You know that it’s beneficial to have a second set of eyes review your application materials. Someone who can tell you that your resume looks good—except for that part where you misspelled your own name ( FYI, you can check that, too !). Or that your writing sample is impressive, but that it would be even better if you used the correct version of “ their .”
But sometimes, no one is available. Maybe a contact said he would help but hasn’t replied since, and you don’t want to pester him . Or maybe you’re taking a chance in your letter and you’re afraid feedback from your stuck-in-the-mud roommate will make you lose your nerve and play it safe.
So what should you do? Write your very best letter, and then, before you hit send, try these three tips.
1. Pretend You’re a Stranger
You know why you’re perfect for this job. That’s great, but that context can prevent you from spotting what’s missing in your cover letter. In other words, you might know that you excel at building strong bonds with difficult clients or that you’re an ace public speaker, but if your cover letter uses bland language like “connect with stakeholders” and “has led multiple presentations,” the hiring manager will have no way to know the depth of your skills.
So, take the advice that you surely received from some English teacher at some point, and “Show, don’t tell.” If you led “record growth,” employ the same strategies you did on your resume to quantify your achievements . In lieu of saying I could “adapt to change,” I’ve written this: “I have routinely found myself in inaugural or transitioning roles, such as a first-time admin role that became a communications position, or taking a position once held by two people and rolling it into one.”
Ask yourself, if a stranger handed you your cover letter, what impression would it make? Would you think this person has achieved what you have achieved or could contribute what you know you can?
2. Make Yourself Take a Risk
You’ve probably seen some advice suggesting you step outside of the standard “My name is Sara and I’m applying for such-and-such position…” (If you haven’t, look here , here , and here ). But even if you spice up the intro a bit, you might hold yourself back from getting too creative, because as Muse contributor Dave Meadows writes , “Spice is good, but who wants to eat a spoonful of paprika?”
Honestly, one of the best cover letters I ever wrote was also the riskiest. And how I got over my fear of writing something over the top is that I reminded myself that I didn’t have to submit it. I didn’t write it in one of those finicky, little, online application boxes. I didn’t write in the same document as my pristine, go-to letter. I saved it under a different name and gave myself an hour to write down stories I thought exemplified who I was as an applicant and why I was right for the open role. Another time, I applied for a freelance writing position by submitting my cover letter in the form of an article—and yes, I landed an interview.
So, make yourself take a risk. Fill a document with words you’d use to describe yourself or slightly wacky, attention-grabbing first lines and examples. Then compare each document, and see if pulling a line or two from your risky letter will make your go-to stronger and more memorable.
3. Get Old School
Step one: Run spell check. Do not skip this step!
Step two: Locate a printer. If you don’t have access to a printer, it’s time for a field trip. Because in order to truly edit a cover letter, you’ll have to proofread it, and the most effective way to do that is to get it off of your computer screen and out in front of you—on paper.
So, print your cover letter and then read it out loud. Don’t breeze through it. Go slow, maybe use different voices—a super impressive voice, or an “I can’t believe I’m doing this” voice, or whatever works. As an editor, I can tell you that you’ll be surprised how often this tactic will show you that you’re actually missing a “the” and that without that three-letter word, your big, powerful sentence doesn’t make sense.
Cover letters don’t exist simply to torture you. They’re there because hiring managers are hoping you can flesh out your resume and provide them with a bit more information about why you’re right for the job. So, don’t submit the very first thing you write just to get it over with. Take the time to check your letter over—because you (yes, you!) have what it takes to write an amazing cover letter.
Photo of pencil on desk courtesy of Shutterstock .
Learn How to Format a Cover Letter
When you submit your resume, you will typically need to write a cover letter as well. In this letter, you'll make a case for your candidacy, highlighting your relevant skills. Since a cover letter is a formal document, there are set guidelines for what information to include in the letter, as well as how to format it.
Hiring managers read a lot of cover letters, so while their most important goal is to find strong candidates, they will definitely notice if the letter is formatted incorrectly or does not adhere to the usual cover letter style guidelines.
Use the cover letter format below as a guideline when you create customized cover letters to send to employers. It lays out which information to include, and where. Then, review cover letter samples, a cover letter template, and tips for formatting hard copy and email cover letters you can use to write your own letters.
Cover Letter Format
Your Contact Information
City, State, Zip Code
Employer Contact Information (if you have it)
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name,
- Cover Letter Greeting Examples: Note: If you do not have a contact name, you can skip the salutation entirely. Or, you can use Dear Hiring Manager, To Whom It May Concern, or one of the other examples listed in the link. Ideally, you will be able to address your cover letter to a specific person. Doing research can help you figure out who is the most appropriate person to receive the letter. Note: If you do not know the gender of your contact, you can write out the person's full name, e.g., "Dear Cory Smith"or "Dear Jordan Parish."
Body of Cover Letter
The body of your cover letter lets the employer know what position you are applying for, why the employer should select you for an interview, and how you will follow-up. Organize the body of your cover letter into the following paragraphs:
- First Paragraph
The first paragraph of your letter should include information on why you are writing. Mention the position you are applying for and where you found the job listing. Include the name of a mutual contact, if you have one.
- Middle Paragraph(s)
The next section of your cover letter should describe what you have to offer the employer. Mention specifically how your qualifications match the job you are applying for. Think of this section of the cover letter as where you're making a pitch for your fit as an employee and show makes you a great candidate. Keep in mind that employers will be more interested in what you can do for them, than a list of your background. Make the connection between your qualifications and the job requirements clear. Use this section to interpret your resume—don't repeat from it verbatim.
- Final Paragraph
Conclude your cover letter by thanking the employer for considering you for the position. Include information on how you will follow-up. Optionally, you can briefly restate why you would be a good fit for the position.
Handwritten Signature (for a hard copy letter)
Email Subject Line
When you're sending an email cover letter, include a subject line that enables the hiring manager to recognize who you are and the job for which you are applying. Here are sample subject lines that are appropriate to use in your emailed job application.
Formatting Tips for Cover Letters
Here are some formatting tips to keep in mind when you are writing your letter:
- Email versus hard copy: The example letter above is formatted for a printed out hard copy. If you are emailing your cover letter, you'll need to pay particular attention to the subject line of your email. See more tips for formatting your email cover letter.
- Font choices: The details count when it comes to cover letters, so choose a professional font in a 10 or 12 point size. This is no time to break out emoticons or emojis!
- Spacing: Your letter should be single-spaced. Include a space between every paragraph, and in general, a space between each section of the letter. (That is, there should be a space between the address and the date, and then again between the date and the salutation.) In an email cover letter, where many sections are left off, you will want to include a space between the salutation and between each paragraph, and another space before your complimentary close.
- Proofreading: Remember that note about details counting in cover letters? Make sure to avoid errors by carefully proofreading your letter. Use your word processor's spell check to catch common errors, and then consider reading your letter aloud — or having a friend review it — to catch additional errors. Here are guidelines for proofreading your cover letter.
Cover Letter Examples
Examples of cover letters for a variety of different types of jobs, types of job seekers, and types of job applications.