What Really Goes in a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is an art, not a science. How much detail do recruiters really want to see in the cover letter? Here is what recruiters and hiring managers really want to see in your cover letter:

A cover letter is an art, not a science. Most people know that they shouldn't repeat their resume in the cover letter. But, what exactly goes into the cover letter? How much detail do recruiters really want to see in the cover letter? Here is what recruiters and hiring managers really want to see in your cover letter:

What is a Cover Letter?

At its core, a cover letter is a one page document. It is simply - a cover to enclose and preview your application for the job. A cover letter is a summary of your credentials and past experiences to explain why you are a match for the open job. It is not a resume or biography. Keep in mind that the cover letter is not parsed for keywords by most applicant tracking systems (ATS). Instead, it is for the recruiter or hiring manager to give them your story beyond the resume.

The cover letter should be written as a letter. Meaning that it should follow the form and style of a standard business letter. It is not an informal text or email. Instead, it should be written with a professional tone and style with all of the basic components of a letter. You may not submit this document separately, but build the cover letter like any other business letter so that you can easily use it with any job application.

Basic Details

Building any cover letter starts with the basics. First and foremost, a cover letter needs to include the details for your job application. Remember that it will go into different places along the hiring process and it can get separated from your resume. Thus, it should include the basic details so that if someone finds it they can quickly see what the cover letter is for and why it was submitted. Here are the main types of details to include on every cover letter:

  • Your contact information including phone number and email.

  • Date of submission of the cover letter/job application

  • Method of submission (i.e. email, online, particular job board, etc.)

  • Company name and location

  • Name of the position you are applying to

  • Names of people that you spoke to about the job or at the company before or during the application process.

  • Requisition id or job number if applicable

  • Any applicable documents that you are attaching to the cover letter as part of your application.  

Qualifications For the Job

The cover letter should also give a preview of your qualifications for the position as outlined in the job description. In some cases, the letter may need to explicitly outline that you meet each and every qualification. In other cases, you can reference those qualifications and focus on how your qualifications make you a unique candidate. Regardless, you should not repeat your resume on the cover letter in addressing your qualifications. Instead, here is what you should consider in articulating those qualifications on the cover letter:

  • What are the strengths that make you the best person for this position?

  • Where have you obtained these skills and how do they relate to the job that you are applying to?

  • How does your past experience align with the job description?

  • Do you have industry experience? Or, does your prior industry experience relate to the company that you are applying to?

  • How have you included examples from your resume to illustrate your skills outlined on the cover letter in your experience?

Make sure the cover letter is written in professional tone. Be concise but detailed. It's better to be too short than overly long when it comes to cover letters. Consider using a mixture of styles to get the reader's attention. You can (and probably should) use bullets on the cover letter to draw focus to the most important details.

Why You?

This is the most important question that most people miss in the cover letter. The entire point of the process is to answer this question. The cover letter is a chance to lay the foundation for your message so that you can land the interview. Here is what to think about when answering this question on your cover letter:

  • What is unique about your experience?

  • Do you have skills that add value to the company?

  • Can you bring something to the table? Clients, knowledge, skills?

  • Can you complement their existing team?

  • What is it like to work with you or for you?

  • What examples from your resume are relevant?

Why this Job?

The second biggest thing that most people miss on a cover letter is to answer the question about why they want the job that they are applying to. A cover letter is the best way to answer this question and to lay the foundation for your interview. Here are the questions to think about when trying to answer this question on your cover letter:

  • Why are you applying?

  • Why do you want a new job?

  • What motivates you to make a change?

  • What skills do you have that make you interested in this position?

  • Why make a change at this time?

Why this Company?

Companies are hiring differently post-pandemic. Now, they focus on fit and are careful who they hire and how. Make sure that you address in the cover letter what it is about this company that makes you interested in the position that you are pursuing. Here is what to think about when articulating the answer to the question of why you are interested in this company:

  • What do you know about the company?

  • What can you bring to the table for the company?

  • Are you a fit for their culture?

  • Why are you interested in the company?

  • How do you fit into the strategic vision of the company?

  • Why are your skills a fit for the company/industry?

  • How do your skills or experiences connect with the company/industry?

A cover letter is always a first impression when applying to a job. Focus on telling your story in the cover letter to give a preview of why the recruiter should give you an interview. Curious why a cover letter is sometimes optional or if you even need one at all anymore? Check out this blog post to find out what recruiters think in 2021.

Not sure if your cover letter is right? Have one of our professional resume writers review it and provide insights on how it will perform. Submit your cover letter today for a free expert analysis.