All great cover letters have one thing in common: they engage recruiters and hiring managers in a way that entices them to want to interview you. They also supplement your resume, adding additional details and color that can help you land the job. But writing a cover letter that allows you to stand out in a sea of candidates can prove tough.
Sure, you could poke through cover letter examples online and copy what you see, but that’s what everyone else is doing, too. Your purpose is to stand out, remember?
While example cover letters are a useful tool for formatting, your cover letter should uniquely frame your resume (and career), and explain what your unique skillset can offer a company. That’s not something you can accomplish by asking an A.I. chatbot to write your cover letter; this is something you need to do yourself, as you’re the only one with the crucial insights into your own career and skill-set.
We asked experts for their insights on how to write a cover letter that stands out in a crowd, why a cover letter is even more important these days, and why the cover letter still has a place in the hiring process at all. Let’s jump in!
What is a cover letter?
“Your cover letter is an opportunity to tell a compelling story about why you are the perfect fit for a specific job,” says Alix Carter, Senior Talent Development Manager at COOP Careers. “Job seekers should also understand that writing a strong cover letter is essential to stand out in the job market. It shouldn’t be a repeat or summary of your resume, but rather an extension of it that highlights what you bring to the table and why you are a strong candidate for the role.”
Many job seekers think of cover letters as introductions or forewords for a resume, but our experts all say that’s the wrong way to approach it. A great cover letter adds context to your resume without repeating the information.
Think of your cover letter as a way to preemptively lay the groundwork for discussing your biggest accomplishments in an interview, too. High-level information on your biggest career “wins” is great cover letter fodder.
Why is a cover letter important?
“It's a written version of your elevator pitch,” Vicki Salemi, Career Expert at Monster, tells Dice. “The key to an effective elevator pitch is the same for an effective cover letter: enthusiastic, concise and memorable so you stand out.
Salemi adds: “Think of your cover letter as taking an old-school yellow highlighter pen on a hard copy resume, highlighting a few key responsibilities, skills and experiences (as in what you would state in your elevator pitch), and then transporting those highlighted pieces into your cover letter.”
Cover letters are also a great way to cut through the noise. “[Cover letters] offer a high signal to noise ratio,” says Rahul Desai, CEO of Chief of Staff Network and admissions reviewer for Georgetown University. “You want to convey as much useful information in as short a time/space as possible. Right now, recruiters are getting hundreds of applications for every open role. You want to deliver them the information they need as fast as possible. It helps them, which implicitly biases them towards you.”
Teresha Aird, HR Lead at Offices.net, adds: “The message that job seekers need to get across in their cover letters is their genuine enthusiasm for the role and how their unique skills and experiences will add value to the company. It’s important to convey that you've done your research, understand their challenges, and are excited about contributing. This focus shift—from what the job can do for you, to what you can do for the company—shows a forward-thinking, company-centric mindset. Aligning your goals with those of the company makes a compelling case for your candidacy.”
The role of a cover letter in the hiring process
A great cover letter should demonstrate you love what you do, and that you want to bring your skills to the company you’re applying to so you can do great things with it in the future. When a recruiter or hiring manager sees your enthusiasm for your career in the cover letter (alongside a resume that proves you’re qualified for the role), they will undoubtedly reach out to discuss the position further.
“A standout cover letter goes beyond just reiterating your resume,” says Eva Chan, resume writer and career coach at Resume Genius. Employers are more drawn to applicants who can tell a good story and explain what specifically draws them to the company and the tech sector.
“For example, I'd be intrigued by a cover letter that opens with an applicant’s early fascination with coding, perhaps leading to a passion project or a significant achievement. This story could then seamlessly transition into a discussion of how their passion aligns with the company’s own innovation-driven culture. A narrative like this is personal and shows that an applicant isn’t just skilled but also enthusiastic about the industry and also deeply invested in the company’s mission.”
How to write a standout cover letter
Curious about how to write a great cover letter? Consider the following steps:
- Create a great header. Include your name, email address, and phone number. A physical address is not necessary, but you should list it if the role requires relocation or is hybrid.
- Address the cover letter. Something as simple as “Hiring Team” is sufficient. However, if you know the name of the person who will be hiring for the role (and you should do everything you can to figure that out), address your cover letter to them.
- Write an intro paragraph. Note the role you’re applying for, along with a quick blurb about why you’re interested in the role. The key here is to suggest (in as few words as possible) that your skills, passions, and experience align perfectly with the position.
- Create the body of your cover letter. Include context for how your skills translate to the role; list your experience with any tools or platforms the company has listed in the job post. As with the intro paragraph, be as concise yet specific as possible. Use powerful verbs as much as possible.
- Write your closing paragraph. Sum up any accomplishments you included in your cover letter, relate how you will use your skillset to help the prospective employer achieve their goals, and express your interest in speaking further about the role.
Avoid common cover letter mistakes
“Don’t write an essay—no one will have time to read it,” notes Hire a Hiring Manager founder and job coach Amy Feind Reeves. “Also, be sure to focus on how you are able to add value for the company, and not just on your own accomplishments. Cover letters that focus on the writer don’t get as much traction as cover letters that focus on how the writer can help the company.”
“We recently received an application in Comic Sans using a generic, outdated template that was also filled with AI-generated content,” Chan adds. “The cover letter not only showed a disconnect from current professional standards but also a lack of effort in creating a personalized and communicative application.”
Carter adds: “Generic, broad stories and editing mistakes should be avoided in a cover letter… Generic, broad stories lack details and may not stand out to the reader, which makes it easy for the reader to forget your application.” It’s also essential to double-check your spelling and grammar; in fact, have a friend give your cover letter a once-over before you send it out, because they may catch errors you’ve missed.
Cover Letter Examples and Templates
There are lots of templates out there for cover letters. Whichever format you follow, however, customization is key. Here’s an example of an effective cover letter:
Dear [Hiring Manager name],
I am writing to express my interest in the Senior Software Developer position at [Company name]. With my experience navigating the intricacies of large databases and enterprise software within high-pressure environments, I possess the expertise and agility needed to seamlessly integrate into your esteemed team and contribute to your continued success.
My career has been defined by harnessing the power of technology to fuel business growth, a mindset perfectly aligned with your company’s focus on leveraging innovative solutions to achieve strategic objectives. In my previous roles, I architected scalable, cloud-based tech stacks that streamlined data integration, paving the way for a reduction in operational costs. I championed agile development methodologies, fostering a collaborative environment that led to the expedited rollout of a new customer relationship management system, contributing directly to a 15 percent increase in customer retention at my last job. My ability to decipher complex systems, translate business needs into technical solutions, and lead development teams towards tangible results makes me confident in my ability to excel in this challenging and rewarding role.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I am eager to discuss how my skills and experience can benefit [Company name] and contribute to the next chapter of your growth. My resume provides further details on my qualifications. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
A great cover letter should be concise, clear, and formatted well. Your cover letter should make the recruiter or hiring manager want to read your resume, which is no small feat. They read dozens or even hundreds of resumes for every role they’re hiring for.
Be direct, be enthusiastic, and make it clear that you’re not throwing your hat into every ring for any job; let them know you want that job. Enthusiasm expressed in a cover letter is a huge first step in what might be your biggest career opportunity.