How To Write a Cover Letter: Basics and Examples

How To Write a Cover Letter: Basics and Examples

Job hunting can feel arduous sometimes, don’t you think? Looking through job postings, redoing your resume, researching potential employers, upskilling, interviewing… it’s called a job search “process” for a reason!

And then there’s the cover letter—an essential but often challenging part of the job application process for many job seekers. How do you summarize your skills, experience, and personality into a winning cover letter that will convince the hiring gods managers to give your resume a second look?

It’s a skill and one you can definitely learn. The key to writing a good cover letter is to follow a format and communicate your suitability for a job convincingly and succinctly.  

What to expect from this guide:

Cover letter basics

A cover letter is a summary of your professional experience. It usually accompanies your resume and serves as an introduction to potential employers, recruiters, or hiring managers.

A great cover letter goes beyond your resume or LinkedIn profile. It highlights your career wins, showcases key accomplishments and skills, and gives employers a broader sense of your professional identity. The letters often provide insights into a job seeker’s personality, attention to detail, and, of course, workplace communication skills.

Is a cover letter always needed?

With the jury still out, knowing how to write and include a good cover letter within your job application remains an essential skill for job seekers.

How to write a cover letter

Even if you view them as a chore, many recruiters and hiring managers continue to rely on cover letters to assess job applicants. With that in mind, it’s in your best interest to learn how to put together a well-written cover letter that highlights why you’re the right person for the job.

Follow our step-by-step cover letter writing guide below to create your first draft.

Steps:

  1. Prepare to write your letter
  2. Format your cover letter
  3. ​​Craft a compelling introduction
  4. Build the body of your letter
  5. Conclude your letter
  6. Review your cover letter

1. Prepare to write your letter

Writing anything good always starts with two important steps—research and preparation. To create an impactful cover letter:

Research the company and position

  • Review the company website and use any other resources available, such as LinkedIn and social media pages, Glassdoor, and current or ex-employee experiences to get to know the company
  • Develop an understanding of their products and services. Get an idea of the company’s culture, mission, and values
  • Research any recent notable wins or milestones the company has had
  • Identify key skills and experiences required within the job description
  • Take note of the hiring manager’s name if the information is available

Prepare what you want to include

  • Make bullet points to structure your thoughts and ideas for the letter
  • Identify your own hard and soft skills, as well as strengths, as relevant to the job ad
  • List previous professional accomplishments and achievements that can highlight why you’d be a great fit for the role
  • Think about your skills and qualifications and how you’ve used them in previous roles

A generic letter that doesn’t address the specific role or the organization you’re applying to is unlikely to make a good impression. It could come across as lazy, and you’re missing out on an opportunity to demonstrate how you’re a great fit for the company.

Your research will give you essential background information to help you craft a personalized and relevant cover letter. This prep work can also steer your tone of voice in the letter and give you a better understanding of what to include and what to leave out. Don’t skip this step!

2. Format your cover letter

How you format your cover letter is almost as important as how you write it. A professional cover letter should follow a logical structure and include essential information. A standard cover letter format is made up of these essential elements:

  • Header: Follow a standard business letter format and add a header at the top of your cover letter. Include:some text
    • Your information, such as full name, address, phone number, and email address. You can choose to align this to the left or center it
    • The date
    • The recipient’s information, such as the hiring manager’s name, company name, and address, email address
  • Salutation: Greet the client manager by name, for example: “Dear Ms. Jane Smith.” If a name isn't available, feel free to simply write “Dear Hiring Manager.” Avoid:some text
    • Outdated greetings such as “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam”
    • Using a title (“Mr.” or “Ms.”) if you’re unsure of gender
    • Assuming marital status and stick with “Ms.” instead of “Mrs.” or “Miss”
    • Overly informal language like “Hi”
  • Intro: Follow the greeting with a short but strong opening paragraph highlighting your qualifications for the project.
  • Body: In the letter's main body, go into further detail about your relevant experience and qualifications. Explain how your previous accomplishments make you the ideal person to help the company achieve its goals.
  • Call to action: End with a closing paragraph that invites the client to contact you. Don’t be shy. State that you look forward to an interview.

A poorly formatted cover letter is difficult to read. Break up large chunks of text to make your cover letter easily scannable.

  • Choose a basic, simple, and professional font like Arial, Calibri, Georgia, or something similar
  • Use a 10- or 12-point font size to avoid making the recipient squint
  • Align text to the left
  • Stick with standard 1-inch margins
  • Use paragraph breaks between different sections of your letter
  • Format information in bullet points where possible
  • Keep your cover letter limited to one page (three to four paragraphs)
  • Save your cover letter as a .doc or PDF file to ensure it’s compatible with applicant tracking systems

3. Craft a compelling introduction

The first paragraph of your cover letter is your elevator pitch. Use these opening sentences to grab the reader’s attention as you clearly and succinctly tell them why you’re the best person for the job. Some tips:

  • Specify the job title you’re applying for and express your enthusiasm for the role
  • Highlight specific aspects of the job that align with your career goals, values, or areas of interest
  • Show off your research by mentioning a recent milestone, fact, or news story about the company
  • Tell a story about how your life, passions, or interests align with the job or the company
  • Showcase your achievements, years of experience, or other measurable achievements from a past role
  • Mention a referral or shared contact to establish a personal connection (if relevant)

Example of an introductory paragraph:

Dear Ms. Roy,

As a lifelong enthusiast of XYZ Company, I was thrilled to see your job ad for a Data Analyst. As a qualified accountant, I’ve spent the last six years crunching numbers (and data) at ABC Company to ensure data is well-managed and used for strategic advantage. I’ve always been “the numbers guy,” and now I’m keen to put my mathematical and analytical skills to use in a data role.

4. Build the body of your letter

The body of your cover letter should address your suitability for the role. Some tips:

  • Demonstrate your understanding of the job requirements and the company’s goals
  • Detail specific work experience and skills as relevant to your target role or industry
  • Use numbers or facts to quantify previous professional achievements and show the measurable impact of your work
  • Emphasize your transferable skills if you’re changing careers

Example of the body of a cover letter:

In my most recent role as Senior Art Teacher at Awesome High School, I developed the art curriculum for grades seven to nine in collaboration with other teachers from the art department. I designed the program to integrate feedback, student support, assessments, and course evaluations. Further, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I adapted the curriculum for a remote (online) learning environment. I’ve recently completed two instructional design courses to ensure my teaching experience aligns with instructional design best practices.

While I've enjoyed being a teacher, I’m ready to explore other career options. I love to teach and help students. However, I believe I can pursue this passion outside the classroom with an instructional design role at a company like Learning Co., which is well known for its quality training programs.

Note for career changers: If you’re applying for a job in an entirely different field or industry, you’ll need an effective cover letter that tells your story and highlights your transferable skills and work experience. Check out our Career Change Cover Letter Samples & Examples for help and inspiration.

5. Conclude your letter

A generic ending to your cover letter is a missed opportunity. End your letter with a powerful and positive conclusion. Use the concluding paragraph to summarize your overall pitch to the employer and reiterate your enthusiasm for the role.

Remind them why you're the right person for the job. Don’t be shy. Instead of leaving it up to the potential employer to invite you to an interview, consider taking the lead and suggesting it yourself.

Finally, end your letter with a professional sign-off.

  • Use: “Sincerely,” “Best (or Kind) regards,”“Thank you,” or “Thank you for your consideration”
  • Avoid: “Yours,” “Take care,” or “Cheers”

Example of a concluding paragraph and sign-off:

I believe I’m a great fit for this role. I'm confident that my marketing and lead gen expertise from previous roles will translate well to the UX developer role at your organization. I look forward to discussing my qualifications and suitability during an interview at your earliest convenience.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

6. Review your cover letter

You did it—you wrote your cover letter! But wait—don’t send it away just yet. Your letter needs a good review before going out into the world.

Take a break from the writing process and reread your letter later with fresh eyes. Proofread your letter, keeping an eye out for any typos or errors. Run the spell-check function. You can also try reading the letter out loud; this can help you catch things that you might skip over while reading on the screen.

Ask a friend or someone you trust to read through it as well. A second set of eyes can often help you catch mistakes you may have missed.

Example cover letter

Now that you’re armed with all the essential tips and formatting advice, check out our cover letter example below to help you visualize how to put it all together. We’ve also included some notes on what makes the language and cover letter format effective.

For more cover letter examples, don’t forget to check out our samples of specific cover letter tips, career change cover letter templates, and cover letter templates by career stage and role.

Cover letter example

Analysis of what makes this cover letter effective

Header and salutation

The header of this letter includes all the necessary information and follows a simple but effective business letter format.

The job applicant uses a title and last name to greet the hiring manager, which demonstrates:

  • Their attention to detail, if the name was already available in the job posting
  • They took the time to do their research and find out the name of the hiring manager

Opening paragraph

The introduction to the letter piques interest right away. The applicant shares a snippet of their unique professional experience, inviting the recipient to continue reading to learn more.

Body of the letter

The main body of this cover letter does exactly what it’s supposed to do. In two short paragraphs and a few bullet points, it highlights experience, quantifies achievements, and demonstrates the job applicant’s knowledge of the company by sharing its customer service philosophy.

Closing paragraph and sign-off

The closing paragraph is succinct but sums up the applicant’s experience and why this makes them a perfect fit. The letter then ends with a call to action, clearly establishing their interest in a video interview. Finally, the sign-off is simple, classic, and professional.

Best practices for cover letters

Cover letters are an employer’s first impression of you, so ensure you put your best foot forward. We’ve discussed the step-by-step process of how to write a cover letter above. Here are 10 best practices to keep in mind as you start writing.

  1. Personalize each cover letter for the specific job. While it’s fine to recycle some of the stronger statements from your letter, avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.  
  2. Use clear, concise language. It’s best to avoid long sentences and complicated or flowery wording.
  3. Keep it brief. Limit your cover letter to the equivalent of one page—sometimes less. Aim for no more than 200 to 300 words.
  4. Stay away from buzzwords. Generic buzzwords and phrases like people person, team player, loyal, dedicated, or motivated can be seen as empty. Instead, focus on using action verbs and job-relevant keywords and phrases to showcase your skills and expertise.
  5. Provide evidence of your successes. Use relevant examples, metrics, or awards to paint a picture of your qualifications for the role.
  6. Don’t repeat your resume. Pick points from your resume to explain how your experiences and qualifications make you the right choice for the role.
  7. Follow the instructions in the job posting. If you’re asked to answer specific questions or include a keyword in your reply, make sure you do it! Or, if the ad requests your resume and cover letter in a particular format, ensure your files are in order.
  8. Tell your professional story. Talk about your passion, career choices, and accomplishments. Explain why you’re applying and how you align with the position and the company.
  9. Match the tone of voice, but keep it professional. Some industries are more casual than others, so you can get away with more casual enthusiasm in your letters. However, know where to draw the line and always keep it professional. Don’t forget you’re applying for a job and not emailing a friend.
  10. Play your cards close to the chest. Explain relevant career changes or gaps, but you don’t need to share everything. Don’t overshare details about your personal life, political views, previous job roles, etc.

A good cover letter should be engaging enough to make the human resources manager or potential employer want to keep learning more about you. A great cover letter could win you an interview over another candidate with a similar resume.

Get help with your cover letter

Writing an excellent cover letter requires time, thoughtfulness, and good writing skills. For optimum results you may want a little help to ensure you create the best cover letter possible for your job applications.

Find work on Upwork

If you’re ready for a new career challenge, have you considered transitioning to freelancing? As a freelancer, you can do the work you love, work from anywhere, and collaborate with clients from around the world—all while working remotely.

Upwork’s work marketplace can connect you with potential long-term clients who can help your freelance business grow. Get started by creating a profile. Then, use the platform to promote your most in-demand services, build your portfolio, showcase your best work, and confidently embrace new client relationships. Refer to this guide to get started: Upwork for Beginners: How To Start Your Freelance Business.

Make Upwork your home for your freelance career. Sign up for a freelancer account today.

If you’re communicating with a hiring manager for a job through the Upwork platform, please note that sharing your personal contact information, such as email address, phone number, or LinkedIn profile, is not permitted in cover letters or at any time prior to the start of a contract. Additionally, all communication should take place through the Upwork Messages feature. Learn more about using Upwork Messages here, and see more details on sharing information on Upwork here.

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Author Spotlight

How To Write a Cover Letter: Basics and Examples
Radhika Basuthakur
Content Writer

Radhika is a self-confessed word nerd and content expert with over 15 years of experience writing content for businesses around the world. She is a cheerleader for flexible work, a passionate world traveler, and spends her free time alternating between a good book and a good hike.

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