“I only need to know how to write a cover letter when I’m job hunting.” That’s a common misconception.
I write cover letters for clients almost every week – cover letters that introduce an offer, accompany a grant application, or summarize an information packet.
I also write cover letters to clients that accompany a completed draft or project. And I write cover letters to prospects offering my freelance services. (Kinds of letters that copywriters write.)
That’s why I can say unequivocally that knowing how to write a cover letter is an essential content writing and copywriting skill – a skill that’s riddled with questions.
Let’s answer some of them.
A cover letter is a one-page introduction. It’s got one simple job to do: get the reader to take the next step.
That’s why a cover letter always accompanied by other content, such as a resume (when it’s part of a job application), sales materials, or other supporting information that makes an Ask.
Your cover letter should be formatted on one page, but it should fill only 75 percent of the document. Let white space fill the rest of page.
The body should be 200-300 words and consist of three to four paragraphs. A reader should be able to review it in 60 seconds or less. Where possible, use bullet points. (Here’s how to write a cover letter step by step.)
A two-page cover letter is too long because it’s more than an introduction. That much content likely replicates what’s in the rest of your package.
A full-page cover letter (with no white space) is too long because it lacks conciseness.
A good cover letter distills your introduction into an engaging, succinct, or snappy summary.
A business letter is any communication written for commercial reasons. That means a cover letter is one kind of business letter.
“Dear Sir” or “To Whom It May Concern” are impersonal – and deadly. What reader wants to be faceless? Your salutation should address a real person. If you’re a job seeker, then address your cover letter to the hiring manager, department head, or HR director. If you’re a freelancer, then address your letter to the publication editor or the organization’s marketing director, communications director, or development coordinator. If you don’t have a name, then do a bit of research. Dig into the website or make a quick phone call to get a name and a title.
Equally lethal to a generic salutation: all-purpose letter content that can apply to any reader (“I am applying for the job you posted.”) Your well-written cover letter should include keywords and concepts that are specific to the employer, prospect, or client. That means you need to do a bit of homework to incorporate those reader-specific terms.
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