How To Write A Cover Letter

Written by on April 7, 2014 in Blog, Careers, cover letters, Resumes, Writing with 5 Comments

Cover Letter Basics

I’ve seen a lot written lately questioning the value of cover letters. Some articles go so far as to say including a cover letter is detrimental. I say bull… nonsense. I’ll address that issue in another post; for today, we’re going to deal with the finer details of writing a cover letter.

Attention To Detail…

…is one of the most important aspects of any resume or cover letter. If you’re fortunate enough to have someone actually read your cover letter, it is imperative that it has no mistakes.
I shouldn’t have to say it, but I will, address the cover letter as if your job depended on it—it might. The cover letter needs to be professionally written and addressed. Below is a standard format.

bad cover letter

Example of bad cover letter

Your Name
Your Address
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Phone Number
Your Email



City, State, Zip Code

Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name:

cover letter exampleDoing The Research

Many job descriptions or online listings don’t provide the name of the person screening the resumes. Quite often all they list is “admin,” or they instruct you to send it to a generic address such as “”.

If that’s the case, you have work to do. The easiest way is often the direct approach—call the company and ask. Nine times out of ten, the receptionist will give you the answer. Be sure you get the correct spelling of the person’s name as well as their title. And please double check. Letters often sound alike on the phone, so an “s” can be mistaken for an “f”, or a “b” confused with “v”.

When you feel you have the correct name, check again. Go to LinkedIn and verify the name and title. If they’re not on LinkedIn, try the company website, assuming the person is at a high enough level to be listed.

I realize I spent a lot of time on just the name, but I did it for a reason. Not much will earn you a red flag faster than addressing the resume/cover letter to the wrong person, or to the right person with their name spelled wrong.

Sections of the Cover Letter

Your cover letter should be brief, but not too brief. Half a page is probably not enough, but one page should be all you need, because you’re only going to have three sections. That’s right—three!

• Introduction
• Sell
• Close  

The introduction and the close should be kept to one short paragraph. The sell section you can expand. This is the persuasive part of the letter. This is where you—sell.

I’m going to cover the finer points of how to write the cover letter in a future post, but for now let’s focus on what not to do.

• Never say you’re the best candidate for the job, or that you’re the ideal candidate. You can’t know that.
 It will make you sound like an ass. 
• Do not repeat the experience listed on your resume. Surprise them with something new. 
• Do not write a casual letter or try to be “cutesy.” That’s a quick trip to the trashcan. 
When it comes to business writing, you can’t go wrong with formal. 
• Do not bring up personal topics unless it is absolutely supportive of your candidacy for the position. 

Bottom Line

I have conducted a lot of research into what gatekeepers think of cover letters, and what role they play in the screening process. The long and short of it is this—if you have a great cover letter you stand a much better chance of being called for an interview; however, a bad cover letter will earn you a quick trip to the trash.

Give some thought to whether you want to take the risk, and if you do, start out by getting the basics right. In another post we’ll dig into the details of how to create a persuasive cover letter that will get you the interview.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

And don’t forget to check out my resume and interview books. They will get you up to speed faster than anything.

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About the Author

About the Author: When I’m not headhunting, or writing, I help my wife take care of our animal sanctuary. At last count we had 45 animals—11 dogs, 1 horse, 6 cats, and 26 pigs. Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar named Dennis who takes walks with me every day and happens to also be my best buddy. For information on my mystery/suspense books, go to .

5 Reader Comments

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  1. avatar biswabhusan

    In the matter of Job Seeking always prefer to be a professional. Its more better if you provides Cover Letter with you Career profile. Your Cover letter is your first chance to make a good impression to HR Manager. Writing a Cover letter is so easy. Once you know how to prepare a Cover Letter then after it is a job of only 30 minutes. Your Cover letter can help you to stop ignored your Career profile. read more at

  2. avatar Jennifer says:

    Hi Jim, can I ask what you’d suggest for addressing cover letters for jobs posted on Craiglist that don’t list the name of the company or who you will be writing to? I’m quite never sure about that one.

    • avatar giammatteo

      Hi, Jennifer. I’ve not seen a Craigslist job, so send me an example to this address and I’ll write back to you. jg @ nomistakes (dot) org. Sorry for the confusing email, but due to spammers, it has to be written that way.

  3. avatar varad

    A good cover letter is a crucial part of the manuscript submission package to Nature Methods. It is not simply an archaic form of communication that is becoming obsolete in a digital world; rather, it should be viewed as an opportunity to convey many important pieces of information about a paper to the editors.
    Thanks for this valuable article!
    varad recently posted..Career Guidance Tips On How To Write a CVMy Profile

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