How to Get Started Writing a Cover Letter
Overall, says Godfred, “when you’re up against dwindling attention spans, the more concise you can be the better. Make every single word count.”
To get started, she always suggests that her clients do a “brain dump.” Once you just get your ideas onto the page, then “ask yourself how you can cut half of it.” Through this process, “you’ll find that those very generic phrases oftentimes are the first to go,” she says. You only have so much space to get your point across, so focus on the information that isn’t stated elsewhere rather than simply regurgitating your resume.
This can feel like a lot to do on one cover letter, let alone several, so Kahn likes to remind his clients that quality comes first. Target the jobs you’re most closely drawn to and qualified for and give them all your energy, rather than try to churn out hundreds of cover letters. You may not be able to apply to as many jobs, but you’re guaranteed to have better results in terms of response rate.
Cover Letters Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Whether you’re writing a cover letter for a data scientist or executive assistant position, an internship or a senior-level role, a startup or a Fortune 500 company, you’re going to want to tailor it to the role, company, and culture (not to mention, the job description).
Don’t fret! We’ve got examples of the four basic types of cover letters below: a traditional cover letter, an impact cover letter, a writing sample cover letter, and a career change cover letter. We’ve also included the exact job descriptions they’re written for—to help inspire you to tailor yours to a specific position.
One note before you read on: There’s a difference between your cover letter and the email you send with your application. If you’re not sure whether to copy and paste your letter into your email or attach it as a document, common practice is to pick either/or, not both.
The Traditional Cover Letter
A traditional cover letter, is, as you guessed it, based on your average cover letter template. You’ll most likely write this version if you’re applying to a very traditional company (like a law firm or major healthcare company) or a very traditional role (like a lawyer or accountant), or when you’re just looking to lean more conservative and safe.
Let’s say you’re applying to a paralegal job opening. The job description might look something like this:
Draft routine legal documents for review and use by attorneys
Coordinate and organize materials and presentations for board meetings
Research legal and related business issues and report findings and conclusions to team
Provide overall legal administrative support of the legal team
Maintain calendars and ensure timely filings
Bachelor’s degree or equivalent of relevant education and work experience
Strong communication skills (oral and written)
Strong organizational, multitasking, and prioritizing skills
Proficiency with Microsoft Office Suite
Trustworthy, positive, energetic, and optimistic attitude with a willingness to roll up your sleeves
Under the constraints of keeping things strictly professional, here’s what you could write without sounding too boring or jargon-y:
Dear Ms. Jessica Tilman,
In my five-year career as a paralegal, I have honed my legal research and writing skills, and the attorneys I’ve worked with have complimented me on my command of case law and litigation support. Spiegel Law Firm’s 20 years in practice proves that the firm has strong values and excellent attorneys, which is why I want to be a part of the Spiegel Law Firm team.
I currently serve as a paralegal for Chandler LLC, where I work closely with the partners on a number of high-priority cases. During my time here, I implemented a new calendar system that ensures timely filing of court papers. This system has prevented missed deadlines and allowed for better organization of internal and client meetings.
Previously, as a paralegal for the Neuerburg Law Firm, I received praise for my overall support of the legal team and my positive attitude.
My further qualifications include a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University, a paralegal certificate, and training in LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Microsoft Office Suite.
I would love the opportunity to discuss how I can contribute to your legal team. Thank you in advance for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.
It’s short, sweet, and to the point. It shows both a knack for getting things done in a thorough and timely matter and an energy for helping out wherever it’s needed. They also toss some important keywords in there: implemented a new calendar system, My further qualifications include a Bachelor’s Degree…, training in LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Microsoft Office Suite…
Finally, it expresses a genuine interest in this specific firm in its opening lines.
The impact cover letter works best for roles where you’re expected to deliver on certain goals or results. Maybe you’re in sales and the job calls for hitting a certain quota each quarter. Or maybe you’re an event planner looking to show you can run X number of conferences or create Y number of marketing campaigns. The key for this, then, will be to put your accomplishments front and center.
You’ve come across an opening for an email marketing manager. The job description states the following:
Manage email marketing strategy and calendar, including copywriting, optimization, monitoring, reporting, and analysis of campaigns
Improve campaign success through conversion optimization, A/B testing, and running experiments
Measure and report on performance of campaigns, assessing against goals
Collaborate with the design team to determine content strategy and ensure brand guidelines are followed in emails
Partner and collaborate cross-functionally with sales, product, product marketing, and data teams
3+ years in email marketing or equivalent field
Experience with Google Analytics, HTML, CSS, Photoshop, Microsoft Excel, and SEO a plus
Excellent communication skills (oral and written) and an eye for copyediting
Team player with strong interpersonal, relationship-building, and stakeholder management skills
Excellent project management, problem solving, and time management skills, with the ability to multitask effectively
Your personality can shine more directly through this kind of cover letter, but you’ll want to make sure your hard skills and successes stand out:
Dear Russ Roman,
I have a problem. See, my inbox currently (and embarrassingly) hosts 1,500 unread emails—including newsletters from at least 50 different brands.
But this problem only fuels my passion for creating emails that are worth opening. Because from my perspective, as someone who can barely get through their own stack of mail, that’s a true win.
I’ve been following Vitabe for years, and can proudly say that I open every single email you send to me. I’m a sucker for a good subject line—“Take a Vitamin-ute—We’ll A-B-C You Soon” being my favorite—and the way your email content feels both fun and expert-backed really speaks to me. This is why I’m thrilled to submit my application for a role as email marketing manager at your company.
I have over four years of experience working in the email marketing space. In my current role at Westside Bank, I was able to implement new email campaigns centered around reengaging churned clients. By analyzing data around the types of clients who churn and the engagement of our current email subscribers, as well as A/B testing headlines and newsletter layouts, we were able to increase email subscribers by 15% and convert 30% of those subscribers to purchase our product, a significant increase from the previous year. I also launched a “Your Credit Matters” newsletter focused on educating our clients on how they spend and manage their credit—which became our highest performing campaign in terms of open-rates and click-through to date.
Previously, as a member of the marketing team at Dream Diary Mattresses, I collaborated with the sales and product team to understand how I could best support them in hitting their quarterly goals. One specific project involving creating personalized emails for customers drew more people to come back to our site after 30 days than direct paid ad campaigns, leading to a 112% increase in revenue from the last quarter.
I take the content I write and the calendars I manage seriously, editing and refining to the point beyond being detail-oriented into scary territory, and I feel my experience and drive would greatly help Vitabe further develop their email program for success.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
This sample cover letter concisely highlights the person’s significant achievements and ties them back to the job description. By adding context to how their projects were created, monitored, and completed, they’re able to show just how results-driven they are.
One thing worth noting: This person didn’t include skills such as Google Analytics, HTML, CSS, Photoshop, Microsoft Excel, and SEO—all of which are listed in the job description. The reason they decided not to was simply because those skills are most likely in their resume, and they wanted to use the space they had to discuss specific projects and tell a story not visible on other parts of their application.