How to Write a Cover Letter Hiring Managers Want to Read

Every once in a while, the cover letter debate surfaces.

Are cover letters still necessary? 

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According to my friends who hire, many job seekers don’t send a cover letter with their applications. And with most people using online job boards for applications, there isn't always an option to include a cover letter. 

But MOST hiring managers expect to see a cover letter.

When I conducted a survey of 60 hiring managers and HR professionals in 2017 (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here), I found that 81% of hiring managers said that a cover letter was an essential part of the application package. 

You can stand out by submitting a well-written cover letter with your application that:

  • Showcases your most important skills, experience, and training related to the open position
  • Builds connection with the reviewer by showing personality and motivation
  • Reduces red flags for hiring managers by addressing any potential concerns
  • Demonstrates genuine interest in the company and position

Common Cover Letter Mistakes

Job seekers often make these two mistakes when it comes to their cover letters:

  • They make it about themselves, not the company or position.
  • They use a generic cover letter template that reads like a boring form letter.  

Employers spend hours on their recruitment process, trying to attract the right candidate. By putting effort into your cover letter, you show respect for their time. And you make the reviewer’s job as easy as possible by including good information.

Writing Your Cover Letter

When writing your cover letter, start by carefully reviewing the job posting. Then do some research on the company.

Now answer these questions:

  • Why do you want to work at THIS company?  Employers want to know what draws you to this specific job at their company. You need to make them feel that they are your first choice.
  • What are the 2-3 key skill areas that the employer is looking for?  What specific skills, experience, or education do you have that would match what they require?
  • Is there anything on my resume that might cause a red flag? If so, find a tactful way to address it in your cover letter. This is also your opportunity to share information that is not highly visible on your resume.
  • What is your motivation? What excites or interests you the most about this position or company? Beyond getting a job, what drives you to apply?

Cover Letter Tips

When completing your cover letter, here are some of my tried-and-tested tips to make sure that your future cover letter stands out. 

  • Use a proper business letter format including a header with your address and contact information, date, company address, salutation, and closing.
  • Use the same formatting in your cover letter as your resume. You want it to look like a complete package.
  • Keep your paragraphs short to improve readability. I suggest about three lines per paragraph.
  • Use bullets to highlight your most important skills, experience, or training. You want to highlight your “best of” rather than trying to talk about everything.
  • Share stories of success using a personable, professional tone.
  • Use names where you can in the salutation (e.g. Dear Ms. Smith) or if you have been referred to the job by someone. (e.g. When Marie Reddy told me about this position as a Home Stager, I was immediately interested because...)
  • Show enthusiasm and interest. You want to show that not only can you do the job, you could do it best!

All my best, 


Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace. 

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