How to Write a Cover Letter That Doesn't Make the Hiring Manager (or You) Question Their Existence

By Jenny Foss

You ever apply for a job and, as you get to the final stretch of this already cumbersome process, think:


Ah, yes. The cover letter. The oft overlooked, typically misunderstood, and universally dreaded cover letter.

For many job seekers, it’s that annoying last step in the process. And that last step feels intimidating, unnecessary or a combination of the two. It’s also the application element that people tend to put the least effort into.


Why? Because done well, your cover letter can give you a big leg up on the competition. It’s your opportunity to connect the dots between their “Here’s what we need” and your “Here’s what I can walk through your doors and deliver.”

It’s also your opportunity to say — in a conversational tone — “Hey there. I love what you guys are doing. I’m applying for these reasons. And, I have these specific skills that will enable me to knock this baby out of the park.”

Your competitors are dishing up mediocre (at best) cover letters — one’s that blather on about nothing, reiterate the exact things they’ve already highlighted in their resume, or are so gosh-darned vanilla that the words won’t even register with the person on the receiving end.

Given this … you’ve got the chance to glide into the race strong with a killer cover letter. And, once you see how to pull it off, you’ll likely realize that it’s not as hard as it looks.


1. Start with a strong lead.

First impressions are everything and that’s absolutely true with your cover letter.

Newsflash: The reviewer is expecting your cover letter to be a total snooze. So, if you can create a lead that draws them into your story right from hello, you’re already well ahead of the competition.

How do you do this? Spell out what brings you to their doorstep, and why (specifically) you want to work with this organization.


Hello, Mr. Lopez:

When I was 11, my big brother was diagnosed with lymphoma. I was terrified. He, on the other hand, took it all in stride. In fact, a week after he started treatment, he signed up for his first marathon, through Team in Training. I saw a 15-year-old — who I already nearly idolized — transform from couch potato to athlete before my eyes. I also saw how having Team in Training to focus on through that incredibly stressful time really helped him through his treatments.

My brother recovered, and then recruited me. Today, we’re both marathoners and huge evangelists for Team in Training and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I’ve long kept an eye on your Careers page, thinking that my dream marketing job might pop up. It just did. I would be honored to serve as your Brand Director.

Now, you won’t always have this compelling of a story, of course. The point here is this — make it personal and relevant to the job or organization.

2. Spell out exactly how you line up for that job.

Once you’ve established that you’re not just out there applying for every job you see posted online, it’s time to outline the specifics on how you line up for this job. This is why we don’t recommend a generic letter that you could use for multiple cover letters. You need the opportunity to tell that hiring manager that you’re a great fit for __________________ (these) specific reasons. In fact, we typically begin this section with this exact line:

What, specifically, would I bring to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as Brand Director?

And then we lay in a few bullet points that showcase the skills and experience you possess that line up with the specific deliverables of that job. Here’s one:


  • A history of accelerating brand affinity for nonprofits — At Food for Children, I led a team in revitalizing a brand for this national nonprofit that aims to end food insecurity for school-aged children. We built and deployed an integrated, digital-first strategy that drove dramatic gains in traffic, customer engagement and — importantly — funds raised.

Don’t go too crazy on the bullet points here. Do choose 3-4 that align directly with the job you’re applying for.

3. Wrap it up in a way that’s confident (not pushy).

Certainly, you want to finish that cover letter strong — in an appreciative yet confident way.

You don’t want to come across needy, but you also don’t want to confuse “confident” with “cocky” or “old-school.”

Many a sales coaching programs teach participants how to do a strong close. And that typically involves announcing something like, “I’ll follow up on Wednesday to set up our appointment.”

Having been a recruiter for 15 years, I’ll admit that, when I feel someone is being over-the-top pushy or disingenuous, I’m less inclined to follow up with them.

Instead, use your last paragraph or so to summarize your interest and your fit, and to make it clear that you’re very interested in discussing the opportunity.


I believe my passion for your work, successes in growing consumer and nonprofit brands, and authentic leadership would serve the Leukemia & Lymphoma society well. I would love to discuss your plans and challenges in more detail and share specifics on how I can contribute. Thanks so much for your consideration, [Name]. I hope to speak with you soon!

And then, you sign off, wrap it up with a bow and … ship it!

(OK, no bow.)

This article was named a Top Job Search Blog Post for 2020 by The original article can be found here.



JeffAltman, The Big Game Hunter
JeffAltman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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