Write a cover letter that grabs employers by the eyeball

Today we take on the grueling task of writing a cover letter and let you in on the secrets to a successful cover letter that wins employers heart and get you a hot seat to the interview room. Here's what you'll learn today:

  • Are cover letters important today?
  • Comparison between traditional & modern cover letters
  • Research findings/stats on cover letter
  • Visual illustration of a cover letter format
  • How to start a cover letter with great hooks! The writers technique revealed!
  • Common cover letter mistake checklist
  • How to write a great cover letter!

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table of

5 Cover letter format sections

  • Cover letter header
  • Cover letter opener
  • The body of a cover letter
  • Closing a cover letter with a call to action
  • Cover letter closing salutations

Cover letters, what are they? Do we need them in modern job market?

A cover letter is a supporting document to a resume used during a job application. Think of your cover letter as a dessert after a fine dinner. Now, who doesn’t fancy a fine dessert? A resume focuses on skills, accomplishments and work experience to prove you have the managerial muscle to perform the job. Whereas, a cover letter focuses on your managerial mindset that proves your drive and dedication will transform the productivity of the projects you will lead and the team therein. A cover letter provides a measure of your manners, your communication attributes. Just the way you write, the way you greet, your presentation style, so much is revealed between the lines! It provides a measure of your tall EQ, a leadership trait treasured around the world.

It also provides an avenue to explain any career gaps and career changes you’ve recently made. Most importantly it shows your genuine interest in joining the company. Now, do HR Managers actually read them? Keep scrolling, you will be pretty surprised with what you’re about to see.

Are cover letters still relevant in current job market?

Cover letter is an integral part of the job application process. A cover letter answers many questions that a resume can’t. Employers wants few questions answered like its carved in stone before they hire you. They want to know:

  1. If you understand what the job is demanding from you?
  2. Do you carry the required expertise and experience to be able to perform the job well?
  3. Can you turn a herd of sheep into a pack of wolves (Nurturing and empowering teams)?
  4. Are you passionate and a self-starter?
  5. Would you fit well into the company’s culture?
  6. How good is your communication to manage client and co-workers?
  7. Are your professional goals aligned with the needs of the company?

In just one glance, you’ll grasp pretty clearly, the first 3 question gets answered in a resume. But the remaining 4 can only be answered via cover letter and interview. They are pivotal to provide the edge you need to build a steel strong job application.

What does research/survey says about cover letter? Do HR Managers ever read them?

Just like there could be no honey without flowers, there could be no interviews without a cover letter, at least in most job searches that you undertake. A research by Ladders found, 55% of medium-sized enterprises and 65% of super charged startups demand cover letters or else they reject job applications. Every career coach and recruiters’ top advice is to include a tailored cover letter to the job you are applying.

A similar research by OfficeTeam showed 21% of recruiting professionals considers cover letters as extremely valuable in their decision making process and 70% somewhat valuable and 9% said they don’t find it valuable. Now 91% is mighty big!  However, A Jobvite survey found in 2015 that only 10% of cover letters are actually read by HR Managers. Now that’s pretty interesting because, it proves the point we have been trying to make! Cover letters are still super important today! Would you ever take your car back to the same service center that treated your car with average care matched by a pretty average customer service? So why should employers care to read your cover letter, if they barely stayed awake reading your resume?

Expert Tip

They get pulled to your cover letter when they come in pair with a really magnetic resume.
They only have time for a cover letter if it comes paired with a gold plated resume, and still being in the afterglow of that shimmering resume, with a lot of excitement recruiters rush to the cover letter to see what this top talent has to say, after all, it’s an application worthy of all the attention.

You can see clear as day now, cover letter is crucial for a job seeker’s success. Sending a resume without a cover letter is as good as sending your job search down a cliff. Unless you’re a clairvoyant who can foresee future and be able to tell which company will want them and which company won’t care to read them, we suggest to send them with every job application to boost your job search success through the roof.

Expert Tip

PS, the only time you must skip sending a cover letter, if the company specifically asked you not to send.

A tale of traditional cover letters

Traditional cover letters are dull and dry as a Sahara Desert. Like a desert which fails to attract any plants, birds or mammals, they fail to attract any attention from HR managers.  A lifeless cover letters do little to entice employers, excite their thoughts, fails to inspire them with hope from the brand of brilliance you will bring to the job.

A well-written cover letter weaves with words to paint a picture of your professional persona to pull at their heartstring. Suddenly that lifeless cover letter transforms itself like spring, teeming with life. Attention, they give you in galore.

You see, when you tell a story, people tend to pause and listen. So be the greatest storyteller there is! A cover letter with storytelling styled writing is going to sell you out like a beer on a bar packed with patrons. The HR Manager has spent a full minute on your resume, she’s now very keen to see what you have to say on the cover letter. After all, she’s still in the afterglow of that first impression left by your resume! By the time she’s done with your cover letter, she will come for you like kids come screaming for ice scream.

With job market’s competition fierce as a Piranha feeding frenzy, any advantage you can acquire makes a difference. As a job seeker you need to speak into your strength by singing into their needs. We’ll show you what we mean by that in a while. Pyramid wasn’t built in a day my friend, so, to unlock the heart of a punchy cover letter, we need to lay the foundations well first. Just see the difference between Sahara and Spring for yourself. That is what you will take home today, turning a traditional cover letter into one that leaves jaws wide open.

Do you see the difference between the two? One opener repels and the other attracts them by the dozens. We will breakdown the science of persuasive excellence writing, so your cover letter comes with crushing accuracy that leaves your competition in fine dust.

Explore Brilliant Cover Letter Examples

Get rid of the common cover letter mistakes

You want to write a great cover letter, that means getting your cover letter essentials sorted first. You don’t want to show up in your sartorial elegance in a slumber party. That’s completely coming in wrong, no matter how good you look in that dress, you look like a corndog at a hotdog party. Few things are fundamentally important in cover letters, so we will step on the gas now and get you 0 to 60 fast.

Find HR Managers name

If you start with “To whom it may concern”, you can pretty much guarantee Hannah is no longer concerned with your application. You couldn't be bothered to find out who you were sending the mail to. It’s not like finding her name amounts to a treasure hunt effort. A quick Google search would have done the job. The lack of effort is staggering. Do you really think she wants to hand over the keys to her kingdom to someone who can't be bothered to do a simple task?

So please, address the HR manager with their name! We can’t state any more categorically! All your endearing effort that went into this well written cover letter gets instantly tossed into the reject pile. Because you started terribly!

Look up the company online

Doing your cover letter right means getting them to actually read it. And as we stated before, your cover will only be read if your resume really left an impression on them. So, make your cover letter live up to the magic of your resume. Now how do you do that? Well, find what the company is doing online, are they expanding rapidly? Are their online customer feedbacks coming in right? Is there any marketing funnel you think they are not working into? How are their competitors doing in comparison?

Put your internet surfing to good use by researching the target company. That extra bit of research will give gas to your cover letter to ride deep into the minds of employers. Your cover letter now will ignite a firework brighter than your resume! Congrats champ!

Show your success stories

The top shelf cover letters tap into the needs of employers and tells them exactly what they want to hear. Now that’s one candidate they can’t get enough of. And what’s more jaw dropping than a glimpse of a future full of incredible successes delivered through you! This topic is discussed in more details a few scroll below! You’ll see how to show off your slayings and where to show them.

Keep it succinct and target with a laser focus writing

Hiring Managers are super busy people. So, it is super important to strike a cover letter that is succinct and relevant. Your cover letter must aim to be 300 – 400 words, or 2/3rd of a page. Because if its too long, it means, you just don’t know what’s important and trying to throw everything at them, hoping a few would stick.

Expert Tip

Write your cover letter like you’re the #1 match for the job
Your job application must be targeted to the company you are applying for. That means your resume and cover letter must serve to fill the needs of employers, which is to demonstrate what makes you a #1 match for this job position. And if you fail to tailor it to the company and instead send that sinking boat of a cover letter which you have sent to 50 other company in the past, than expect poor engagement and even poorer turnover ratio. In other words, maybe 1 or 2 calls you for an interview, out of every 10 job you send your application to.

Employee referral is your number #1 recruitment advantage

Many candidates simply apply for the job, without actually mentioning the person within the company who referred the job. Several research points very strongly in that direction, you must highlight the name of the employee who recommended you to the job. If someone who works within the company refers you or vouch for you, you're 4X more likely to be offered the job than other applicants. Also 45% of referral hires stay 4 years or longer with the firm, in comparison, only 25% of job board recruitment stays longer than four years.

As you can see, why companies have high preference for candidates who has an employee referral. So if someone within the company has referred you, it is paramount, you mention his or her name right at the top of cover letter and specially on the email. 

Expert Tip

Don't just send the job application and disappear into the wind

You must call the HR Manager the next morning, if the call fails to go through. Which highly likely it will, simply leave a pleasant voicemail message. Explaining who referred you. Here’s a sample voicemail message template:

"Hello Hannah, I hope you’ve had a pleasant morning. Sarah, from Tesco’s Accounting Department informed me there’s a new vacancy at your company. And I immediately applied with all my excitement for the National Sales Manager position yesterday; I have provided all the required files. Should you require anything more, please do let me know. I will promptly have them ready for you. Have a lovely afternoon."

Keep your cover letter free of spelling mistakes

Hello you pesky little party crasher! Yes, these seemingly harmless typo in cover letter can throw your job application result off a cliff. So we recommend, you double down on getting rid of them from your cover letter, to make it free of grammar or typographical errors.

Expert Tip

Use professional proofreading techniques
Start reading sentences line by line from the bottom. It forces your brain to think on its feet. Because the brain is not used to reading from the bottom, so you tend to catch your prey rather easily, by prey we mean those spectacular spelling crashes or grammar bummer. Once you’ve done that, you start reading from the top to bottom like a normal human being! Voila, your cover letter now has cleared 99.9% of spelling or grammar errors! We advise sending it to a second pair of eye for a final review!

Ideal cover letter format for modern job market

The job application letter format has 5 distinct sections that needs to go sequentially for maximum usefulness. We will explore them in sequence and show you what should be included in each section.

Cover letter format illustration  

Here we will illustrate with a cover letter example taken from the real job market to help you see the 5 distinct sections in a cover letter layout. The cover letter format is broken down in its distinct parts and highlighted clearly with 5 colors to show you which comes first to last.

1 Cover letter header

Every cover letter must begin with a section dedicated to the HR Managers and a separate section for your personal contact handles. These are the list of information’s you must provide in your cover letter.

Your contact information’s

Hiring managers must be able to find all the important information in one place, where they can go to know more about you. And this is where your personal contact information section comes to rescue! It must provide the first three as a mandatory, but we highly recommend you provide them with the first five information mentioned below. 

  • Your full name
  • Your email address
  • Your personal phone number
  • Your residential address
  • Your LinkedIn profile link
  • Your skype link if available

Expert Tip

For creative professionals, you must have relevant social media handles like Dribble or Behance for graphics designers, GitHub or CodePen for Software Developers or Programmers. Use Medium or Twitter for journalist or writers. If you have a personal portfolio website! Do paste it front and center!

Addressing HR Manager

Cover letter salutation is all about exchanging professional etiquette and addressing the hiring manager one to one. Before we take a look into some examples of salutations, here’s what the hiring manager’s content section must contain.

  • Hiring Manager or recruiter’s full name
  • Position title
  • Company name
  • Company address
  • Date of job application submission

Expert Tip

We’ve said this a thousandth time, going on 1001 now, please do not start with “To whom it may concern”, take the time to find the name of the person you’re addressing the letter. Here’s a hint, it takes 5 seconds! Go to google and type “HR Manager of Company XYZ”, replace Company XYZ with the company name where you’re applying for the job.

If it’s a small restaurant, chances are they don’t have a HR Manager, go to their website and visit their about us page, try to see if you can find the name of the person who manages the restaurant. If that fails, just give the restaurant a call, they will be happy to help you out with the name of the person who makes the hiring decisions.

Here’s some sample cover letter greetings you can use, when you know the name of the person you’re sending to!

  • Dear John Davis,
  • A very good day John,
  • Dear Mr. John Davis,

If, however Google returns zero searches, because the company you are applying to, is some type of “Men in Black” organization. You can resort to these examples.

  • Dear Human Resource Manager,
  • Dear Hiring Manager,
  • Dear Sir or Ma’am,

2 Cover letter opener

As they say, "The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail." Now start great, and you will rob all their attention, leaving penny and quarters for the remaining sorry pile of applicants. Your cover letter must be able to pique and play with employer’s interest, now how do you get their eyes glued to your cover letter? Enters, a hook!

What is a hook, you ask? Am I on a fishing expedition? Trying to catch some prized tuna! What do I need a hook for? Well, in writer’s world, it’s a metaphorical hook and yes, with this hook, you will bring home a million-dollar tuna, the tuna that steals everyone’s attention! Yes, we’re talking about a hook that hypnotizes HR Managers! Do it right, and they will be completely transfixed at your cover letter.

How to find the hook?

A hook is a writing technique designed to entice reader with a highly persuasive starting sentence. From the very first line of your cover letter intro, you pull all their interest in. How to find a hook for great cover letter beginnings? Well, it could be something like an interesting question, exploring emotive purpose in something, a carefully curated quote or dropping a dramatic situation right in the beginning.

See this two-cover letter opening sentence and decide for yourself if they are toying with your attention. A hook is how you hypnotize HR managers with an enticing cover letter opener. 

Expert Tip

Its super important to tell HR Managers which position you are applying to right at the top. Because there could be multiple positions open within the company. So, find an ingenuous way to get that out of the way on the opening paragraph. If someone within the company has vouched for you, be sure to include his or her name in the cover letter at the start, that can boost your job application like a rocket. 

3 The body of a cover letter

Now, you need to nail the second paragraph with a homerun! And we’ve got you’re back all the way here! A great cover letter requires writing into the wants of employers. Your job application letter gives you a direct access to give your resume a voice. A resume is a rigid document, a cover letter on the other hand is fluid. You can carry it in any form with your creative flair. But the idea is to keep two key ingredients as your writing benchmark: you must flood the cover letter with passion and leadership personality. These pointers will help prove you’re the man with the plan, the perfect person for the position!

  • Are there any accomplishments in your career that is directly relevant to the employer? Can you replicate that success in this new company?
  • Read between the lines of the job description, is there any particular set of skills and knowledge they are looking for, which you happen to carry a truckload of? Do speak about them and show them, how those skills have translated into measurable results during your previous tenures.
  • Are there any personality traits that makes you unique and a highly sought-after candidate? If they are looking for a managerial staff, they certainly need someone who can mine the nine carat diamonds out of his or her staff. HR Managers know, staff morale and empowerment are key to higher productivity and innovation, which all adds up to the bottom-line with bigger profit.

Vividly paint them a picture of the future full of success stories

A business sees success when they have measurable results. So, show them what you have done and what you can do for them, by giving them a vision of the future. Because if past is a good indicator of future, as they say, the track record of results from your past is a good indicator what will generate for them in the future!

Expert Tip

Humble is a trait that is valued the world over. Be confident but not cocky! That’s a trigger you don’t want to press. Your cover letter should reflect your accomplishments in a tone of humility that touches towards others, your team members who were equally crucial to make this feat possible. Carrying this tone also shows, you are a wo/man who excels with other people, in fact, you bring our the best in other people!

4 Closing a cover letter with a call to action

The cover letter ending must end with a call to action. The best way to end a cover letter is to replicate what marvel movie does at the end of their credit, a sharp teaser that leaves the audience super excited like a playful puppy. Clever cover letter closings teases recruiters, gives them a direction clear as day, not calling you to an interview would be like shooting themselves in the foot! Now that’s a chance they would never take, seeing a shiny truck full of gold bars walking out their door! Hiring you is the best decision their company will ever make!

There are many ways to close a cover letter with a call to action. Just something as simple as telling them, “You’d love the opportunity to meet with them and walk them through step-by-step on how to deliver the tall targets of this job.”

Expert Tip

Are you and the company a match?

The company and you must be a match made in the stars! Your career goals must align with the company! Every company wants an employee who would fit right in their company culture! So, a closing paragraph could tap into this point, to exemplify, you could close the cover letter like this:

“My family have been to Opporto many times, the great value meal matched with an equally great service team is truly a winning combination. I love how Opporto strives for excellence every day! As someone who is obsessed with customer satisfaction, I truly believe, we will be a great match!

Thank you so much for reading my job application, I will be at your assistance, should you require any further supporting documents from me.”

5 Cover letter closing salutations

It is customary to close your cover letter by thanking HR managers for their time to review your job application. Moreover, its also a sign of good manners. So always thank them for their time right before the closing salutation. And here’s some formal closing salutations which you can use in your cover letter:

  • Thank you,

    Phoebe A.

  • Kind regards,

    Phoebe A.

  • Best regards,

    Phoebe A.

  • Sincerely,

    Phoebe A.

Frequently Asked Questions for cover letters

How long should a cover letter be?

You've agonized over every word of your resume and crafted the perfect application. But there's one more mountain standing between you and your dream job: the cover letter. This all-important document can make or break your chances of landing an interview, so it's crucial that you get it right. But how do you strike the right balance between optimized and overwhelming? How do you know how long your cover letter should be before it becomes boring?

I know, you’re screaming at this point. Man can you cut all this Hollywood drama in half and give me one straight answer for once? Okay, as a writer we love to create our crescendo, sometimes for no apparent reason! Our apology, so here comes the straight answer! The ideal cover letter length is one page! You must aim to fit it within half a page, in other words 280 – 400 words. If you’re a storyteller, writing short, sweet and punchy cover letter can be a walk in the park for you, you can cream that cover letter within 300 words. That length is short enough to keep their interest engaged and long enough to cover everything you need to write a robust cover letter. If it runs past a page, their interest will dissipate just as fast. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. If you have a lot of relevant experience or qualifications, you may need to go into a bit more detail. But in general, one page is all you need to sell yourself and keep the recruiter interested.

Can I use the same cover letter for different job applications?

This is number #1 cardinal sin in the world of job applications. Sending that same cover letter to every application without really optimizing it to the job you are applying to, this will hurt your job application success significantly, that’s the main reason why most only gets called for an interview 2/15 times, but the rare few gets called out 7/10 times. They are the table toppers in pretty much every job search they set their eyes to.

You should aim to keep at least 4 to 7 version of cover letters which can be utilized in different industries. It must be targeted to the job you are applying, must speak into employers needs. That is one way, you hold all their attention hostage.

Can I copy any information from my resume into the cover letter?

So long you are not copying big chunks of content from your resume, you will be fine. Your cover letter gives you a platform to send your voice across to the hiring manager. If you have any career gaps, explain that, this is where you speak one to one with the HR Manager and tell them why the restaurant needs you! If they are looking for a F&B manager at a new restaurant, you take them on a journey, how you took a business from 27K a month to 68K monthly revenue. That staggering 251% growth story is all they need to know to realize they have found their wo/man!

Can I explain my job choice in the cover letter?

Absolutely! That is exactly what a cover letter is for! You want to explain why you are interested in the company and the position. We are going to look into an important issue right now. The issue of being over qualified for a job. 

Few job choices as you gain rank

As you grow into your profession, you move up the pyramid towards senior roles, finding your way to executive roles. However, the higher you go, the fewer job choices you have. As you acquire new rank, there’s less leeway to find opportunities. So that poses a problem for candidates: trying something different would mean stepping down the pyramid, basically climbing down your career ladder.

You’re thinking having an excess of experience for a job far below your skillset might put you on top of the applicant pile. But this is often the first reason why your application might get ruled out! Because their salary budget is well below your pay grade, employers can't afford to raise the pay scale for the vacant position. And moreover, recruiters are likely to question your motivation: why is your career choice climbing down the pyramid? And that’s a tall red flag.

So, a cover letter provides you that opportunity to explain why you are applying to the position and explaining: what makes you so intersted in this industry? You explain that salary isn’t the deciding factor for you. It’s increasing your wingspan into this industry. And how, if you can prove your merit by providing robust results, the company will find confidence to ascend you to higher roles within the firm. Your motivation for climbing down the ladder is purely to acquire experience in this dynamic industry. 






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Areli Nevan has 15 years of writing experience in career columns. A professional resume writer with vast experience in his portfolios helping candidates create job winning applications.