When you apply for a job using a résumé, your cover letter will likely be the first thing that a recruiter or hiring manager will see. One of the most important things to do is to keep the letter short and to the point, about three paragraphs long.
That’s not very much space to tell your whole story, but using the following structure can help you organize your thoughts and make you a more attractive candidate.
- Opening paragraph. Why are you writing? You’re writing to apply for a particular job. Say specifically which position, being careful to call it by the exact title used in the listing, and say where you found out about it, using specifics (“on Indeed.com” rather than “on the Internet”). You should also introduce yourself professionally by generally mentioning your education and/or experience.
- Body paragraph. This is where you go into more depth on why your education and/or experience make you the right candidate for the job. Use points from the listing itself to highlight your own best attributes. If you’re able, using this space to say more about a particular work accomplishment from your résumé is a good idea. If you’re particularly experienced or accomplished, you may be able to extend this to a second paragraph, but be very careful to keep this entire section clear and concise.
- Closing paragraph. Now that you’ve introduced yourself and explained why you’re a great candidate, it’s time to request an interview, at the employer’s convenience. Mention any supporting documents that are attached (especially your résumé, but any requested samples or other paperwork, too), and provide instructions for how to obtain further information like references, a portfolio, etc. And, finally, thank the person you’re writing to for their time and consideration.
At most, your cover letter should actually be about this long! You can download a template here (link to the sample from GWW) to use as a guide. By following this structure, you’ll be able to keep the message to the point and as effective as possible.