How to Write a Cover Letter in 5 Easy Steps

Write a Winning Cover Letter and Stand Out From the Crowd

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Do you need to write a cover letter for a job? By following these five easy cover letter steps, you can ensure that your cover letter will be drafted, written, and sent off without much stress—and with a good chance of success.

Once you've got a system in place for writing your cover letters, it will make the process of applying for jobs much simpler.

5 Easy Steps for a Successful Cover Letter

This guide gives you five steps to writing a winning cover letter.

1. Analyze the Job Listing

Give the job listing a careful read to identify the areas where your own experience best matches up with the employer's needs.

Be discriminatory about which of the company's requirements you choose to highlight, as you are going to use these selections to make a table in your cover letter.

The points you choose to highlight should be the ones that are most significant to the position, but also the ones that provide specific examples and compelling anecdotes about your experience.

 Remember, your cover letter should only be one page long. So, aim to match half of the company's requirements, but keep it under five or six total in the cover letter. Make sure that you know how to match your qualifications to a job listing.

What to Keep in Mind: 

  • When you copy and paste from the job listing into your word processor, proofread for typos that might be in the listing. The person who gives your application a first read probably won't know (or care) that the mistake wasn't your fault.

2. Look for a Specific Employee Name

If it's not provided in the job announcement, check through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Instagram to find the name of a relevant employee to whom you can address your cover letter.

For example, you can use Twitter's advanced search to find names, and if the company has a profile on LinkedIn, you can view its employees from there.

Don't just choose a random individual. Instead, seek out someone in Human Resources - preferably a director or manager - or a higher-up within the department you're applying to. This is a key way to kickstart your application and make sure it gets to where it needs to go.

Don't stress if you can't find a contact person. Some employers don't make the information public. Instead, use a different option for addressing your letter.

What to Keep in Mind:

  • If you're going on a major stalking spree on LinkedIn, adjust your privacy settings so that other people can't see that you've viewed their profile. While connecting with a company on LinkedIn can be a good way to increase your visibility, you probably won't want them to see that you've clicked through their entire staff on LinkedIn.
  • If you know someone at the company who can refer you for the job, mention them in the first paragraph of your cover letter.
  • If you can't find a person's name, know how to address your cover letter appropriately without a name.

3. Create a Table or Paragraphs Highlighting Your Qualifications

Next, make a two-column table with the company's requirements on the left side, and your matching attributes on the right side. Then, take the number of requirements you're choosing and add one for the header. So, for this example, which has focused on five points, the table is two columns by six rows. 

What to Keep in Mind:

  • If you get stuck for ideas of your experience that fit with the job to enter on the right side of the table, find a copy of the job description for your current or past position, which will give you a guideline on how to phrase your past responsibilities and your professional and personal attributes. 
  • If you're having difficulty creating a table, you can include your qualifications in paragraph form.

4. Format Your Cover Letter

Now that you've made your table, copy and paste it into the body of your cover letter. This is often called a "T"-shaped cover letter format. The table should go between your introductory paragraphs, and before your close.

It's a nice look to format the table with invisible borders, although it's not absolutely necessary. To achieve this in Microsoft Word, right-click on the table, select Borders and Shading, and then click None on the left-hand side of the small window that pops up.

If you'd prefer not to include a table, simply write how you match the employer's job requirements in paragraph form.

Review examples to see what this finished cover letter format looks like.

What to Keep in Mind:

Unless the company requests a different file format, save your cover letter as a PDF file so that the document retains the proper formatting when it is opened and viewed. 

5. Finish With a Follow Up

Finish strong and close the cover letter with the promise of a "next step." That way, even if your application gets lost at the bottom of a pile, when you reach out to the potential employer they'll be reminded to retrieve your cover letter and resume to take another look.

Finally, be sure to carefully proofread your cover letter so it's error-free.

What to Keep in Mind:

  • Reach out when you say you will so that you demonstrate your punctuality and ability to follow through on promises.
  • If you have submitted many different applications and have trouble keeping track of dates, stay organized with an Excel sheet, set reminders with your phone, or use one of these other ways to organize your job search.

How to Send or Upload Your Cover Letter

How you get your cover letter and resume to the employer depends on the organization's requirements. You may be asked to upload your application documents to the company website or to a job board. Or, you may be asked to email your resume and cover letter, or even to mail it.

What's most important is to follow the employer's instructions. Otherwise, your application may not be considered.

Key Takeaways

Try to find a contact person. A letter addressed to a contact at the company will have the best chance of being read.

Target your letter. Take the time to match your qualifications carefully to the requirements listed in the job posting.

Follow up. If you don't hear back from an employer within a week or so, follow up to check on the status of your application.