How to Start or Address a Cover Letter

If you plan to send in your resume through either email or the post office, you should always attach a cover letter. Cover letters are your chance to give perspective on the facts and information that you’ve shared on your resume. Resumes are often more mechanical, and are focused on numbers and the past. Cover letters focus on the future, and how you can assist the company in completing their goals.

Cover letters are generally made up of three paragraphs:

  • The first paragraph, where you talk about the job you’re applying for.
  • The second paragraph, where you share why you are qualified.
  • The third paragraph, where you summarize and give them a time to call.

It is these three paragraphs that are going to help you get the job. But they are not the only writing that you will need to do on your cover letter. There are other words that you need to put on your cover letter as well, and while these words are unlikely to HELP you get the job, they may PREVENT you from getting the job if you do them wrong.

Addressing Your Cover Letter – The Literal Address

At the very top of the cover letter – long before you have started to write the core of the letter – are addresses. Even though many cover letters these days are emailed, it remains tradition to write a full address on the document as a way of signaling that you understand over letter structure and format.

NOTE: There are ways to create cover letters that break from tradition and can still be very effective, but if you have little experience writing cover letters, it is best to stick to a traditional style unless you are certain that you have a strategy for writing it that will be effective. Often this comes from experience. For now, this article focuses on the traditional way to start a cover letter.

The first address is you own. Typically, your name goes first in large letters (to be memorable), and then your address is placed beneath it. It is often centered or right justified, although it depends on your cover letter template. Many individuals put their email address underneath their mailing address for reference.

Beneath that is the current date. You should write a new cover letter for every job you apply for, but if you do decide to use a cover letter for multiple jobs, make sure you remember to change the date to the current date.

Finally, you put the business’s name and address. This is always left justified. The address should be written as follows:

  • Name of Hiring Manager
  • Title of Hiring Manager
  • Company Name
  • Company Address

If you do not know the name of the hiring manager, you should write it to the company name only. However, knowing the hiring manager’s name is very important, because it brings us to who you should write the cover letter to.

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The Other Form of “Address” – Who You Address Your Letter To

You start your cover letter with the physical addresses of you and the employer. The next step is to figure out who you are addressing the letter to.

The first instinct is to write something broad, like:

  • Dear Sir/Madam
  • To Whom it May Concern
  • Dear Hiring Manager

However, these types of greetings should only be a last resort. Your task is to try to find out who you are actually addressing the letter towards. There is almost always a single person whose name is listed as the contact for the job – a human resources staff member, or the manager of a specific department.

You need to do your best to try to find this person’s name, and address the cover letter to them directly. If the name isn’t listed on the job advertisement, there are several strategies you can try to use:

  • Find the Same Advertisement Elsewhere – Rarely does a company advertise a job in only one place. Look around the internet and see if you can find other places where they may be advertising the job, then see if there is a name and an email address connected to it.
  • Check the Company Website – Sometimes on the company website there are directories and listings of current office staff. See if you can find the name of the human resource manager, or the individual in charge of recruitment. If you can find the name of the specific individual that controls the hiring process, that should be the name on the resume.
  • Cross Check the Email – Sometimes you’ll be given an individual’s email address, but not necessarily their name, such as JohnS@company.com. Since you need to know the “S” in order to write their last name, cut and paste the email address into Google. Often the name will be in the results.
  • Call the Company – There is no harm in calling the company phone number and then speaking to someone to see who the hiring manager is, especially if there is a front desk worker available to speak with. Make sure you’re clear and honest, and say that you’re calling to apply for a specific job and were wondering to whom you should address the letter.
  • Find a Related Name – Although a tad risky, you can also find the name of someone within the company that you would likely work report to. For example, if the job is in the IT director or IT manager. Not only will you show that you did your research, but it also serves as a possible name drop if the hiring manager is a different person. However, there is a risk here as well, since the person you’re writing to may have nothing to do with hiring.

If you find that none of these options are possible, then you can consider addressing it in a more formal way. “To whom it may concern” is more common, but some experts believe it sounds too mechanical and doesn’t help you stand out. Other ways to address an unknown person include:

  • Dear {{Department}} Hiring Manager (ie, Dear Marketing Department Hiring Manager)
  • Dear {{Job Title}} Hiring Manager,
  • Dear Recruiter,
  • Dear Hiring Manager,

Keep in mind that your goal is to stand out. Taking the time to write to the specific person that is going to be reading your resume and cover letter is the best way to show that you’ve gone the extra mile – that you’re someone that has found their name and taken the time to address them personally.

The more you’ve shown that you’ve done your research and know what you are doing, the more the person in charge of hiring is going to recognize that extra work.

Additional Notes on Greetings

In addition to finding the person’s name, here are some additional tips on writing the greeting portion of the cover letter:

  • Stick to “Dear” – Avoid the tendency to want to be more casual, with “Hello” or some variation.
  • Check Gender – For ambiguously gendered names, do a little research with LinkedIn or Facebook to ensure that the person is the gender you believe them to be.
  • or Ms. Not Mrs – If you are writing to a woman and are not sure if they are married, use Ms. Only if they have already written “Mrs” themselves should you add the “r.”
  • Full Name is Recommended – It is generally recommended that you use the full name, such as “Dear Mr. John Smith” rather than the last name only. However, the last name only is better than the first name only.

Start Your Cover Letter Correctly

The correct address with a proper greeting is unlikely to get you the job. But a poorly constructed cover letter with a poor greeting will absolutely prevent you from getting the job.

Remember – it is better to send in an excellent application to one job than send in a mediocre application to five jobs. Take the time to write a proper cover letter and you’ll improve your chances of employment.

How to Make a Great Cover Letter

While your resume may be your ultimate sales tool, your cover letter is what helps the hiring manager understand you as a person. Cover letters are an additional document you send with your resume that is supposed to put your resume into context, and give more information about who you are and why the company should hire you.

Cover letters are your first opportunity to speak to the hiring manager directly. They are brief – no more than 3 paragraphs on one page – because hiring managers still have hundreds of resumes to go through and do not have time to review lengthy applications.

Yet the cover letter also gives you an opportunity to share with the hiring manager why your experience and background are worth considering for the job.

Cover Letter Templates

Cover letters are known to have a very specific format, and most templates are designed to match this format. Much like a standard resume format, the format is:

  • Your Address
  • Date
  • Company Address
  • Salutation
  • Opening Paragraph
  • Body Paragraph
  • Concluding Paragraph
  • Signature

In addition, all three paragraphs have expectations about the content that should be included, which we will describe in the next sections.

Now, it is possible to write a cover letter that breaks with tradition and doesn’t fit most common cover letter formats. There are stories of individuals that have written fascinating and unique cover letters that have thoroughly impressed the employer and helped them get the job.

But most applicants should stick to a very specific cover letter format. This format is designed to help highlight your information quickly, and make it easy for the hiring manager to find what they’re looking for from your information.

For example, in the first paragraph you are expected to write which job you’re applying for. If you decided to break with tradition and mention the job in the second paragraph, the hiring manager may not notice it and may move on too quickly. That is why cover letters have such a strict format. Cover letters use a specific format so that hiring managers can find the information they need quickly, and know where to expect it.

Many hiring managers also use it as a way to see if the applicant knows how to follow instructions. It is okay to write a cover letter differently than the traditional style, but it is only recommended for select individuals that understand cover letters thoroughly and have a good reason for breaking tradition.

Cover Letter Sample

The following is a sample cover letter for reference. Below, we’ll discuss how to write your cover letter, what information to place inside of the letter, and how you can help yourself stand out.

sample cover letter showing you how to address your letter

 

Starting the Cover Letter – What Goes On Top

These days, many people send their cover letters through email. Yet the top of the cover letter is still based on the days when people mailed in their applications.

At the very top of your cover letter should be your name in large letters, ideally using the same size font as your resume. Beneath that should be your mailing address. You can also include your email address, but only if it is a professional email address.

The address is usually centered or right justified, although it can also be left justified. If you’re using a template, most of the time it will be designed centered.

The next step is the current date. If you are using the same cover letter for multiple jobs (which is not recommended. You should write each cover letter from scratch for each job) don’t forget to change the date to the current date. The date should always be left justified.

Finally, the next step is to find the mailing address of the employer. You should also address it to the hiring manager in the following format:

  • Name of Hiring Manager
  • Title of Hiring Manager
  • Business Name
  • Address
  • City, State, Zip

This should also be left justified.

The Salutation – Finding the Hiring Manager’s Name

The next step is the salutation (Dear Sir/Madam). Many applicants speed through this section and write “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Hiring Manager,” but you should take the time to try to find the hiring manager’s name as best you can. “Dear Mrs. Jamie Johnson” will always be preferable to “Dear Hiring Manager.” Personalizing it helps you get noticed.

The First Paragraph

It is now time to get to the meat of the cover letter. The first paragraph is often your shortest. It is your place to mention which job this application is for, and possibly where you found the job opening – especially if you were recommended by a current employee or if you found it in a special newsletter.

In this first paragraph, you can also give an extremely brief introduction to why you believe you are a good fit for the job. Here is sample first paragraph:

“I would love to be considered for the position of Lead Accountant available within the finance department of Company XYZ. I was made aware of the position through a colleague that found it on LinkedIn, and I am confident that my experience as an accounting manager, combined with my passion for Service ABC, will make me a strong candidate for the role.”

The first paragraph is merely an introduction. However, it should still be written to impress the hiring manager in some way. Try to avoid sounding too mechanical. Here is an “okay” but not great opening paragraph.

“I am writing to apply to the position of Lead Accountant. I found the job through an ad on Craigslist. I believe my experience and education make me a good fit for the job.”

This type of introduction will not necessarily hurt you, but it is a bit dry. This is a very common introduction from those that have not put much thought into the cover letter format and style. If you cannot think of an interesting way to write the introduction, a brief, dry introduction will do, but remember that this is how you’re introducing yourself to the employer. A bit of personality can help you a great deal.

The Second Paragraph – The Most Important Part of the Cover Letter

The second paragraph is, by far, the most important part of the cover letter. This is where you are going to share why you believe that you are a good fit for the job. This is your chance to share all of your best information, and try to prove to the hiring manager that you and your resume are worth consideration.

Before we delve into how to write the second paragraph, it’s important to understand the thought process that should go into writing it:

  • Don’t Repeat Your Resume – They already have your resume on hand. If you have one key detail that is critical for the job, you can mention in. But in general, consider the cover letter as a way to complement what’s on the resume and give context to it, not simply repeat it.
  • Respond to the Position – Go through the job description and see if there are any key details that the employer is requesting, and then consider addressing those details. You don’t “have” to do it this way, but it helps if you are struggling to come up with good tips.
  • Focus on Your Best – When you share information in your cover letter, ask yourself if that information is going to wow the hiring manager. Avoid anything that may not be as impressive, even if you think it may have a mild interest to the employer.

Cover letters are great for noting professional achievements, or sharing information that may not be well known or might be missed. The following is an example of an above average second paragraph:

“In 2009 I was recruited out of college by Company XYZ, and immediately began a career as a marketing specialist. But it was not long after that I realized my passion was in numbers and data, and so I left to become a marketing data analyst. Within my first year, I discovered an untapped market for Product ABC, which netted the company a 74% increase in profits. Since then, I have continued to use the latest in statistical modeling to develop new ways to discover potential opportunities, and I am excited about the idea of providing those same skills to your company.”

Here is another example of a second paragraph, this one dedicated to addressing some of the needs of the company:

“It was not originally my intention to seek out a new position, but when I saw your opportunity for a warehouse manager and learned more about your company’s objectives and philosophies, I knew immediately I wanted to work for and with your company to achieve its goals. I have years of experience in management, with a history that includes:

  • Managing a team of over 25 workers across multiple departments
  • Recommending and integrating new logistics software that improved efficiency by 15%.
  • Championing company culture and teamwork strategies.

Since I was a young adult I have been working in warehouses, and I am confident that my leadership experience, intimate knowledge of the industry, and dedication to the field will make me an asset to your team.”

Although not technically one paragraph, this type of introduction starts to highlight specific reasons to hire you. It draws the eye, addresses the needs of the company, and gives you more personality and character. It is also still brief and to the point, focused on getting the hiring manager to continue to consider you for the position.

These types of second paragraphs are what set you apart from other applicants, and that is your goal with your cover letter – to prove why you are worth considering for the job.

Note: There are additional uses for the second paragraph when necessary, but these should be reserved for very specific situations. These include:

  • Explaining a New Career Path – If you are switching careers, the second paragraph of your cover letter can be used to explain why you are making that switch and why you believe you are still a good applicant.
  • Explaining Large Gaps – Gaps in the resume can make it harder for employers to want to hire you. Your cover letter can also be a place to explain these gaps. For example “Between 2014 and 2015, a family member fell very ill, and I took a year of sabbatical to assist her with her recovery. During that time I provided consulting services for Company XYZ, and continued to…”
  • Providing Context for No Experience– If you have not worked much in the past – or at all – the cover letter gives you an opportunity to promote your skills, abilities, knowledge, and more. However, you should still try to avoid clichés. Try to figure out specifics about why the employer would want to hire you.

Your second paragraph is where you’ll write the most about you as a person, and it’s the place your employer is most likely to review. Make sure you take a lot of time writing to the job and choosing only the best examples of why you are a good candidate.

Third Paragraph – Conclusion and Call to Action

Finally, you end with the third paragraph, which is generally a very brief summary of why you should be considered, followed by your availability and what you’d like from the employer. Make yourself seem available, and consider repeating your contact information.

For example:

“It is my belief that my education and experience help make me a prime candidate for the role, and I would love an opportunity to discuss it with you further. You can reach me at 555-555-5555 at any time, and I am happy to attend a meeting Monday through Thursday throughout the day. If you have any additional questions, please feel free and email me at john@email.com. Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.”

That’s about it. Mentioning your availability is highly recommended. Most people write that they are available for a meeting “at any time,” and this is perfectly fine, but if you do have a strict schedule it may be worth mentioning the best days to contact you. Always make sure they can schedule you in around work hours, however.

Signature

Finally, even though you are unlikely to sign the document, you are expected to provide space for a signature with your name typed out at the bottom. If you have the ability to import a signature using technology, it may be recommended, but most applicants leave this section blank.

Concluding Thoughts

Cover letters can be difficult to write, especially if it is the first time you have created one. But a great cover letter can help you overcome deficiencies in your resume, and make it possible for you to address the specific needs of the employer.

Create a new cover letter for each job and take the time to make sure it is well written, brief, and a good complement to your resume. It may be a small part of the application, but it can still make a big impact.

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