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What Is a Cover Letter & How to Make It Stand Out [10+ Tips]

Typically, a job application consists of a resume and cover letter. And while to most of us the resume is a pretty familiar concept, the idea of a cover letter could be confusing.

Maciej Duszynski, CPRW
Maciej Duszynski, CPRW
Certified Professional Resume Writer, Career Expert
What Is a Cover Letter & How to Make It Stand Out [10+ Tips]

Writing a cover letter can seriously boost your chances of landing a job. The question is—

What is a cover letter in the first place? Don’t worry. After reading this guide you’ll know exactly what a cover letter is, and you’ll never confuse it with a resume or CV.

In this guide you’ll learn:

  • What the purpose of a cover letter is and what to put on it.
  • The difference between a cover letter and a resume/CV.
  • How to write and format a job-winning cover letter.
  • Why writing a cover letter for a job is a good idea. 

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Interested in learning more about cover letters? Read:

1. What Is a Cover Letter for a Resume?

A cover letter (also known as a motivational letter, letter of motivation, or covering letter) is a letter that accompanies a resume or CV and forms part of a job application. A cover letter’s role is to explain your motivation for applying for the position and demonstrate the skills that make you suitable for the job.

And let’s be super clear about one thing—

A cover letter is not the same as a resume or CV.

The term resume is commonly used in the US and Canada to refer to a document briefly outlining your qualifications, previous experience, education, and skills. Typically, resumes are one or two pages long. You can find more details in our guide on how to write a resume.

A CV, or curriculum vitae, is very much like a resume but offers a more detailed look into the candidate’s career history. In the US and Canada, CVs are mostly used when applying for positions with academic institutions. CVs can be one or two pages long, but it’s not uncommon for a CV to be 10+ pages long, and contain detailed information on the candidate's publications or academic honors among others. For more details, read our guide on how to write a CV.

2. What Is on a Cover Letter?

A cover letter should be clean and simple, like this one:

Sample Cover Letter

Eric K. Jordan

Senior Business Analyst

3950 Bottom Lane

Buffalo, NY 14202


Anytown, 1 June 2019 

Gloria L. Turner

Director of Sales

ARK Tech

4182 Desert Broom Court

Newark, NJ 07102

Dear Gloria,

When I noticed that ARK Tech has an opening for a Senior Business Analyst, I felt like the offer was specifically directed at me. In my current role as a business analyst with Xytras Media, I was able to save as much as USD 500K in a year by redesigning the company’s data system. I’m positive my superb analytical skills will let me achieve comparable results at ARK Tech.

I understand one of the biggest challenges for your team of business analysts will be to craft and implement viable strategic initiatives after your recent merger with NEXGEN. In my career as a business analyst, I’ve been opportune enough to work within cross-functional teams on developing large-scale sales and operation strategies. One of such collaborations resulted in creating an enterprise data warehouse worth USD 5M.

What I find immensely motivating about the opportunity at ARK Tech is that your mission is perfectly aligned with my values, and the company is only starting to step into the territory I’ve had so much experience with. That’s why I’d love to share my knowledge, help you avoid certain common pitfalls, and make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead.

Would it be possible to schedule an appointment next week, so we can discuss what short- and long-term strategies we could implement to boost sales figures by 20% next year? 

Thank you,

Eric K. Jordan


P.S.—I’d really love to tell you how my team was able to identify and eliminate a major bottleneck that was causing 15% loss of revenue.

3. How to Write a Cover Letter

They say that writing a cover letter can be gruelling. Well, it can. But not if you know exactly what to do, and how to do it right.

Here’s a handy checklist you can fall back on when writing your cover letter:

  • Make a professional cover letter header. See to it that it includes your full name, job title, and current contact information, as well as the addressee’s contact details.
  • Use appropriate salutation. Start with Dear, and follow it with either the hiring manager’s first name or Mr./Ms. and their last name, depending on company culture. If you have no idea who you’re writing to, you can use Dear Hiring Manager for example.
  • Divide the main body into three sections: start your cover letter with showing your biggest achievement, then explain how your skills will benefit the company, finally explain your motivations.
  • Include a call to action towards the end of your cover letter and sign off with a professional closing.

If you need more detailed advice, head straight to our full-length guide on how to write a job-winning cover letter. Apart from lots of great writing hints, you’ll find good and bad examples of each cover letter section.

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4. How to Format a Cover Letter

The best cover letter format is one that’s universal enough to be easily tailored to just about any position. Here are the basic rules of formatting a job-winning cover letter:

  • Add your contact details
  • Put the addressee’s contact information
  • Date the letter
  • Use an appropriate salutation
  • Write an attention-grabbing opening paragraph
  • Make a paragraph explaining why you’re a great fit
  • Finish with a closing paragraph that calls the reader to action
  • Include a professional sign off
  • Consider adding the postscript (an optional section)

And here come our tried and tested formatting guidelines:

  • Set a one-inch margin on each side
  • Left-align the text
  • Opt for professional-looking cover letter fonts
  • Stick to single-line spacing (1.15 will do too)
  • Separate each section and paragraph with a blank line
  • Export your cover letter to a PDF.

Our in-depth guide on how to format a cover letter offers actionable advice on getting to grips with every section of your cover letter. Plus, it has a lot of examples you can use and modify for your purposes.

5. Do I need a Cover Letter?

Cut a long story short. Yes, you do need a cover letter.

First off, 50% of hiring managers expect your job application to consist of both a resume and a cover letter. Since you never know what the hiring manager reading your job application expects, it’s better to overdeliver than disappoint.

Plus, a well-written cover letter will give you an edge over those applicants who are either too lazy to write one or have no idea what it takes to write a great cover letter.

In fact, we have an entire guide in which we examine whether on not cover letters are necessary, and see how the cover letter evolved over the years.

6. How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?

Here’s how it works:

Your cover letter should be long enough to show everything you can offer, and short enough not to lose the reader halfway through. This is how it translates into numbers.

Your cover letter should be: 

  • 1 page
  • 3 paragraphs
  • about 300 words

Obviously, there are many different kinds of cover letters. So, if you’re looking for more detailed information, our guide on how long a cover letter should be has all the answers.

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Key Points

Here’s all you need to know about a cover letter:

  • A cover letter is a type of letter you include in your job application.
  • Its main role is to let the reader know what motivated you to apply, and what you can offer.
  • A cover letter is not synonymous with a resume or CV.
  • Typically, a cover letter’s main body consists of three paragraphs, each for a different purpose.
  • Even though cover letters aren’t always necessary, they can give a serious boost to your application.
  • Cover letters shouldn’t be too long. Most of the time, a single page is enough.

Do you have any questions on what a cover letter is? Would you like to share your advice on what a cover letter should consist of? We’d love to hear from you. Give us a shout out in the comments below.

About ResumeLab’s Editorial Process

At ResumeLab, quality is at the crux of our values, supporting our commitment to delivering top-notch career resources. The editorial team of career experts carefully reviews every article in accordance with editorial guidelines, ensuring the high quality and reliability of our content. We actively conduct original research, shedding light on the job market's intricacies and earning recognition from numerous influential news outlets. Our dedication to delivering expert career advice attracts millions of readers to our blog each year.

Maciej Duszynski, CPRW

Experienced in the education management industry, Maciej shares his knowledge for every step of your job hunt, from landing an internship to moving to an executive position. Maciej has helped job candidates at all stages of their career paths, from interns to directors to C-suite members, to thrive in their job. His mission is to help you find the right opportunity and create a job application that gets you the career you deserve.

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