Ten Steps to Writing Great Cover Letter in 20 Minutes or Less

Follow these 10 steps to writing a great job application cover letter in less than 20 minutes. Includes examples and variety of resume cover letter formats.

You’ve spent hours fine tuning your resume and have found a great job opportunity. Now it’s time for writing your resume cover page.

Before we get too far into this subject, I’ll make a confession: As a recruiter, I receive hundreds and sometimes thousands of letters every week and I rarely, if ever, take the time to read them. The best I’ll do is scan for things I can’t get from the resume. In my opinion, cover letters as they have been traditionally defined are dead.

That said, as you are undoubtedly learning, there are many ways to uncover job opportunities in addition to recruiters. And, I must admit that I have certainly seen some great letters, I call them pitch letters, that pique my interest and offer useful information that goes beyond a repeat of resume highlights. A pitch letter is what really works–specifically customized to the opportunity, individual and even to the communication mode at hand.

The best cover letters provide insight that is not addressed in your resume and allows you to highlight specific parts of your experience and other details that set you apart from the scores of other applicants.

Writing a Cover Letter that Works

Whether you’re writing fax cover letters, an email cover page or traditional cover letter for resume, this basic career advice hold true.

  1. Your cover letter format should attract the reader’s attention with an easy-to-read, letter format and thoughtful, well-written copy that emphasizes how you will add value to the organization. No typos or errors allowed. Keep it brief — less than one page long and preferably only one to two paragraphs long.
  2. Microsoft Word has several professional-looking letter templates. Why re-create the wheel? Pick one you like and adjust the font to match your resume.
  3. Check and double check the salutation and address to make absolutely sure you have the right person’s name on it. Also, read the body copy carefully to be sure that the company that you’ve addressed the letter to is the same as you have mentioned in the body. You’d be surprised how often I see this sort of mistake and it makes you look careless and sloppy.
  4. Address your letter to someone specific whenever possible.
  5. Why send your resume and cover page to a stranger when it is relatively easy to make direct contact? Learn more in our networking section.
  6. Use your opening paragraph to catch the reader’s interest. Relate a timely issue at the company to your abilities or open by sharing an outstanding result you have achieved that directly links to the opportunity at hand. The key here is linking to the opportunity at hand. Keep it concise but make a statement that immediately shows how you can add value to the organization. Express enthusiasm and interest in the opportunity!
  7. The body of the letter sells why you’re a match for the specific job. Don’t repeat your resume; focus on what you can do for the company specifically, using key words from the job description as a guide. Back up your statements with specific examples.
  8. Also in the body, be sure to focus on any unique aspects of you candidacy for the jobs and positions in general: Your willingness to relocate, if you require (or better yet, don’t require) relocation assistance, and current compensation matching the pay rate as described on the requisition. And if you’re resume doesn’t necessarily reflect the kind of job stability you’d ideally like to have, be sure to outline reason for leaving positions where things were out of your control (such as layoffs, company closures, relocation of company operations, etc. that forced you to change jobs). Never mention your reasons for job changes simply as “for a better opportunity.” If that indeed is your consistent reason for job changes, best to leave this part out all together.
  9. Close with a call for action. Express your interest in an interview and commit to following up to discuss the possibility of meeting in person. Don’t forget to thank the reader for their consideration.
  10. End with a professional closing such as “Sincerely,” “Respectfully,” or “Warm Regards.”

Ultimately, it is more important that your resume cover page communicate specifically about the opportunity at hand rather than that it follow a specified format. And just as importantly as what to say is what not to say. A letter filled with “fluff” or a condensed version of what a hiring manager can already see on your resume is a waste of time. Writing a pitch letter that generates interest and supports action is an effective tool that supports your resume and works toward getting the interview.

Good luck!

If you’re looking for more information on cover letters, you may enjoy these links: