How to write an attention-grabbing cover letter

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Bryan Smith - October, 13 2023

15 min read

About the author

Content Manager at Prodigy Finance, helping international students gear up to study abroad

Job applicants who include a well-crafted cover letter alongside their resume are 47% more likely to secure a job interview. And did you know that 45% of hiring managers read the cover letter before they even look at the job applicant’s resume.

With these stats, can there be any doubt about the role a cover letter plays when you apply for a job?

Introduction

A cover letter introduces you to your potential employer, offering them a glimpse of your personality, and often persuades them to invite you for an interview.

While your resume is almost always very technical, a cover letter conveys your personal touch, often setting the employer’s mood before they even read through your resume.

That's the power of a compelling cover letter in action, and it underscores just how important it is to include when applying for jobs. Let’s take a look at the role of a cover letter and what you need to craft a strong cover letter that works for you.

In this ultimate guide to cover letters, we’ll be discussing the following topics:

  • Understanding the purpose of a cover letter
  • Research and preparation
  • Formatting and structure
  • Crafting an attention-grabbing opening
  • Showcasing your qualifications
  • Expressing your genuine interest
  • Closing your cover letter strongly
  • Proofreading and editing
  • Final tips and common mistakes to avoid
  • Conclusion

Understanding the purpose of a cover letter

Your cover letter is the best way to introduce yourself to a hiring manager—who you are, what you have to offer, and why you are interested in that specific job and why you are the best person (with the experience you have) for that role. The trick is to use the limited amount of words and space to your full advantage.

Cover letters should expand on your skills and specific experiences to explain why the job position suits you. It is your opportunity to emphasise what you will bring to the job and why you are keen to join the company.

While the purpose of a cover letter is to secure you an interview for a particular job, an internship cover letter is one that accompanies an internship application, demonstrating your suitability for the internship and your enthusiasm for gaining practical experience in your chosen field.

Another type of cover letter you may come across is a letter of interest, expressing your desire to work for a particular company, despite them not having a suitable job opening for you. It outlines your qualifications, interest in the company, value you offer, with the aim being to grab their attention and hopefully, lead to future employment.

The basic structure and purpose for all three cover letters (regular job role, internship position and letter of interest) is similar, however there are a few key distinctions:

  • Experience and qualifications: with both a cover letter for a regular job role and letter of interest, they typically need you to highlight your relevant work experience, skills, and qualifications that make you a good fit for the specific job. However, for an internship cover letter, as you might not have extensive professional experience in the field you will need to focus on relevant coursework, academic achievements, and transferable skills.

  • Career goals: in a job role cover letter, you might emphasise your long-term career goals and how the job aligns with them. The same goes for a letter of interest. When it comes to an internship cover letter, it’s a good idea to discuss your eagerness to learn and gain practical experience in the field, as internships are often viewed as opportunities for skill development and exploration.

  • Expectations: typically, candidates applying for a regular job are expected to have a certain level of expertise and be ready to contribute to the company from the start. In contrast, internship cover letters can convey your expectations for a learning experience and your willingness to be trained and mentored.

  • Professionalism: job role cover letters and letters of interest often have a more professional tone and emphasise your keenness to take on the responsibilities of the role. Internship cover letters may have a slightly more educational or developmental tone, as they focus on your growth and how the internship can help you achieve your career goals.

  • Length: the fundamental structure of introducing yourself, explaining your interest, and demonstrating your value to the employer remains the same for all types of cover letters.

    Conciseness is key for all three types of cover letters, however internship cover letters may be slightly shorter, given the limited work experience to discuss.

If your aim is to get noticed, it’s a good idea to start right with something that grabs your reader’s attention. So where should you begin?

Research and preparation

Importance of research

Doing research before writing your cover letter is really important because it helps you understand the company and the job or internship. Here’re a few reasons for how it will help you get an interview:

  • Customisation: it helps you tailor your cover letter to the specific company and job
  • Relevance: research helps you know the right details to mention that make you a good fit for the role and explain why you're interested in the company
  • Genuine enthusiasm: this is easy to convey once you know the facts about the company, and it will help to make your cover letter more engaging.

How to research a company

There are a number of elements to think of when researching a company, from looking at the company website, checking out their LinkedIn profile and posts, searching for news and reviews about the company, looking at their social media accounts as well as networking with people who either work for the company or are familiar with the company culture. Let’s look at each in a bit more detail:

  • Company website: Start with the company's website. Look for information about their mission, values, products, services and any recent news or projects. It’s also a good idea to take a look at their corporate social responsibility to see who they support and why they support those charities.

  • LinkedIn: Check the company's LinkedIn page to see their latest updates and employee profiles. This can give you insights into their culture.

  • Job description: Carefully read the job or internship posting. Understand what they're looking for in a candidate and what the role entails. Should you be intending to submit a letter of interest, take note of the types of jobs they advertise.

  • News and reviews: Search for news articles, reviews, or press releases about the company. This can help you understand their reputation and any recent developments.

  • Connect with employees: If possible, connect with current or former employees on LinkedIn. You might find that you are distantly connected with them through one of your connections on LinkedIn. They might provide valuable insights into the company's work culture.

  • Social media: Look at the company's social media profiles (like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) to see how they engage with their audience and what recent achievements they might have had. \

  • Networking: Ask people you know if they have any information about the company or can introduce you to someone who works there. Take a look if there are any events hosted by the company that you could attend, where you could find out a bit more about the company.

Once you've gathered this information, use it in your cover letter to explain why you're excited about the company and how your skills and experiences align with their needs and values. This shows the employer that you're genuinely interested and well-prepared.

Formatting and structure

Structure of a cover letter

All cover letters tend to follow this basic structure and its format suggested by most hiring professionals.

**Heading: **this sits at the top of the page, contains your contact information as well as some other basics a hiring manager might need to learn more about you e.g. LinkedIn profile link (if you have one), pronoun to be referred to (if you’re comfortable including them), personal website or portfolio link (optional) and relevant and professional social media profiles (again, optional).

Company information: although hardly ever used these days, but essential if you are asked to mail a paper cover letter, you would also include in your heading, the company’s information:

  • Hiring manager’s name (or whomever the letter is addressed to)
  • Company name
  • Company street address
  • Company city, state, zip code

**Salutation: **start your salutation with “Hello,” “Dear,” or “Hi” for more casual companies, and then address the letter to the person advertising the job role. You can also address your cover letter to the team you’d be joining or “[Position] Hiring Manager.” But you should never start your cover letter with “To Whom It May Concern.”

**Introduction: **your introduction should be one paragraph long, include the name of the position you’re applying to, and express why you’re applying and what excites you about the opportunity. Here you want to grab the attention of your reader - so show your personality.

Body paragraphs: write two to three body paragraphs that sell you as a candidate. Turn your experience of how you discovered the company into a story, explaining what led you to apply for the role. Look at the job description and pull out a few skills you specialise in that the company is looking for. Then, explain, using examples, how you’ve used these skills to help your past employers (and by extension will give the reader a preview of how you’ll help them).

Conclusion: Sum up everything in the conclusion paragraph. Reiterate your interest in the company and your most important qualifications. Then include a closing sentence, stating how your skills / experiences will contribute to the success of the company in the position you’re applying for.

Closing: use a professional sign-off like “Sincerely,” “Respectfully,” or “Thank you for your consideration,” then add your first and last name.

Font style and choice - does it matter?

Readability and professionalism is key for cover letters, so yes, choosing a suitable font style is important. Do keep in mind that many cover letters submitted online will be uploaded to an applicant tracking system (ATS), which is software that employers use to organise and search candidate application materials. It’s a good idea to follow these guidelines to format your cover letter correctly for both human and computer readers:

  • Font: stick to the default or regular fonts —classics like Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman, Cambria, Calibri, and Georgia.
  • Font size: the ideal size will vary based on which font you choose, but keep it between 10 and 12 pt. Any smaller and you’ll have recruiters squinting at their screens.
  • Margins: use one-inch margins all around
  • Alignment: all your text should be left aligned and there’s no need to indent every paragraph.
  • Line spacing: single space your cover letter (1.15 spacing works if it looks too cramped). Include an extra line between each section and paragraph.
  • Length: your cover letter should be at least three paragraphs long, but generally no more than five—unless the job description says otherwise.
  • File format: you can submit your cover letter within the body of an email or as a separate file (make sure you stick to docx or pdf format).
  • **File name: **always include your name and the phrase “cover letter,” and you can also include the name of the position. Just make sure it’s easy to read and follow any instructions in the job posting.

Crafting an attention-grabbing opening

Writing a compelling opening paragraph

It's essential to research the company and its culture before choosing your opening approach, as what works well for one organisation may not work well for another. Hiring managers tend to spend a few seconds scanning your application, so writing an effective cover letter introduction is key if you want to maximise your chances of getting an interview. Here are some simple tips to help you create your own attention-grabbing introduction:

  • Avoid overused openers: Skip the common, boring openers and instead, aim to grab their attention with something fresh and interesting.

  • Be personable: Write in a way that's lively and relatable, engage your reader and reflect your

    personality.

  • Show your value: be clear about what skills you have and how you can contribute to the company’s success.

  • Stay relevant: Keep your opener directly related to the job you're applying for - don't include unrelated stories or accomplishments.

Hiring managers are more likely to take your application seriously if you’ve been recommended by someone they already work with and respect. So if a friend, former co-worker or classmate recommended you for the position, mention their name in the opening sentence of your covering letter to establish immediate credibility.

According to LinkedIn, 70% of people hired recently had a connection at their new company, making networking the most effective way to get a job.

Here’s some inspiration for creative ways to start your cover letter:

  • Be passionate: express your enthusiasm for the job and discuss how it aligns with your passions. This shows your commitment and genuine interest.
  • Be complimentary: include what you like about the company's brand and explain why you admire it. Remember to be specific and sincere in your praise.
  • Lead with your accomplishments: a great way to stand out in your cover letter is to highlight something about yourself—a character trait, an accomplishment, a really impressive skill—that’ll quickly show how you stand out.
  • Make use of humour and creativity: use humour or creativity to kick off your letter, but only if you're sure it's a good fit for the company and the hiring manager. It can make you memorable and stand out, but it won't work for every situation.

While your cover letter needs to be unique to you, your stories, background, and interests, take a read through the following examples to give you inspiration for your next cover letter.

Example 1:

“Thank you so much for offering me the marketing manager position at [Company]! I wholeheartedly accept. OK, I know we’re not quite there yet. But if we were, here are just a few ideas for what I would do once in the role.”

Example 2:

“Over the last 10 years, I’ve built my career on one simple principle: Work smarter. I’m the person who looks for inefficient procedures, finds ways to streamline them, and consistently strives to boost the productivity of everyone around me. It’s what’s earned me three promotions in the supply chain department at my current company, and it’s what I know I can do as the new operations analyst for [Company].”

Example 3:

“With over six years of diverse accounting experience under my belt, I’ve cultivated a strong foundation in financial management and cost reduction strategies, enabling me to make a substantial impact on any team. For instance, during my tenure at Smith Johnson & Sons, I balanced a $400,000 budget while reducing costs by 20% for a client. I’m eager to bring my attention to detail and analytical abilities to the Senior Accountant role at Walker & Company and achieve similar results while further enhancing my expertise.”

Showcasing your qualifications

How to showcase your experience and skills

Your cover letter is your chance to prove you're the best fit for the job. And a great time to put a spotlight on your relevant achievements and skills. Highlighting your transferable skills in your cover letter with past job experiences and situations shows your personality, and explains how you managed various situations, showing future employers how you might use those skills at their company.

Here are some tips to help you get it just right:

  • Use specific examples from your previous or current work experience
  • Provide concrete details that clearly show how you applied your skills, solved problems, delivered results, or contributed to the organisation's goals
  • Use numbers, percentages or metrics to help you illustrate the impact you made on the scope or scale of the project
  • Use positive language that reflects your enthusiasm, professionalism, and competence Avoid using words or phrases that undermine your accomplishments, such as "just" or "only"
  • Tailor your content to match the job role and align your skills and achievements with the
  • tailor your cover letter to each job application, and align your achievements and skills with the specific requirements and expectations of the role and the employer
  • Express your gratitude and interest in the opportunity
  • You should also indicate that you are eager to learn more about the position and the employer, and that you are looking forward to discussing your qualifications further in an interview.
  • Use keywords from the job listing and mention that you have the skills needed. For example: “My track history of successfully managing teams and delivering projects on time and on budget makes me a good fit for this role.”

Expressing your genuine interest

Don’t forget to include that you are eager to learn more about the position and the employer, and you look forward to discussing your qualifications further in an interview.

Demonstrate your cultural fit in the organisation

Use your cover letter to illustrate how the role will impact your greater career goals and how you can use your skills and grow within the organisation. Make sure you can explain clearly all of the reasons for why you want to work for the company.

Transferable skills can help determine your suitability for a role, so be sure to include any personal characteristics or personality traits that make you a better fit for the role and interesting to a hiring manager. Don’t forget to include the reason for you being attracted to the culture of the company, and why they should interview you for the role.

Closing your covering letter strongly

Writing a strong closing paragraph

You only get one chance to get someone’s interest. In the case of cover letters, it’s a fact that you have roughly 30 - 40 seconds to do so.

Use your closing to accomplish three tasks:

  • Sum up your strengths e.g. “I believe my five years of experience in user design, specifically working in the finance industry, will be an excellent match for this job.”
  • Be polite and confident e.g.“I look forward to speaking with you about how I can put my skills to work for ABC Widgets.”
  • Thank the hiring manager for their time, choosing a professional closing signoff e.g. “sincerely”

How to ask for an interview

Here are two different examples of asking for an interview clearly without bluntly using those exact words:

Cover letter ending example #1

In this case, the job seeker is showing enthusiasm for the position, the company, and its culture. Furthermore, "I would love the opportunity to meet with you and discuss the value I can bring to Ikea" is a strong and confident call to action.

Cover letter ending example #2

Wondering how to end a cover letter for an internship? Being self-assured rather than self-effacing will instantly make you a stronger candidate. For example, “Creating and storytelling are my passions, and I believe I would be a positive addition to your team.”

Proofreading and editing

Importance of proofreading

A typed, one page and error-free cover letter is what you need to submit. If your cover letter contains spelling mistakes, you'll find your cover letter and resume ending up on the “decline” pile very quickly.

Take a break in between editing your cover letter, making sure you read through it carefully once you have taken time away from it. And always read it aloud to yourself to make sure the flow of the words reads easily.

Final tips and common mistakes to avoid

  • Make sure you research the company and tailor your cover letter to fit the role
  • Personalise your cover letter
  • Use the company culture to guide you when selecting level of formality to use
  • Make sure you include any relevant information required, especially if the job description asks for it in the cover letter
  • Check your grammar and spelling

Common mistakes to avoid

  • Don’t repeat your entire resume in your cover letter
  • Don’t use a generic template for the main sections of your cover letter
  • Don’t exaggerate or lie about your experiences
  • Try not to talk negatively about past roles

Other tips for success

Be yourself, let your personality shine through your cover letter and don’t forget to invite them to get in touch, emphasising your keenness to join the team.

Conclusion

Ending your cover letter on a strong note is essential to leave a positive impression on the hiring manager. Here's how to do it effectively:

Express enthusiasm: state your interest in the job role

Summarise your skill set: align your skills and experiences to the job requirements

Call to action: politely express your desire for an interview

Express gratitude: thank the hiring manager for their time

Professional closing: use a professional sign-off, like "sincerely," followed by your full name

Contact information: include your contact information beneath your name

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