Writing a resume can be a headache. What do you include? How long do you make it? What the heck is an ATS anyway? Thankfully, if you want to know how to write a cover letter, that's a whole lot easier. Honestly, you only need about three paragraphs.
Are Employers Even Reading Cover Letters?
For the most part, you'll be applying for positions online. And for the majority of online programs, you only need a resume. The cover letter is optional. The question, then, is: Should you opt to include one?
A good way to think about this is: Do what the employer wants. In other words, if they ask for a cover letter, include it. While many HR managers and decision makers don't read cover letters, some will. And you need to do what the job posting asks for. Having a cover letter available to customize for each position is a smart idea and will help your resume stand out even more, especially if you add something of value in your cover letter.
What Not to Include in Your Cover Letter
Just as there are some correct ways how to write a cover letter, there are some things you shouldn't include as well.
- Don't have a generic cover letter you use everywhere for every opportunity. It should be customized to the job for which you're applying.
- Never put information in your cover letter that you want employers to see, especially if you want it to scan in the ATS. For instance, if your resume is written to get a systems administrator position, your cover letter shouldn't explain that you're now looking for a graphic design position.
- This is not where you tell the story of why you're looking for a job—at least not in detail. Don't say that your parents are ill and you need to relocate to their location or that your boss is a jerk and you need to get out. That's not information the hiring manager needs.
How to Write a Cover Letter
There's no reason to make this harder than it needs to be. How to write a cover letter is easy—and you only need three paragraphs.
Of course, be sure you have a header and include the name of the hiring manager, if you know it. There's nothing better than personalization.
Start with an introduction, as all good letters should. This is how you heard about the job, something of interest about the position or the role in general, and how you'll add value. If you need something to look to, check out the summary on your resume. Usually, it has some good value-added information you can share here.
The easiest option here is to list 2–4 bulleted accomplishments from your resume. You can introduce the bullets with a brief sentence about the achievements you've had in your career and how they support your candidacy for the role.
Another option in paragraph 2 is to list, in two columns, what the position requires and how you meet the employer's needs. Naturally, rather than just saying "got it," put a little more into how you can do what they need you to do. Accomplishments are always a great way to showcase the talents that you offer.
Too often, job seekers peter out toward the end of a cover letter, when the trick is to stay strong. This is where you thank the reader for considering you and have a strong call to action, such as, "I look forward to meeting with you to discuss how I can add energy to your team." Always look to the next step.