The Formula to Writing a Cover Letter

fotolia_89072247On average, 200 applications are received for each open professional position. Cover letters are a great way to set yourself apart from the competition. Cover letters allow you to personalize your message in a way a resume can’t.

The cover letter is an introduction to your resume and application. It should express your personal interest in working for the particular company and provide information about you that is not available on the resume.

For example, the resume provides a detailed description of your professional experience and educational background. The cover letter is a statement of your personal traits and work habits and may include a reference to positive feedback from a previous supervisor. A cover letter shouldn’t summarize your resume.


Cover letters should be short and to the point. Personalize each letter to the interviewer and the company. Remember, you are trying to grab the reader’s attention so that he/she will look more closely at your resume.

The cover letter formula is simple:

  1. The heading on your cover letter must be identical to the heading on your resume and include all of your contact information. You want to make it easy for the reader to contact you if he/she wants to bring you in for an interview.
  2. Direct the letter to a particular individual by name and title (Dear Mr. Smith, Human Resources Consultant or Dear Ms. Doe, Manager of Talent Acquisition). This will show that you took the initiative to personalize your letter. Never address a cover letter “To Whom It May Concern.” If you cannot find the person’s name, you can address your letter to “Hiring Manager.”
  3. Include a one paragraph introduction (no more than 4 to 6 lines and at least 2 sentences long) that identifies you and states why you are contacting the company. The introduction should include:
    • Your name (you are providing your name in the heading and again in the first paragraph of the cover letter to remind the reader of who you are),
    • The title of the position that you are applying for, and
    • A statement that demonstrates your knowledge of the company (use and the company website to research the company) and why you are the right person for the position.
    • If relevant, “name drop” (include the names of any inside connections/networking contacts).
  4. Sell yourself in the body of the letter.
    • Only touch on your work experience – leave the details of your professional experience for your resume. Instead, link your skills, experience and education to the needs of the company.
    • Be specific; list past accomplishments as evidence of the unique value you will bring to the company and why you want to work for the company.
      • Focus on 2 or 3 strong selling points.
      • If you have researched the company you may know at least one present challenge facing the company and can address your unique value statement to this challenge.
      • Use more “you/your” and less “I/my”.
  5. In the closing paragraph, thank the reader for his/her consideration and:
    • Ask for an interview or meeting.
    • If you intend to follow-up with a phone call or email, say so. But you must follow through with the call or email.
  6. Under your signature, repeat your telephone number and email address to make it easy for the reader to contact you.

A few final thoughts:

  1. Write to communicate your interest, not dazzle the reader with a list of your professional accomplishments to date.
  2. Get to the point quickly using short and familiar words. Avoid acronyms unless you are sure the reader will understand them (an HR person may not be familiar with specific industry jargon).
  3. Use active voice, not passive language. Using contractions like can’t, won’t, it’s, etc. is fine but avoid using the word “which.”
  4. Remember to proofread your letter before sending it.
  5. Keep a copy of your cover letter to review when preparing for the interview.

Now, get to it . . .



This Blog/Web Site is made available by me, an attorney licensed to practice law in Connecticut, with extensive human resources experience. I am not a recruiter, hiring manager, or career agent. I am not an expert in any of the areas of job search. I am writing to share my job search experiences with you. This Blog/Web Site is designed to provide accurate information on the subjects covered but should not be considered professional or legal advice.

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