It’s a good time to be a job seeker: U.S. job growth is strong, unemployment is on a steady decline, and openings are at an all-time high.
That doesn’t make the search any less daunting. Differentiating yourself from every other job seeker on the market is no small feat, and the monotony of filling out online applications can make the task downright exhausting. That’s where a killer cover letter comes in.
Done right, a great cover letter is like a secret weapon for catching a hiring manager’s attention. Next to your resume, it’s one of the most important, underutilized tools at your disposal.
Here are some cover letter writing tips, and a free, downloadable template, to make yours stand out.
Every cover letter you write should be tailored to the job you’re applying for — just like your resume. Study the job posting carefully, and make a quick list of any essential qualifications.
“Job seekers really struggle with what to say on a cover letter,” says Jessica Holbrook Hernandez, President and CEO of Great Resumes Fast. “Taking a second to think about why you’re applying, and why you’re a good fit for the company, makes the process a lot easier.”
If you’re adding a cover letter to an online application, use a business letter format with a header and contact information. If you’re sending an email, it’s OK to leave out the header, but be sure to provide a phone number (and an attached resume, of course). Make sure you’re clear about the position you’re applying for.
Avoid nameless salutations — it might take a little Google research, and some LinkedIn outreach, but finding the actual name of the position’s hiring manager will score you major brownie points. “Do not start a cover letter with, ‘to whom it may concern,’” Holbrook Hernandez says. “It concerns no one.”
2. Tell a Story
To grab a recruiter’s attention, a good narrative—with a killer opening line—is everything.
“The cover letter is a story,” says Satjot Sawhney, a resume and career strategist with Loft Resumes. “What is the most interesting thing you’re doing that’s relevant to this job?” Use that to guide your letter.
Ideally, the story that drives your resume will focus on a need at the company you’re applying for. If you’re a PR professional, maybe you have a list of clients in an industry the team wants to break into. If you’re in marketing, a successful promotional campaign might be the ticket in. “A hiring manager wants to see results-driven accomplishments with a past employer,” says Holbrook Hernandez. “If you’ve done it before, you can deliver it again.”
If you have a career gap or are switching industries, address it upfront. “If there’s anything unique in your career history, call that out in the beginning,” says professional resume writer Brooke Shipbaugh.
(Here’s a downloadable sample.)
3. Use Bullet Points to Show Impact
Hiring managers are usually slammed with applications, so short, quick cover letters are preferable to bloated ones, says Paul Wolfe, Senior Vice President of human resources at job site Indeed.
“Make your cover letter a brief, bright reference tool,” he says. “The easier you can make it on the recruiter the better.”
Bullet points are a good tool for pulling out numbers-driven results. Job seekers in creative fields like art and design can use bullets to break down their most successful project. Those in more traditional roles (like the one in the template), can hammer off two or three of their most impressive accomplishments.
4. Highlight Culture Fit
It’s often overlooked, but a major function of the cover letter is to show a company how well you’d mesh with the culture.
As you research a potential employer, look for culture cues on the company website, social media, and review sites like Glassdoor. Oftentimes, employers will nod to culture in a job posting. If the ad mentions a “team environment,” it might be good to play up a recent, successful collaboration. If the company wants a “self-starter,” consider including an achievement that proves you don’t need to be micromanaged.
The tone of your letter can also play to culture. “The cover letter is a great place to show [an employer] how you fit into their world,” Shipbaugh says. “Show some personality.”
5. End with an Ask
The goal of a cover letter is to convince the person reading it to make the next move in the hiring process — with a phone call, interview, or otherwise. Ending on a question opens that door without groveling for it.
“You have to approach this with a non-beggar mentality,” Sawhney says. “Having an ‘ask’ levels the playing field.”
Related: What Your Resume Should Look Like in 2018
Cover Letters for an Internal Position or Promotion
Promotion Cover Letter Writing Tips and Examples
When you're being considered for an internal position or a promotion, you may need to write a cover letter to officially apply for the new position within your company. What should you write in a cover letter for a job at a company where you already work? What's the best way to frame your credentials to secure a promotion?
What to Include in Your Cover Letter
A job promotion cover letter should clearly explain your interest in the job and delineate how you are qualified for the position.
The letter should also recap the experience you have had, your knowledge of your employer’s current mission and needs, and the progressive growth you have enjoyed within the company.
Don't presume that the hiring manager or department manager reviewing your qualifications will know your background just because you work for the company. This is especially true when applying for a position at a large company. Sharing the specific details of your history with the organization will help earn your resume a closer look and ensure that your qualifications get noticed. Also be prepared to discuss these qualifications during job interviews.
See below for a general cover letter for a job promotion, as well as one written for a retail position.
Sample Cover Letter for an Internal Position or Promotion
Dear Mr. or Ms. Last Name,
I would like to formally apply for the Assistant Communications Manager position in the Corporate Communications Department.
As you are aware, I have had extensive experience with [insert Name of Company], starting when I participated in your summer editorial intern program while I was still in college in [insert Year].
Since then I have been advanced through progressively more responsible positions in both the Human Resources and Marketing Departments.
During my tenure, I have developed exceptional writing and editing skills and have designed and implemented highly successful communications strategies at the departmental level.
I have also demonstrated my ability to work with leaders across business units and multiple lines of business, consistently earning exemplary scores on my annual performance evaluations by my supervisors.
In addition, I have been responsible for benefits communications and employee relations, as well as liaising with the company's clients and vendors to ensure that all projects are completed by established milestones.
These are just a few examples of my accomplishments and contributions to our company. I hope that you will find that this brief view, in combination with the attached resume, describes a dedicated employee of ABCD with the experience and skills to meet or exceed the requirements of the position of Assistant Communications Manager.
I appreciate your consideration and look forward to discussing this opportunity for promotion with you at your convenience. Please let me know if there is any other information I can provide that will support my candidacy for this promotion.
Job Promotion Cover Letter for a Retail Job
Here's an example of a letter or email message used to apply for a job promotion to a management position at a retail store:
Subject: Application for Manager - Shoe Department
Dear [insert Name of HR Contact],
It was with great interest that I read that Human Resources is seeking applications for a new Manager in the Shoe Department. Please accept my resume for review and consideration for this role.
I have been with Casy's for a total of four years, two in my current position of Assistant Manager in the Children's Department, and two as a Sales Associate in the Junior Department. Before coming to Casy's, I worked for Mears as a Sales Associate in the Shoe Department as well as in the Men's Department.
With my experience in varied departments, I feel that I would be an asset as a Manager here at Casy's. In my capacity as an Assistant Manager, I successfully took on many of the Managerial duties in the Children's Department last year when Suzy Smith was out on maternity leave, and I would welcome the opportunity to bring that same stability, energy, and dedication to the Shoe Department within the vacancy created by Amy Jenner's sudden departure.
I appreciate your consideration for this position. It has been a real pleasure to come to work every day since you hired me, and I thus look forward to continuing to grow in my career at Casy's.
More About Getting Promoted
When you're working on getting a promotion, it may take some effort to get noticed by management. There are ways you can enhance your promotability and successful move up the career ladder. Take the time to ensure you're in a perfect position to make the best impression at work and to get that promotion you're seeking.