Simple Cover Letter Basics

Smart tips to help you format and write a cover letter

Struggling to write a cover letter that will catch an employer's attention? We've got tips to help you show your best self—and a sample you can use to get started.

There's nothing scary about writing a cover letter.

You've found the perfect job, hit the "apply" button, and started the process with your engines revved and ready. But wait! Slam the brakes! They want a cover letter. Oh no. 

Don't let this request derail you. Here's everything you need to know to write a letter that truly sells your skills. Plus, scroll down to see a sample cover letter you can use to craft your own.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a one-page document that, along with your resume, is sent with your job application. A cover letter is your chance to tell a potential employer why you’re the perfect person for the position and how your skills and expertise can add value to the company. The letter should be professional but personable, and serve as a sort of introduction.

Do I need to send a cover letter?

A lot of job seekers today wonder if a cover letter is still appropriate to send with your resume—and the answer is yes! Even if an employer doesn’t ask for a cover letter, it couldn’t hurt to send one. In fact, it’s can help you get someone's attention in a different way, and it can be a great way to display your enthusiasm for the job and company.

What are the basic elements of a cover letter?

  1. Greeting: Address your cover letter to the proper person.
  2. Opening: Write a personable, inviting opening paragraph that notes how your skills are a perfect fit to the job and displays your enthusiasm.
  3. Hook: Highlight your past achievements as they relate to the job you're applying for.
  4. Skills: Emphasize additional relevant skills, such as computer languages or certifications.
  5. Close: Briefly recap your strengths as a candidate, and include your contact information.

Cover letter tips

1. Parrot the keywords: Just like with your resume, your cover letters should be customized for each job you apply to. Start by reviewing the job description. In it, you will find important keywords that let you know what kind of employee the company is hoping to find. Use these same keywords throughout your cover letter.

2. Adapt for the company: Each version of your cover letter should talk about how your skills will benefit the particular company that you want to work for. You want to target the company’s needs—not your own. Demonstrate how you could help them achieve their goals. Remember: You're selling yourself in a resume and a cover letter, but the employer has to want to buy.

3. Show you "get" them: Your cover letter should demonstrate that you have done some research into what the organization's pain points are. Presenting yourself as a solution to a hiring manager’s problem can help your cover letter take the right tone. If you’re applying to an administrative position, be sure to mention your time-management skills; if you’re an IT professional, include your expertise in improving efficiency. Always ask yourself: How can I help this company?

4. Proofread. Don’t assume spell check will catch every mistake (it won’t). Slowly review your cover letter to make sure everything reads properly. Have someone else read your cover letter for backup.

Need even more confidence before you start your cover letter? Below are some additional cover letter tips you could reference—or keep scrolling for a cover letter sample:

Cover letter mistakes you should avoid: From overusing “I” to being too vague, there are a bunch of pitfalls that can trip you up. Don’t let them!

Cover letter format and advice tips: Learn how to set up your cover letter and what each section should include.

Cover letter tips for new grads: You might lack real-world work experience, but your cover letter can be chock-full of activities that demonstrate your potential to succeed.

Cover letter tips for technology professionals: The ease of applying to online jobs has led many IT professionals to skip sending a cover letter, but that’s a mistake. 

Cover letter tips for finance professionals: If you’re searching for a finance job or want to be prepared just in case, you will need a dynamic cover letter to grab the hiring managers’ attention.

Tips for better email cover letters: If you're emailing a resume, your cover letter will deliver the first impression. These eight tips will help you craft a better email cover letter.

Cover letter sample

Check out the sample cover letter below (or download the template as a Word doc) to get some inspiration to craft your own. And we've also got you covered if you're looking for a cover letter in a specific industry. 

Once you've finished your cover letter, consider joining Monster—you can upload and store up to five cover letters and resumes, so that you can apply for jobs on our site in a snap!


[Date]

Ms. Rhonda West
Customer Service Manager
Acme Inc.
123 Corporate Blvd.
Sometown, CO 50802

Re: Customer Service Representative Opening (Ref. ID: CS300-Denver)

Dear Ms. West:

I was excited to see your opening for a customer service rep, and I hope to be invited for an interview.

My background includes serving as a customer service associate within both call-center and retail environments. Most recently, I worked on the customer service desk for Discount-Mart, where my responsibilities included handling customer merchandise returns, issuing refunds/store credits, flagging damaged merchandise for shipment back to vendors and providing back-up cashiering during busy periods.

Previously, I worked within two high-volume customer-support call centers for a major telecommunications carrier and a satellite television services provider. In these positions, I demonstrated the ability to resolve a variety of issues and complaints (such as billing disputes, service interruptions or cutoffs, repair technician delays/no-shows and equipment malfunctions). I consistently met my call-volume goals, handling an average of 56 to 60 calls per day.

In addition to this experience, I gained considerable customer service skills during my part-time employment as a waitress and restaurant hostess while in high school.

I also bring to the table strong computer proficiencies in MS Word, MS Excel and CRM database applications and a year of college (business major). Please see the accompanying resume for details of my experience and education.

I am confident that I can offer you the customer service, communication and problem-solving skills you are seeking. Feel free to call me at 555-555-5555 (home) or 555-555-5500 (cell) to arrange an interview. Thank you for your time—I look forward to learning more about this opportunity!

Sincerely,



Sue Ling

Enclosure: Resume


Cover letter basics

A badly written cover letter can hurt your chances of landing a great job. What common mistakes should you should try to avoid when writing yours?

A badly written cover letter can hurt your chances for landing a great job. It pays to pay attention to every detail in your cover letter.

Avoid common blunders

The most common cover letter mistakes are the following:

  • Name that job: Recruiters often try to fill more than one job simultaneously.  After the salutation, state exactly which job you're applying for.

  • Form letters: The point of a cover letter is to make a personal connection with the reader. Tailor your letter specifically to each company you send it to.

  • Don't repeat yourself: Don't regurgitate everything that's in your resume -- offer deeper insights into what your resume does not say. Provide an in-depth explanation of some of your key achievements at your last job, for instance, and how those accomplishments could help the company. Or tell a story about a tough problem you solved.
     
  • What's in it for me? Don't say you are applying for the job because of the money, the travel opportunities, a better commute or anything else that concerns only you.
     
  • Balance confidence and humility: While you certainly want to appear competent, arrogance can turn a recruiter off: "Throw away all those other resumes -- I'm your guy!"  Show enthusiasm and a positive attitude, but don't overdo it.

Style points

There are some other stylistic pointers to keep in mind:

  • Don't open with "To Whom It May Concern" -- get a name.
  • Highlight first and foremost your skills and experiences that match those the employer is seeking.
  • Open with a strong lead sentence.
  • Refer to the job ad and its specific language.
  • Compare your letter to a sample cover letter.
  • Offer to follow up with the recruiter -- and do it!
  • For electronic letters, attach your resume and make sure any links to professional samples you include work.
  • Proofread your work.

Before you hit 'send'

Proofread and spell-check your letter before emailing it. Now do it again. Ask a friend or family member to read your cover letter for typos and grammatical errors. (Do the same on your resume before you upload it.) If you're stuck on a grammatical point, consult a guide such as the classic Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White or the Chicago Manual of Style.

Finally, send the letter to yourself as a test to check formatting. If you find errors, correct them and read it one more time -- it's easy to overlook a mistake, and you don't a want a typo to ruin all your hard work.

A cover letter may be a brief document, but it's an important one. It introduces you to the recruiter and interests him or her in reading another important document -- your resume.

[Excerpted from Your Next Move: Success Strategies for Midcareer Professionals by Marc Karasu and Dan Finnigan.]

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