How to Write a Good Cover Letter That Gets the Hiring Manager’s Attention

FT Contributor
A cup of coffee sits on a table along with the classified section of a newspaper, a resume, and a cover letter.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

It’s tempting to treat your cover letter as a simple nicety when applying for jobs. However, a good cover letter isn’t just a bow on top of your resume. Often your cover letter is your first point of contact with a hiring manager.

If your cover letters come across as lazy, unprofessional, disinterested, or even offensive they’re going to harm your chances of getting a job. Here are a few tips to help you craft a good cover letter that is designed to capture the attention of a hiring manager.

Why Are Cover Letters Important?

While your resume typically does the heavy lifting when it comes to thoroughly presenting your experiences and skills, your cover letters create that all-important initial impression. A cover letter is where you can professionally call out specifics that qualify you for a particular position. In other words, a cover letter is often the best shot you have at capturing a hiring manager’s attention.

Types of Cover Letters

While all cover letters serve a similar purpose, there are three primary forms cover letters can take:

  • Application cover letters accompany a resume to add additional information about your specific experiences, skills, and other qualifications for an open position.
  • Prospecting cover letters allow you to introduce yourself, list your qualifications, and ask about open positions within the organization.
  • Networking cover letters go to contacts in your professional network to convey your job-hunting intentions and look for possible places to apply.

Cover Letter Writing Tips

Cover letters should always be tailored to each position you’re applying to. They should be packed with unique and interesting information that specifically connects your qualifications to the position for which you’re applying.

While this means you must compose a fresh cover letter for each job application, there are a few rules of thumb you can follow when crafting cover letters.

Demonstrate Your Problem-Solving Skills

There’s nothing quite like a testimonial to help drive home a point. When writing your cover letter, consider adding a short but powerful anecdote that demonstrates your problem-solving skills.

While you can use any scenario, stories that relate directly to your ability to solve issues in your industry or field will have the most weight.

Include Personal Stories

Along with a good anecdote to demonstrate your problem-solving abilities, consider adding other personal stories that specifically showcase other soft skills, hard skills, and experiences.

If, for instance, you’re applying for a position as an accountant at a nonprofit organization, you can highlight your past experience working to help a fledgling nonprofit go through the incorporation process.

Whether it’s an experience that impacted your skillset, changed your outlook, or improved you as a person, it’s worth taking time to include personal stories that help the recruiter understand why you’re a good fit for the position.

Set Yourself Apart

While your resume might remain largely unchanged from one application to the next, your cover letters should always take a unique angle depending on each situation.

Avoid creating a cookie-cutter document that regurgitates the same uninspired information every time. Instead, take the time to thoughtfully use your cover letter to set yourself apart. What passions are driving you to apply for this job? Why do you specifically think you can do the work better than others?

Vague statements like, “I’m excited about this possibility,” or, “I love this kind of work,” aren’t going to make much of an impression. Instead, try to call out something more unique; e.g., “I’ve spent the last ten years focused on attending college and volunteering to help inner-city children, and I think the opportunity to teach at your school will be beneficial to your organization.” A specific example like this is much more likely to help you stand out to a recruiter.

Be Honest

Remember, if you lie, or even merely exaggerate on an application, it can come back to haunt you. A 2017 report found that a staggering 85% of employers have caught applicants lying on either a resume or an application. Being dishonest on an application is never a good way to start a professional relationship with a potential employer.

Besides, if you are open and honest about your skills, experiences, and even your possible shortcomings, it can impress a hiring manager. The ability to be self-aware and know your limitations is a valuable soft skill.

However, remember there is no need to apologize for a lack of experience. Instead, look for ways to explain how you’re working on a solution such as further training or education. This doubles as a way to showcase your resourcefulness and problem-solving skills.

Use a Call to Action

A call-to-action is an exhortation for the reader to do something. It’s wise to end a cover letter with a respectful, courteous call-to-action. Don’t be overbearing or take charge with lines like, “I’ll call you soon to continue the interview process.” That unnecessarily takes the recruiter’s job into your own hands.

Instead, balance deference with urgency. A more appropriate line such as, “I look forward to discussing the chance to work with you soon,” shows an eagerness while simultaneously leaving it in the hands of the employer to reach out to you for further action.

Common Cover Letter Mistakes

There are several practices you’re going to want to avoid when writing cover letters.

Using Generic Phrases

Cover letters are never a good place to use boilerplate phrases or language. Tropes such as, “Hey, I’m Jane and I’m a go-getter,” or, “I’m a natural-born leader who can’t wait to work at your company,” are going to cause a recruiter’s eyes to glaze over.

Remember, the goal is to spark interest and draw the hiring manager in as you make your case for why you’re uniquely qualified for a position.

Including Irrelevant Information

A cover letter isn’t the time to go off on tangents. Every sentence should be specifically included for a reason. If you’re applying to work at a beauty salon you shouldn’t bother bringing up your time on the track team in high school — unless, perhaps, you’re applying for a manager’s position and you’re trying to demonstrate your ability to lead the track team.

Regardless of the scenario, it’s important to stay on track as you write your cover letter. Only provide relevant information from start to finish.

Going On Too Long

Recruiters often have to sift through hundreds of applications when considering candidates. The last thing they want to do is sit and read a lengthy dissertation about your qualifications and backstory.

Always keep your cover letters concise, precise, and as short as possible.

Cover Letter Formatting

A cover letter should include the following:

  • The name and information of the recruiter and company.
  • A compelling introduction.
  • An organized list of your specific qualifications.
  • A concise conclusion that reiterates your interest.
  • Your name and contact information.

While there is no officially agreed upon format for a cover letter, it’s wise to follow general best practices for formal business letters whenever possible, including:

  • Aligning your text to the left.
  • Using a size 12, sans-serif font, such as Times New Roman.
  • Single-spacing your lines.

Cover Letter Sample

If you’re still hesitating to write your cover letters, don’t worry. Below we’ve provided a simple template that you can use as a starting point. Copy and paste the template into your own document and then personalize it with your own information. Remember to make each letter unique and always edit and proofread it carefully before sending it.


[Name of recruiter.]
[Position of recruiter.]
[Name of company.]
[Address of company.]

Dear [name of recruiter — either use their full name or Mr., Ms., Mrs. and their last name],

[Open with a compelling story or other hook to grab the recruiter’s attention.]

[Use the body of the letter to list your experiences and skills. Don’t be afraid to go beyond the information included in your resume. Consider using bullet points. Remember to keep everything concise and to the point.]

[In closing, summarize your case and make sure to thank the recruiter for their time. Try to include a respectful call to action such as, “I look forward to speaking with you soon.”]

[Include a closing phrase, — e.g. sincerely, regards, cordially.]

[Your name.]

[Your contact information.]

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