Job interviews are a lot like blind dates.
You go there in your best suit, ready to put your best put forward. You barely know the person you’re going to meet. But you’re hoping to make a good first impression and survive the ordeal without too much trouble.
If all goes well, you hit it off and you’re either invited for a second interview or job offer.
If something goes wrong, you spend an entire meeting suffering through one question after another. Sometimes you’re mumbling or babbling, other times it feels like the interviewer is judging you.
Cover Letters, an Appetizer for Interviews
Cover letters and resumes, when used right, ease the blind date problem in interviews. It serves as the interviewer’s primer on who you are, and the talents you bring to the company.
This is all well and good for the recruiters. But what does this have to do with you, the candidate?
The better the cover letter you write, the better your chances of having a pleasant ‘blind date.’ A great cover letter can make an interviewer see your potential, increasing your chances of having a great interview.
Follow-Along: Cover Letter Tips With Templates Samples That Can Get You Hired
1. In-Line or Attached Cover Letter?
Job postings requesting both an email cover letter and a resume suggest that all applications are entered through an Application Tracking System (ATS). In this case, include the cover letter and resume as separate attachments in your application. Companies do this so they can search their ATS for keywords, and print out documents for interviews.
John Paul Engel, President of Knowledge Capital Consulting and Lecturer of Entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa says, “It’s good to include a cover letter as an attachment, because some recruiters prefer to send it to their client.”
Engel says he knows a couple of recruiters who won’t forward an application without an attached cover letter. But if the job ad has specific instructions about attachments, follow it. That’s your best cue.
2. Ideal Cover Letter Length
Don’t spill your whole resume here. The cover letter’s main purpose is to get your resume read—it’s just a teaser.
And what are teasers? They’re short and on point. Think of it as the email version of your elevator pitch. Write about who you are, what you can do for the company, and a short background. Aim for 150-350 words.
How Not to Waste Your Email Cover Letter Subject Line
Subject lines are prime real estate for email job applications. It’s the first thing the recruiter sees. If your subject looks spammy, it won’t reach the inbox. But if it’s too vague, it won’t get read. You should master the fine line between attention-grabbing and formal:
“A lot of recruiters and hiring managers will ask you to put something specific in the subject. Make sure that you read the entire job post. I’ve received lots of applications that didn't follow my request for a specific subject line. They were automatically deleted,” says Jean Paldan, Managing Director at Rare Form New Media
3. The Most Accepted: Subject Lines with Keywords or a Job Title
Among the recruiters I asked, this format
seems to be the most popular. Just use “Job
(Your Target Position).” Another format is “Application for +
You can also get a little creative. Try “Application
(Job Title): Your Search Ends Here”, suggested by Ali Mercier, Marketing Manager at
The Leadership Program.
4. Tough Competition? Try Subject Lines with Attention Grabbing Statements
I got mixed reactions about creative subject lines. In general, people hiring for big corporations prefer the standard approach described above. But start-ups, creative jobs, and small business owners are all for creative subject lines.
Here are a couple of examples:
- Paldan suggests the following subject line, “I want to work with you.
(Something that reflects your personality or specific to the hiring company)” can turn into “I want to work with you. I’ll bring cookies”
- Francesca Arcuri, Manager at People2People, opened an application with the following subject, “Hello…is it me you’re looking for?”
Liu, Founder of Codementor, says he hired a candidate who used this formula
on the email subject, “Hi
(Company Name!)My name is
(Your Name)and I have ideas for you”
Here's another good example,"
(Your Name)– The Best
(Target Position)You’ll ever Have on Your Team"
5. Subject Line when You’re Referred by Someone
Did someone pass your resume to the hiring team? Do you know someone from the company? 40% of hires are from referrals, so mention it upfront to get the hiring manager’s attention.
- "Referred by
(Your Contact’s Full Name)for
(Your Contact’s Full Name)Referred me for the
6. Proper Salutations
Do your best to find the name of whoever is in charge of the applications. Tried everything online without success? Call the company and ask for the person in charge of hiring for your position.
For big businesses, it’s safer to use “Dear +
(Last Name).” Only a
professional acquaintance or previous working relationship with the hiring
manager earns you the use of “Dear +
(First Name)” or “Hi +
Opening Line Strategies
7. When You’re Prospecting for Vacancies
Think of your opening line as a hook, luring the reader to find out more about you.
Here’s an opening line you can use if there’s no job posting and you’re just getting in touch to see if they have a position that might suit your skills. It’s also great for freelancer’s cold-emailing potential clients.
development about the company). I’m writing to you because
(adjective about you or your work) in
(specific job or industry). I’ve been
in this line of work for
(your website, sample, or other
credibility-boosting statement). I’d love to meet you to discuss how I can
be of service to
Email Cover Letter Example:
“I heard about your design company’s expansion down town. Congratulations! I’m writing because I’m a versatile Graphic Designer that can produce anything from web design, to brochures, and brand logos. I’ve been in this line of work for 7 years.
Check out my portfolio here Exampleportfolio.com. I’d love to meet you and talk about how I can be of service to XYZ Company.”
8. Used in Response to a Job Ad
Writing an opening line in response to a job ad is easier, because you’re applying for a specific job and you have an ad to reference to.
Template 1: Short and Sweet
for taking the time to read my application. I’d be an outstanding
(Job title) for
(Company Name). Here’s
(Insert list of achievements and skills here)”
Template 2: Distinguish Yourself from Competition
you do, don’t choose anyone who thinks the
(Job Title) is all about
1 required skill in the position). A
(Job Title’s) job isn’t just
(common skill),(common achievement or certificate required in the
. For me, it’s about
(deeper core and soft skills rarely mentioned by applicants)."
Email Cover Letter Sample:
“Whatever you do, don’t choose anyone who thinks being a Lead Developer is all about building apps that get downloaded. A Lead Developer’s job isn’t just about writing code or trouble shooting bugs. For me, it’s more about creating a solution to an existing problem, writing logical code that won’t drive someone else crazy, and encouraging your team to never stop learning.”
9. When Someone Referred You
Again, if someone referred you, mention it as early as possible.
(Your contact’s name) suggested I email you regarding the
(Job Title) at
(job field) for
(he/she) thinks I’d be a good
fit for this position.”
Email Cover Letter Example:
“Alexis suggested I email you regarding the Network Administrator position at Acme IT Consulting. He and I have worked together in the IT Systems industry for 5 years, and he thinks I’d be a good fit for this position.”
10. Keyword Rich Opener
Use this type of opening line when you want to play it safe, or you have no information about the company’s corporate culture.
(Job Title) with extensive experience
(list of skills required in the job
(Skills 3) are my specialty. With
(X Years) experience in the
(your industry), I assure
(Company Name) my hard work and
Email Cover Letter Sample:
“I’m a veteran UI/UX Designer with extensive experience in designing UIs for desktop sites, mobile, and apps. Designing content layout using Adobe Creative Suite and Illustrator, including sketching and executing responsive designs from collaborative meetings are my specialty. With 3 years’ experience in the design industry, I can assure Ajax Company my hard work and dedication.”
11. Fresh Graduate Opening Line
(Your Degree) and
hands-on experience in
skills) provided me with the skills I’ll need to fill the
(Target Job) vacancy in your office.
I’m eager to learn and would welcome the chance to bring my
(soft skills related to the job) to
work with your team at
Email Cover Letter Example:
“My coursework in Computer Science and hands-on experience in writing code, testing, and documentation provides me with the skills I’ll need to fill the Junior Developer vacancy in your office. I’m eager to learn and would welcome the chance to bring my organizational and problem-solving skills to work with your team at ABC Development.”
12. What to Include in Your Cover Letter Body
Here’s where you can include more details about some of your key accomplishments, the how and why stories that were too lengthy to include in your resume’s bullet points.
Telling stories isn’t the only option though. You can also use this part to explain your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) as a candidate. To do that, check out section 2 of this guide, Write Your Cover Letter (Step by Step), step 2—Craft Your Pitch and USP.
Different Closing Strategies
An email cover letter is only as good as its closing, so finish strong!
13. Specific Call to Action (CTA)
Want to get interviewed? Want to get your resume read? Ask for it. Below are three ways to do it.
“I’m confident it would be a great idea
for us to meet and discuss this vacancy. Please email me at this address, or
call me at
(phone number)to schedule an interview.”
(Company Name)is eager to get the most out of its
(job you’re applying for), I encourage you to consider meeting me to discuss the specifics of this position. If you have any questions or need additional information, you can contact me at
- “Although I have tried to show that I’m a worthy candidate in this letter, some qualities are difficult to put into words, so I hope you can give me the opportunity of a face-to-face interview. I look forward to hearing from you.”
The last CTA option, from Julie Fantom HR & Operations Director at Ashford Johnson (Trading Name of Wilson Field) is perfect for showing vulnerability, something to balance all the confident statements you made in your cover letter.
14. Expressing Intent to Follow-Up
Want to take it further and increase the chances of your resume getting read? Tell them you’ll call after a few days. Of course, don’t forget to call them if you say you’re going to follow up. Be proactive but polite and still respectful of the recruiter’s time.
Lots of applications, even promising ones, often get lost in the pile. But this approach, when used correctly, can get you an interview.
(Contact’s Name), I look forward to speaking with you personally to discuss the
(Job Title)and how I can add value to your company. I’ll reach out to you next week to arrange a time to schedule.”
“I’d love to meet you to see if I can do for
(Company Name)what I did for
(Last Employer). I’m all about adding value and seeking a great fit with employers. I’ll be in touch in a week to schedule an interview.”
15. Adding a Post Script
This is totally optional, so don’t add a PS unless you have something genuine and memorable to say. Here’s where you mention a great accomplishment, an interesting but not too personal trivial, or something you love about the company. No gushing please!
“PS. Check out my resume to see how I earned my former employer over $15,000 in sales in a month.”
Other Important Considerations Lots of Job Applicants Forget
Keywords vary from job to job, but you can always find them on the job ad, or in the company’s website. Look for skills, tools, certifications, and soft-skills on the job ad, and then try to incorporate them on your cover letter.
No need to use them repeatedly, or force all of them into your letter.
17. Formatting or Styling
You know how some email applications allow you to include backgrounds and logos in your email? Skip it. Stick to simple Bolds and Italics when needed. Use standard left-indent formatting, no double spaces and double spacing.
18. Customizing the Cover Letter for a Specific Job
“If you can change bits of your cover letter talk directly to the company you are sending it to, making reference to their culture, or something that only applies to that company, this will win you big points", says Paldan”
She adds, “I once got a cover letter from a programmer mentioning his ‘epic Nerf gun sniper skills.’ But you won’t know about our Nerf gun collection unless you look through our website. The applicant’s comment amused me, so I brought him in for an interview even though we weren’t hiring.”
19. Have Someone Read it
Ask someone else to read your email cover letter out loud. Slowly. This will help you detect awkward phrasing, too much boasting, and grammar errors.
A phrase or sentence summarizing what you bring to the company and your personality. It’s shorter than an elevator pitch. Examples include, “Design made simple” or “Passion, programming… and a lot of coffee.”
No need to insert the whole letter. Just pick the best snippets and put it in your cover letter body or post-script.
22. Mission Statement
A mission statement covers your personal philosophy about your career and why you’re doing what you do.
For example, “Programmers can create products and technology that affect whole communities, even the world. I can’t change the world (yet), but I can do my part by coding one useful problem-solving app at a time.”
You Are the Product, Your Cover Letter and Resume Are the Ads
Unless you’re too presumptuous, stop feeling sleazy about trying to sell yourself in your cover letter and resume. That’s what they’re for.
If you need more cover letter tips and inspiration, read through this collection of examples:
And good luck landing that new position!