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Writing a Good Cover Letter

A Step-By-Step Writing Guide

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

Writing a good cover letter isn’t as hard as it seems. 

6 Steps to Writing a Good Cover Letter with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #FreelanceWriter

A cover letter is a sales document. Its sole purpose is to introduce a person (like you, if you’re applying for a job), a product, or an event, or a packet of information ... and entice the reader to want to find out more. 

Although writing a cover letter is simple, you have to resist the temptation to be careless or even sloppy with it. Your cover letter is your introduction. It is a task in which first impressions count … big time. 

This simple writing guide walks you through the six sections of writing a good cover letter step by step. (Download your own copy of the guide here.)

1. Heading

  • Insert your contact information at the top of the page, including phone number and email address
  • Insert the date above the employer’s name, followed by a line space.
  • Insert the employer’s name, title, and address immediately before salutation.

2. Salutation

Address the letter to a specific individual. Use the appropriate title (Dr., Mr., Ms., or military title). 

3. Opening Paragraph

Introduce yourself to the reader.

Say why you are writing

  • "This packet explains ..."
  • “I am writing to apply for …”
  • “When I read that [your company] is seeking a [position], I knew I wanted to apply …”

State a point of contact 

  • “I read about this opportunity in [publication]…”
  • “My colleague [name] encouraged me to apply …”
  • "Here is the information your requested ..."

Share a brief summary of who you are

  • "This service is the only of its kind to..."
  • “I will receive my [degree] in May from [college] …”
  • “Over the course of a decade in working in the nonprofit world, I have …”

4. Letter Body (1-3 Paragraphs)

If your cover letter introduces a packet of information or an offer, the use the letter body to explain the contents of the ret of the packet. If your cover letter is for a job opening, then use the letter body to connect your strengths to the prospective employer’s needs.  But be wise with your words. This is a key component of writing a good cover letter.

At this writing, 70% online job applications are processed using Applicant Tracking Systems, which scan cover letters and resumes for position-specific key phrases and keywords to move applicants to the next stage in the recruitment process. The keywords you choose are important. Use language or keywords from the employer’s job posting or website to show you’ve done your homework. 

  • Use keywords that focus on the employer

    Complete this sentence (or a variation): “I like your company because …” or “I’m excited about your company because …” You’ll show the employer you’ve taken the time to learn about them. You’ll also demonstrate an understanding of what the employer is trying to accomplish – an important staffing factor.
  • Use keywords affiliated with the position

    Spotlight your qualifications with specific keywords that show you understand the employer’s needs, how you can help meet them, and how your qualifications, education, and experience can contribute. 
  • Use keywords that arouse interest

    Highlight special professional skills, soft skills, strengths, experiences, or unique extras you offer that add value and spark the employer’s curiosity

5. Closing Paragraph

Clearly state the next step. For a cover letter to an information, give a clear call to action. In the case of a job inquiry, make it clear whether you will you follow up or  you expect them to do so.

  • “I will follow up with you next week to make sure you received this packet …”’
  • “I look forward to hearing back from you to set up a meeting …”

Indicate what additional material is included with the cover letter packet (or attached to it if sent electronically) or sent under separate cover (such as your resume, writing samples, CV, portfolio, audition tape, or dossier).

  • “I’ve attached my resume and two writing samples as requested…”
  • “My portfolio samples will arrive under separate cover.”

Thank the employer for his consideration and close

  • “Thank you very much. I look forward to hearing from you soon.”
  • “I appreciate your consideration. Let me know what you need from me for the next step in the application process.”

6. Signature

  • Use a professional closing, such as “Sincerely yours” or “Warm regards”
  • If your letter is a hard copy, hand sign it. If it is electronic, type your full name and reiterate your contact information
  • Below your signature, reference enclosures in a print cover letter (“Enc.: resume”) or attachments in an electronic cover letter (“Attached: resume”)

Download a PDF of this Cover Letter Writing Guide so you have it at your fingertips.

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