if one is provided.
- State where you saw the job posting or how you heard about it.
- If you heard about it through someone who already works for the company or someone known to the company, mention that person by name and position.
Your second paragraph should briefly outline your current situation.
- Mention your current job, if you have one, and any previous jobs that are relevant to the position you’re applying for.
- Pick up on the job requirements stated in the posting and focus on any of your current skills or responsibilities that correspond to those requested. For example, if the job description says that management skills are essential, briefly state any management experience you have.
- If you’re still studying, focus on the relevant aspects or modules of your courses.
Your third paragraph explains why you want the job and why you’re the right person for it.
- Be clear and positive. You might state that you are ready for greater challenges, more responsibility, or a change of direction, for example.
- Outline the qualities and skills that you believe you can bring to the job or organization, making sure they match the job posting.
- If you are still in school or have very little experience, paragraphs 2 and 3 can be combined.
Your final paragraph should let your readers know:
- When you’re available for an interview
- How to reach you (include email address and phone number, even though it’s also on your résumé)
- Whether you’ll follow up and when, or that you look forward to hearing from them. Some postings will specify “no phone calls”; be sure to respect these instructions.
Always thank the recruiter or employer for their time or for consideration.
Example cover letters
Here are three examples of job application cover letters:
To view their corresponding résumés, visit Writing a résumé.
Speculative job applications
If you know that you want to work for a particular company or organization but they don’t have any openings, consider submitting a speculative application. This should consist of your résumé, tailored to the type of job you’re interested in, together with a cover letter of application.
- Keep your letter short and positive; say why you are particularly interested in working for the organization in question and outline what skills, qualifications, and personal qualities you have to offer.
- If possible, address your cover letter to the person in the organization who is charge of recruiting new staff. You can find this out by consulting the organization’s website, by phoning, conducting online research elsewhere, if the website doesn’t provide the information you’re looking for.
Here’s an example of a speculative job application letter (pdf).
Letters requesting an informative interview
Another valuable job-hunting technique is to request an informational interview. Here, you’re asking to speak with someone in an organization you’re interested in, so your letter will be similar to the one you’d write for a speculative application. The main differences would be:
- In your first paragraph you’ll request an informational interview to learn more about this company in particular and the field in general. You might write something like I’d welcome the opportunity for an informational interview at your convenience.
- You’ll only have one body paragraph, outlining your qualifications for and interest in working in this field.
- In your final paragraph, you’ll offer to follow up to try to arrange a convenient time to meet or speak.
Back to Applying for a job.
You may also be interested in:
Writing a résumé
Writing an impressive job application
See more from Job applications
Cover letters are your first chance to get noticed. Make sure yours is tailored to the exact job on offer.
Plenty of recruiters and employers still do read cover letters, says Andrew Morris, director at Robert Half. But tailor it for the 21st century so that your cover letter gets noticed.
The purpose of a cover letter is to get a recruiter or employer to look at your resume, says Peter Noblet, senior regional director at Hays. But keep it simple. Less is more, especially in the era of email applications.
The purpose of a cover letter is to get a recruiter or employer to look at your resume, says Peter Noblet, senior regional director at Hays.
- Remember every cover letter is important. It’s too easy in the world we live to apply for dozens of jobs through SEEK, says Noblet. Make sure, however, that every single cover letter is individualised for the job in question. If your cover letter nails it you’re going to stand out to an employer. The process of tailoring your cover letter also makes you think about the job and if it is really the right role for you.
- Concentrate on two or three key words from the job advertisement. Make sure you match your capabilities against each word in a separate bullet point. Be succinct and give relevant examples, says Noblet. If, for example, the advertisement mentions SEO skills you could highlight this with a bullet point. Weave a variety of key SEO skills into that point such as your technical optimisation skills, social media marketing skills, link building expertise, your understanding of information architecture, and content marketing skills. But keep it brief. You just want to grab the reader’s attention for now.
- Explain why you’re interested in the job. Explain in a sentence why you want this particular job. “Pique the reader’s interest” says Noblet. Explain very specifically what it is that makes this the job for you. It may, for example, be that it will use your fabulous problem solving skills. Or it allows you to use both your creative and research skills. Tie it back to how your skills will benefit the organisation.
- Summarise with your unique selling point (USP). What’s different about you? asks Noblet. Explain why you’re the best fit for this particular role and how your USP fits. Make sure you understand what the organisation wants. If your standard USP concentrates on handling big projects single-handedly, but the job involves brainstorming with a team you might want to change the wording slightly. Or if the organisation is looking for innovators, tailor your USP in the cover letter to your innovation credentials. Every part of your cover letter needs to be tailored to the job advert.
Finally, review your cover letter and ask yourself: “would I read this person’s resume?”