Work in USA

9 min read

July 02, 2021

What is the Purpose of a Cover Letter?

Our tips for writing a winning cover letter to land the job of your dreams in the US.

If you’re applying for a job, you’ve undoubtedly seen that a cover letter is an essential aspect of your application. While not mandatory for every position, most job descriptions will require you to upload a cover letter alongside your resume and other details. 

What is a Cover Letter? 

Often, it can be tough to determine what is the purpose of a cover letter. In a lot of ways, it’s a marketing tool — but the product being sold is you. 

While an effective resume lists your skills and previous achievements, a cover letter expands upon the most relevant of those experiences to the current role you’re applying for, and informs the hiring manager how your prior skillset translates to success in a new position.

Your cover letter can also fill in any gaps in your resume, better explain your accomplishments instead of merely listing them in a short description on your resume, and emphasize what you bring to the table.

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Do I Need a Cover Letter?

While not every role will require that you upload a cover letter, if the job description expressly states that you should not include a cover letter, then don’t attach one. It’s best to follow instructions to avoid putting off a potential employer.

Moreover, if the employer doesn’t want a cover letter, then it’s likely that they won’t have time to read your note so it’s best to simply skip writing a cover letter for a job that asks for just your resume. You should also skip writing a cover letter if there isn’t space on the application to upload one or if it’s an optional element that you don’t have time to complete effectively. 

However, if the job description has asked for a cover letter, or if you have a gap on your resume or other red flags that would be beneficial for you to explain, then it is important to include a cover letter.

It can also be worth your time to be writing a cover letter for a job in order to include extra information that will bolster your application. As such, while a cover letter is not always needed, it can often strengthen your chances of landing the role. 

How to Write a Cover Letter

Writing a good cover letter doesn’t have to be difficult — after all, all cover letters follow the same basic structure:

  • Header: Format your cover letter with a personalized header that includes your name, email address, and phone number at minimum. If you feel comfortable, you can also include your address and links to your online professional portfolio. Your header can be consistent across every cover letter and should be an easy way for a recruiter to identify who the potential candidate is and how to contact them.
  • Formal Salutation: Use a professional, formal salutation when beginning your cover letter. Note that it can be best to use a name, so for instance the title and name of the hiring manager, if you know it.
  • Introduction: Mention your name and the role you are applying for. You should also briefly describe why you are interested in the position. While you will expand upon this in the body of the cover letter, a brief preview of what’s to come can help with the structure of your letter. So, even if the recruiting manager only reads the first and last paragraph of your cover letter, you want them to come away with an understanding of why you’re the best candidate for the role.
  • Body: The body of the cover letter will include concrete examples and detailed explanations of the prior experience you possess that makes you ideal for this role. Depending on your age and the amount of experience you have, this can be longer or shorter — there is no ideal length, though typically 3-7 paragraphs is recommended. 
  • Conclusion: Here’s where you reiterate your suitability for this position. You want your conclusion to drive home why you are the best candidate for this role, so emphasize complementary values — that is, aligning your skills and qualities with the job description. You should also use this section to provide the hiring agent with a “call to action”. Essentially, you want to write about how you look forward to expanding upon any of the points mentioned in an interview, or highlight how the recruiting agent can contact you to move forward with the application process.
  • Closing: Use a formal closing phrase such as “Respectfully” or “Sincerely” to close out your letter.

Top Tips for Writing a Winning Cover Letter 

Here are some of our top tips for writing a winning cover letter: 

  • Research: When you take the time to research the company and role, it will show in your cover letter. So many job applicants recycle old cover letters and don’t bother to make their applications stand out by emphasizing the unique, personalized nature of the role they are applying to, so this can be an easy way to stand out. 
  • Length: Recruiting managers often have hundreds of applications to read through. They may expedite the process for themselves by reading just the first and last paragraph of your cover letter versus the entire body, especially if you’ve written close to 6-7 paragraphs. As such, it can be helpful to write concisely. A shorter cover letter has a better chance of being read, remembered, and even re-read on a quick skim. 
  • Quantitative Data: Whenever possible, use numbers throughout your cover letter. Whether you helped increase performance at your previous company by 16% or you helped to hire 87 applicants, emphasize these metrics so that a new employer clearly understands the value you bring to their company. Moreover, these quantitative metrics will help you to stand out from the crowd. 
  • Address Red Flags: While it can be scary to bring up any red flags in your resume — especially if the hiring manager hadn’t previously noticed them — it looks worse if your recruiting agent has noticed these red flags and also notices that you’re avoiding addressing them. Be upfront about any gaps in your resume or any obvious questions that are likely to arise from looking at your application. Your recruiting manager will be more likely to give you an interview if they see that you are being honest and aren’t afraid to own any past mistakes or discrepancies.
  • Edit: You’d be surprised, but taking the time to carefully edit and proofread your cover letter can help make you a standout candidate. Go over the formatting of your letter — if someone prints it out, will aspects be cut out from the margins? — and make sure that the color scheme isn’t too bold. Cut out cliches and use jargon sparingly, ensuring that your writing style is professional while still allowing a bit of your personality to shine through.

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Keertana Anandraj
Keertana Anandraj is a recent college grad living in San Francisco. When she isn’t conducting international macroeconomic research at her day job, you can find her in the spin room or planning her next adventure.

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