How to Write a Cover Letter

writing a cover letter that gets noticed, cover letter tipsUse this advice to customize and optimize your next cover letter

In this day and age of electronic resumes, is a cover letter still necessary? Even though you may be hoping we will say “no,” the answer is still “Yes!” Why are cover letters important? They give you a chance to market yourself to the employer in a way that a resume can’t. They also give you additional opportunities to insert keywords and key phrases that may help your resume get noticed by the electronic applicant tracker systems.

Here are some helpful tips that will get you over your writer’s block and on your way to writing a cover letter that brings out your strengths. Once you get the hang of it, you will find it’s not all that bad!

1. Write a new cover letter for every job application
It is tempting to use the same cover letter over and over again, but this is a mistake. You need to customize each cover letter to the specific job application. It’s okay to re-use some phrases and sentences, but you want to be sure that the letter is addressing the specific requirements of the particular job.

2. Find out the hiring manager’s name if possible
Most job ads will not tell you the name of the person to whom you should address the letter. This is frustrating! But with enough Internet research or a quick call to the department’s administrative assistant, you should probably be able to sleuth out the name of the person who runs the department where the job is posted. Address the letter to that person. If you absolutely cannot find the name, you can write, “Dear Hiring Manager.”

3. Summarize your strengths: Don’t re-hash your resume
A cover letter is more than a repeat of your resume. Rather than listing your experience, a cover letter should summarize why you are the best candidate for the job. Select just one or two experiences and use them to illustrate how you will be able to help the employer achieve their goals. You can even add a little creativity with a brief personal note, a thought you have about the career field, or a reason you want to work for this employer. Being creative helps to make your cover letter stand out in the hiring manager’s mind.

4. Keep it brief
A cover letter should fit on one page. It should have about 3 to 4 paragraphs, with each paragraph having about 2 to 3 sentences. Use this template to organize your letter:

  • Paragraph 1: Intro and why you are a strong candidate for the job
  • Paragraph 2: An example of experience or education that qualifies you for the job
  • Paragraph 3: Something creative/personal and a summary of your most important qualities
  • Paragraph 4: Follow-up steps

5. Optimize your cover letter with keywords and phrases
Once you’ve drafted your cover letter, go back to the job posting. First, make sure your cover letter is speaking to the key responsibilities of the job. Next, look at the exact terminology that the job posting uses. Customize your cover letter to include these same terms. For example, if the job ad wants the person to be proficient in Electronic Medical Records (EMR), and your cover letter talks about Electronic Health Records (EHR), make sure you change it to match the terminology in the job ad.

6. Check for errors
When writing your cover letter, be sure to use spell check and grammar check. Also ask a trusted friend or Career Services advisor to proofread your cover letter. You don’t want tiny mistakes to hurt your chances.

With these tips, you should be well on your way to writing a cover letter for your next job application. For tips on writing the best resume you can, see 5 Great Resume Tips. We wish you the best of luck in your job search!


The Harris School of Business is a career-focused training school with locations in the Philadelphia area, as well as New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware. Learn more about starting your new career path at the Harris School by contacting us online.