What to Include in Your Cover Letter
A cover letter is nearly always a required element of a job application. It’s your first chance to introduce and sell yourself to the company. As for what to include in a cover letter, the “greatest hits” from your resume are a start but you won’t want to limit yourself to only that.
To give yourself the best chance of getting an interview, here’s what to include in a cover letter that shines.
How to Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out
If you remember only one thing about what to include in a cover letter, make it this: every cover letter (and resume!) you send out should be customized to the specific job. Fortunately, you don’t have to create a fresh cover letter every time you want to apply.
Create a cover letter template that you can use as a “skeleton” that includes the below elements. Then, every time you apply for a new role, customize the cover letter with job-specific information.
Who Are You?
The very top of the cover letter often includes a header section with your contact information. This consists of your name, your location (street address, but just your town is acceptable, too), phone number, and email address. If you have any social media you think could be relevant, include those handles.
Company Contact Information
Under the header, you should include the date you are sending the cover letter, then the company information. This is formatted the same way you might address a snail mail letter. It looks like this:
- Contact Name
- Company Name
- Street Address
- City, State Zip Code
If you can’t find a contact name, you can leave that part blank and just start with the company name.
Next up is the salutation. Start with “Dear.” What comes next depends on your situation.
If you know who the person is because their name is in the posting, use it and include a formal title when you can: Dear Mr. Doe, Dear Ms. Doe. If there is no contact name included in the job posting, try to do some internet sleuthing to see if you can figure it out.
But, when you can’t find the information or just aren’t sure, “Hiring Manager” is a safe alternative.
Define Your Purpose
The hiring manager will, of course, understand that you’re applying for a job. However, you still need to describe your purpose for writing. Explain what position you’re applying for and consider including how you found out about the job—particularly if a current employee referred you.
You can also take the opportunity to explain why you’re applying for this role at this company. Are you excited about the role? Do you think your skills will be an asset to the company? Here are some examples:
As a dedicated customer service leader, I am extremely excited to submit my application for the Evening Customer Service Supervisor position available with (Company Name). One of the most important factors in attracting and retaining customers is the development of high-performing customer service and call center teams. And that’s exactly what I hope to develop and lead at (Company Name).
I am writing to request consideration for the role of Vice President of Operations with (Company Name). The described challenges and opportunities with the position really resonated with me on both a personal and professional level. As someone who needed assistance about 15 years ago, I have profound empathy with those who are seeking similar services, and that has driven my passion to empower organizations that empower individuals to make their lives better.
The Main Event
Next up is the body. This is the “meat” of your cover letter, and it’s where you’re going to explain why you’re the perfect person for the role.
A cover letter is generally short, consisting of no more than one page (usually). And the body is usually two to three paragraphs. Four is fine, but if you find you’re going past four, you might consider deleting some information.
To keep your cover letter focused while demonstrating why you’re the best person for the role, try using the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result, and while it’s most commonly used during an interview, it works equally as well on a cover letter.
In brief, you describe a situation you faced, the task or tasks you were responsible for, the actions you took, and the results of your actions.
Here’s an example of what the STAR method could look like in a cover letter:
I have over 15 years of experience in banking and financial services operations in progressive management roles and would be honored to create significant results in this position, such as these:
- Earned or saved employers $40M in new client business and/or reduced operating costs.
- Navigated complicated international tax, regulatory, and legal frameworks to create a brand-new global securities lending product that grew its loans by $19M in the first two years.
- Empowered lean teams to do our best work by refining processes, monitoring performance indicators, and developing relationships that created a climate of confidence and continuous improvement.
Let’s break this down a little further and see how the applicant applied the STAR method to the second bullet point.
- Situation: Faced complicated tax, regulatory, and legal frameworks
- Action: Navigated said frameworks
- Task: Created a new lending product
- Result: Grew loans by $19M in the first two years
The final paragraph is your closing. Summarize why you think your skills make you perfect for the role. Express that you’re excited and look forward to speaking with them. Let the hiring manager know they can contact you if there are questions and reiterate how they can get in touch with you (via email, phone, etc.).
Lastly, you’ll need to sign your cover letter. Stick with something formal like “Sincerely” or “Yours truly.” These are classic and safe bets for cover letters. Try to avoid things like “Warmly” or “Cheers” as they may be a little too informal or casual for a job application.
The cover letter is your best chance to explain who you are and why the company should hire you. To help your cover letter shine, here are a few extra tips for what to include in a cover letter.
How You Can Help Them
The cover letter is, of course, all about you! It’s your time to talk up the unique combination of skills and experiences that make you a fantastic employee. However, if you include what you can do for a company in your cover letter—instead of only talking about yourself—your application is bound to stand out from the rest.
For example, you could mention your passion for accounting and how much you love balancing books and creating spreadsheets. But, if you explain how that passion will benefit the employer, they’re more likely to take notice of your application.
Here’s one idea:
To be clear, I am not seeking another “job,” I am seeking an opportunity that will allow me to combine my passion for the remote operations space with my deep operations experience in leading, growing, and mentoring high-performing operational teams.
Knowing the overarching goals of the organization, as well as its values and culture, I’m confident I have the skills you seek in policy creation, process improvement, metrics defining and tracking, risk monitoring and management, and vendor contract management.
One often overlooked item to include in a cover letter is keywords. Keywords are the words or phrases that are often repeated in a job posting, and they are the words that are likely most important to the employer.
As you read through the job posting, make a note of the words or phrases that you see used the most. If it’s related to the specific duties of the position, you’ve probably identified a keyword and should include it in your cover letter.
For example, if you see the word “customer” used frequently in the posting, you should use the word “customer” instead of “client” in your cover letter, even if you’ve always used client.
However, don’t “stuff” your cover letter with keywords. Sprinkle them in naturally instead of forcing them.
Make It Shine
The cover letter is your chance to get the hiring manager to notice you. And though there are no guarantees, including the above items will improve the chances that your application moves straight into the “schedule an interview” pile.
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By Rachel Pelta | January 15, 2021 | Categories: Work Remotely