Tips for Writing Cover Letters

Jaime and I were blown away by the career questions everyone had. Thank you so much to everyone who submitted one. Jaime is here today kicking off the first of the readers’ questions posts:
Tips for Writing Cover Letters
by Jaime from The Prepary
Thank you all for the amazing questions and career post ideas! We have so many topics to work from now and I can’t wait to tackle them throughout the fall and new year.
I noticed there were quite a few in the mix about cover letters (thanks Hunter, Steph, and Katie!), a part of the application process that I know first hand is very daunting. I’ve read my fair share of cover letters over the years and helped many of my clients write compelling ones, so let’s tackle this topic first.
First of all, do you even need a cover letter?
That really depends. Most applications will specify what they’d like you to submit. The most basic applications just require a resume (some even allow you to apply with your LinkedIn profile now!) and others ask for a cover letter, samples of your work, or even give you specific questions to answer.
If you’re just submitting a resume I always think it’s a good idea to reach out to an actual person at the company to share 1. how excited you are about the job, 2. why you think you’d be great at it, and 3. why you’d love to work at their company. This is something your cover letter would typically do for you. Don’t know anyone at the company? No problem. A good option if you don’t have connections is sending a cold email (details on that here).
Assuming you need one, what you should cover:
Since more often than not, applications do require or suggest a cover letter, here is what a good one will cover. One important piece of advice before we dive in. You really shouldn’t use the same, generic cover letter for different jobs. You should be using the cover letter to make a case for why a company should hire you for a specific job and unfortunately, there isn’t a shortcut to doing that well! 
Here are the 4 basic sections of a really strong cover letter:
1. Who you are and what you’re applying for – This is essentially your introduction.
“I am a [year] at [university] majoring in [major]. I am very excited to apply for the [role] role which I found out about [where you found out about it]. My past experience in [list] and passion for [industry or company] would make me a great fit for this opportunity.”
2. How your experience or education or skills relate to the job – This is the part that requires the most work. Read the tasks from the job description and find out what the company is looking for in their hire.
Then, share real examples from your past work experiences (or extracurricular activities) and prove that you’re the right person to do the job! As an example let’s say the job is looking for someone to “plan and manage promotional events.” In that case you are going to want to talk about times when you’ve planned events in the past and why you’ve been able to be successful in doing that (detail-oriented, personable, etc.).
If you’re applying for your first job or an internship and don’t have that much work experience, that’s completely okay. For the example above, you might want to write about how you’re the person amongst your friends who plans every birthday and group dinner or talk about the fact that you’re part of the business club on campus and organize all speakers and workshops for that club.
Remember, your cover letter shouldn’t repeat what’s on your resume by sharing a laundry list of what you’ve done. It should go into depth and give examples about your experience that is most relevant to the job.
3. Why you want to work at that company – Popular companies will get hundreds of applications for a given job and they want to hire someone who really cares about what the company is doing. Read the company’s “about page” or their “careers page” to find out more about the company goals, mission, work environment, and culture and then use this part of the cover letter to talk about what resonates with you the most.
Perhaps you love the product they make, or think it’s great that they give a % of their profits to charity. Maybe there is a leader in place that you really admire. Whatever the reason is, make sure you share that this is not just one of 100 companies you’re applying to. Show that you care about this particular one. 
4. A simple closing – End your cover letter by saying that you are looking forward to hearing from the company and would love to discuss the role and your background in more detail. Simple as that!
Lastly, how can you make your cover letter stand out and reflect the culture of the company?
Great question, because your cover letter should mimic the tone and culture of the company. The type of cover letter you’d write for an investment banking job is totally different than the one you’d write to a fashion company which is totally different than the one you’d send to Google.
The best way to find out about a company’s culture is by talking to someone you know who works/has worked there or visiting the company’s careers site. Some companies have videos of their employees sharing what it’s like to work there and most describe their work environment in some way. Following the company on different social media channels can also give you helpful information. 
For a company that values humor and uniqueness, show that in your cover letter. If the company values excellence and prestige, you’re going to want to be much more buttoned up. You can adjust your tone not just by what you say, but also how you say it. Your style of writing in your cover letter should mimic the style and tone of how you’d write an email to a coworker or external client if you worked there. If you think of it with that filter, your tone will be just right.
Whew! Well that that was a mouthful. Hope this information helped and I am looking forward to answering more of your questions in the coming months.

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I think the most important part of a cover letter is making it ALL about the company, rather than yourself. Specifying how your experience and skills will directly benefit the company! And not being afraid to "ask" for the job in your closing. It's the #1 sales technique, and you are selling yourself after all 🙂

My blog is all about transitioning from college to the real world and has loads of job hunting tips! I'd love if you checked it out and let me know what you think!



Carly and Jaime – thank you for this post! Very timely and extremely helpful. Cover letters can feel like such a waste of time, but with this outline you've given us tips to structure a professional, well written letter that shows why you are a great fit for the company. Thanks, ladies!

Jaime Petkanics

Thanks for all of these great comments! And so happy you all found this post helpful 🙂 In terms of the question about length… I know this is not going to feel like a super helpful answer but I think the appropriate length is however long it takes you to get across that 1. You have the skills and experiences that will enable you to be amazing at the job and 2. that you really care about the company. Don't feel the need to add fluff. If you can get that across in a half page, that's great! As a general rule, more concise is better because recruiters do tend to skim when they are looking through many candidates at once.


This post was a blessing I didn't know I needed. I am applying for an internship with my states legislature in a brand new internship opportunity. All they want is a cover letter and resume, cue the beginning of my panic attack to figure out just what should be included in the cover letter. As soon as I began to catch up on the week of posts I'd gotten behind here on Carly's blog I saw this header and about started jumping up and down. You are seriously a life saver!

James Kateron

As a marketing cover letter it should pique the reader's sense of interest, illustrate the way the applicant understands the advertiser's need and create the desire to find out more. How do they find out more? By inviting you to an interview of course. See more cover letter writing services