What Are the Essential Parts of a Cover Letter?

Overview

Essential Parts of a Cover Letter To Get Your Job Application Noticed

Looking for a job can be a frustrating experience, especially if you have already faced rejection multiple times. 

Whether you are a recent graduate stepping into the business world or a professional looking for a new opportunity, applying for a job can be simultaneously exciting and intimidating. 

The problem is that the excitement can wane pretty quickly if you’re unable to get an interview—let alone land a job—in your first few (hundreds of) tries. 

And then you’re only left with the intimidating part—questioning everything and wondering what you’re doing wrong.

Are your resume and cover letter written and formatted according to professional standards? Did you include all relevant cover letter parts? Have you managed to showcase your skills and accomplishments to a potential employer successfully? Is a cover letter even necessary for a job application?

At this point, you must be wondering what you can do to increase your odds. This article will show you what parts of a cover letter you should include and what mistakes to avoid when writing them.

What Are Cover Letters, and Why Are They Necessary?

A young mom holding her baby and typing a cover letter on a laptop

Source: Sarah Chai

It might seem like the information in the cover letter and resume overlap, but each of these documents has a specific purpose. 

While both the resume and cover letter serve to showcase your education and professional experience, a cover letter is important because it adds more personality to your job application. A simple yet effective cover letter can go a long way in landing you that elusive job interview. It does that by providing further detail on:

  • Who you are, both personally and professionally
  • Skills and qualifications that make you a great candidate for the job
  • Key accomplishments in your career relevant to the role you’re applying for
  • Your enthusiasm for the job and the value you will bring to the company if you’re hired

While some companies might not put emphasis on a cover letter in the ad, you should bear in mind that most hiring managers rely on it to shortlist candidates. Not submitting a cover letter with your job application can turn out to be a grave mistake because most recruiters expect cover letters from job seekers, while 28% of hiring managers rely on cover letters specifically when making hiring decisions.

You should skip submitting a cover letter only if:

  • Your writing skills are seriously lacking
  • A recruiter already knows who you are
  • The ad specifically states not to submit a cover letter

Is My Cover Letter Being Read by an ATS or a Recruiter?

When you apply for a job, your resume and cover letter might go through an applicant tracking system (ATS) before being passed on to the recruiting team. Startups and small businesses usually don’t use the ATS, but most large organizations rely on software to streamline the hiring process and save time in shortlisting candidates. 

An ATS scans resumes by searching for specific keywords and narrows down candidates for the next step in the hiring process. While companies use HR bots primarily to search resumes, some of the more advanced ones may give cover letters the same treatment.

So, how can you figure out whether your cover letter is being read by software or a human? Here are some ways to figure out if a company is using an ATS:

  1. You can see the logo of an ATS on the company’s website or the job application page
  2. You get redirected to a different page if you apply for the job via an online form or the LinkedIn’s Easy Apply button
  3. The job application page has a URL that is different from the company’s website
  4. You have to fill out a questionnaire in addition to uploading your resume
  5. You need to create an account or sign up to apply for a job

What Are the Components of a Good Cover Letter?

A close-up of a man typing on a laptop

Source: Burst

You might think there’s not much to the cover letter structure, but you’d be wrong. It is not only about including all the necessary sections—how you write them matters as well.

Structuring and writing a cover letter is not to be taken lightly—you are one bad sentence, informal email address, or an overly affectionate greeting away from getting your cover letter dismissed.

Typically, a well-structured cover letter should have the following components:

  1. Heading
  2. Main greeting
  3. Opening paragraph
  4. Main body
  5. Closing paragraph
  6. Formal closing

While writing a cover letter from scratch for each job opening might seem like a lot of work, note that you can create or download a generic cover letter template and customize it for every job you apply to.

Heading

A cover letter heading is the top component of your cover letter and should include the following information:

Elements To IncludeBrief Description
Your name and contact informationWrite your full name, phone number, email address, and LinkedIn profile. You shouldn’t include your headshot, date of birth, Social Security number, or mailing address
The dateMake sure that you enter the correct date in your cover letter header—leaving an incorrect one can seem suspicious to a recruiter. However insignificant that may seem to you, know that leaving the date from two months ago makes you look sloppy and unprofessional and sends the (right) message that you’re mass-applying to job openings
The recipient’s informationAdd details about the company you are applying to, such as the name, address, and contact information

You can place these three components either on top of each other or write the contact info and date on the right and the company’s information on the left.

The header is the first section a hiring manager will see when reviewing your cover letter, so you must ensure that:

  • Your email address is professional—email addresses containing words such as “cutie,” “bae,” or “prince” are red flags for recruiters
  • You haven’t provided three alternative phone numbers and email addresses—that might make you look desperate
  • There are no typos in the header—it looks sloppy and might even cause you to miss a potential callback (if it’s a phone number)

Main Greeting

The best course of action would be to find out the hiring manager’s name from the company’s website or LinkedIn profile and address them personally—it will make your cover letter more memorable. But what if you can’t find their name anywhere, and searching for it turns out to be a time-consuming task?

Know that you don’t need to bend over backwards to find out the name of the hiring manager. Opening your cover letter with “To Whom It May Concern,” “Dear Sir or Madam,” or “Respected Recruiter” is equally acceptable. Note that you should keep your greeting professional—avoid informal greetings, such as “hi” or “hey”—and always use a comma after.

A generic greeting is an ideal solution if you are applying for multiple jobs—using them means you won’t have to change the name every time. 

Opening Paragraph

The introduction of your cover letter should be interesting enough to spark the recruiter’s attention immediately. You can achieve that by being straightforward—introducing yourself, stating how you found out about the job opening, and explaining why you are interested in the position. 

Include the company’s name and the title of the job you are applying for in the opening paragraph—it will convince the recruiter that you are genuinely interested in the position and not just sending the same cover letter to 20 other companies. 

Main Body

A young Black hiring manager conducting a job interview with a candidate

Source: Monstera

Once you have covered the introduction, you can start listing your professional skills and qualifications. Focus on those that are pertinent to the position you are applying for—it’s great that you were successful at selling girl scout cookies when you were young, but that is not really applicable to working as a software developer.

You can also add information about how you contributed to the success of your previous projects or add performance review quotes from your supervisors. Mentioning any training or workshops you took that are relevant to the job role is also a great strategy.

The key is to emphasize what you can offer to the company instead of what you will gain if they choose to hire you. You should also point out why you fit in with their organization and how you can contribute to a positive atmosphere in the workplace.

Keep in mind that the main body of your cover letter should not exceed two paragraphs.

Closing Paragraph

Since you have started your cover letter strongly, you need to end it on the same note.

The concluding paragraph should once again emphasize your interest in the company. You should also thank the recruiter for taking the time to review your application and encourage them to reach out if they have any questions or want to schedule an interview with you.

Formal Closing

Once you’ve completed the previous sections, you need to add a formal closing phrase before your name and signature. Some examples of professional farewell phrases are:

  • Sincerely,
  • Respectfully,
  • Regards,
  • Best regards,
  • Thank you,

Are you done with the cover letter? Don’t send it just yet! 

You should read the entire document multiple times to check for potential errors. Once you fix them, read the cover letter once again with a fresh pair of eyes. Satisfied with how it looks? Now you can send it.

Two Asian men shaking hands at the end of an interview

Source: Thirdman

How Should I Format My Cover Letter?

Have you mapped out an outline of the cover letter yet? Your next step is to handle the formatting

When done right, proper formatting will make your cover letter look professional and appealing to humans and ATSs alike. Here are some details that you need to pay attention to:

  1. Font
  2. Spacing
  3. Margins

Font

Choose a font that is simple and easy to read, such as Calibri, Arial, or Times New Roman. The font size should be between 10-12 pt, but do adjust the size according to the amount of text. 

Keep in mind that your cover letter should fit on a single page. You can decrease the font size if it makes the text spill over to the next page and increase it if the page looks empty—but this is not the best course of action. An expert will notice an obvious attempt to cram those extra few sentences on one page (or to fill out a half-empty page with font size 13). It’s always better to delete something you don’t need or add another line to make your text look neat.

If you want to emphasize specific words or phrases, use the bold option instead of italicizing or highlighting the text—an ATS can’t recognize such formatting. You should also maintain consistency in your job application by using the same font type and size in your cover letter and resume.

Spacing

You should use single spacing and align your text to the left. Proper spacing makes the document look professional and easy to read.

Margin 

Almost all cover letter templates have standard margins set 1 inch from all sides. If your cover letter threatens to spill over to the next page, do not reduce the margins to 0.7 inches—delete whatever you don’t need.

When you have a short cover letter, you can adjust the margins to 1.5 inches to prevent the page from looking empty.

How Can I Make My Cover Letter Stand Out From Others?

A young woman with glasses explaining the hiring process to another woman

Source: Christina Morillo

Structuring and formatting a cover letter properly plays a big part in leaving a great first impression, but what can you do to make your cover letter stand out?

Make use of the following tips and tricks to create a cover letter that will be noticed both by HR bots and recruitment managers:

Tips and TricksBrief Explanation
Do your homeworkTake your time to research the company and job position more thoroughly. You can use the acquired knowledge to connect your skills and experience with the role and emphasize how they make you an excellent addition to the organization
Add specific keywordsRead the original job description thoroughly and include relevant keywords in your cover letter to make it more ATS-friendly. Make sure to use them contextually—don’t force them all into a single paragraph
Play it safeIf you don’t feel comfortable with your writing skills, you can download a cover letter template. Make sure not to copy-paste the entire document word for word—customize it according to your specific skills and qualifications, as well as the requirements of the position you’re applying for
Keep the cover letter short and sweetSome candidates believe their chances will improve with a lengthy cover letter, but the truth is that you should keep your cover letter as concise as possible. Eliminate fluff and mention details that are relevant to the job position

Done With Your Cover Letter? Here’s the Next Step To Landing a Job

2021 statistics show that almost 58% of candidates didn’t have the skills and qualifications required for the job they were applying to. Research also revealed that 23% of the unemployed job seekers applied for over 30 jobs in the previous year. To improve their chances of landing employment, candidates are encouraged to send a lot more applications and even change industries. 

The situation seems grim—even with a perfectly drafted cover letter. 

And what happens if making the extra effort pays off, and you do land an interview? You could end up realizing that you are not the right cultural fit for the company, forcing you to start applying for jobs all over again.

How can you make your job search simpler? By opting for Lensa!

Lensa is an AI-powered website that pulls all job ads from different job boards on a single platform, facilitating the application process and tracking the status of your applications.

Lensa also enables you to learn more about your professional strengths and start making informed career decisions that will pay off in the long run. 

If you sign up for Lensa, you can enjoy the following perks:

  • Opportunity to play the Workstyle Game and learn more about your soft skills and work style
  • Chance to get personalized job recommendations based on the results, as well as your preferred location and salary
  • SMS and email alerts for new job openings
  • Estimation on how ATS-friendly your resume is

Registering With Lensa Has Never Been Easier

A young woman sitting in a chair in the office, with her feet on the desk and arms happily in the air

Source: Andrea Piacquadio

The process of registering with Lensa is straightforward—take a look at the steps you need to follow:

  1. Visit our website
  2. Add details about your preferred job title and location
  3. Click on the Search button
  4. Enter your email address and click on Submit

Once you have registered successfully, you can start browsing Lensa for relevant job openings or play the Workstyle Game. You can also take the following actions:

  • Upload your resume
  • State your desired salary
  • Add your phone number to receive job recommendations on your cell phone
  • Enter the information about your education, experience, and qualifications

After completing your profile, you will start receiving job recommendations according to your personality and requirements. Your possibilities will expand from landing any job to getting one that will shape the course of your future career!

Featured image: Yan Krukov

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