Cover Letter Break Down

What to Include in the Body Section of a Cover Letter

Writing cover letters is no one’s favorite part of the job search process, and the body of the letter is the hardest part. This is where you try to capture the hiring manager’s attention and emphasize your unique qualifications for the job – without repeating the same exact information you’ve included on your resume.

What Is the Body of a Cover Letter?

The body of your cover letter is the section of the letter that tells the hiring manager what position you are applying for and why the employer should select you for an interview.

You're selling your candidacy to the reader, so it's important to be specific about your qualifications as they relate to the position.

This part of the cover letter includes the paragraphs where you explain why you are interested in and qualified for the job for which you are applying. These persuasive paragraphs are intended to convince the person reading the letter that you are a good fit for the position.

A successful cover letter will win you an interview, so it's important to be compelling and show the hiring manager that you're a strong candidate for the job. The hiring manager will spend seconds reviewing your letter or email message, which means you don't have much time to connect with the employer and make a positive impact.

What to Include in Each Paragraph

  • First Paragraph: The first paragraph of your letter should include information on why you are writing. Mention the position you are applying for and where you saw the listing. Include the name of a contact, if you have one.
  • Middle Paragraphs: The next section of your cover letter should describe what you have to offer the employer. Make strong connections between your qualifications and the position requirements. Mention specifically how your skills and experience match the job you are applying for. Use several shorter paragraphs or a bulleted list of your qualifications rather than one large block of text. This will make it easy for the reader to quickly scan and absorb this important information.
  • Final Paragraph: Conclude your cover letter by thanking the employer for considering you for the position. Include information on how you will follow up if you have the contact information for the hiring manager to do so.

What Else to Include in Your Letter

The rest of letter is important, too. You will need to include your contact information, which is listed at the top of the letter in a written letter or below your signature in an email cover letter.

Your letter also needs to include a professional greeting, a professional closing, and your signature. You will sign your name on a printed cover letter. If you upload or email your cover letter, your signature will be your typed name.

More Cover Letter Tips

  • Include keywords in the body of your cover letter. This is especially important if you’re submitting your cover letter and resume to an online listing. To get past the applicant tracking system and to a real human being, your cover letter will need to contain the right keywords. To find these, scan the job listing for keywords related to the skills and qualifications required.
  • Write a custom cover letter every time. It’s fine to begin with a cover letter template, but you’ll want to customize your cover letter to each role. Include details like how you found out about the job, why you’re particularly interested in the role, and why your experience, skills, and qualifications make you the perfect candidate.
  • Short and sweet is fine when it comes to the body of your cover letter. Don’t feel the need to go on and on. Three well-written paragraphs that highlight your experience and make your case are better than a lengthy letter that no one will read.
  • Don’t be too informal, but aim for natural language. While resumes are necessarily a bit more to the point, you’re trying to woo the hiring manager, and that means letting your natural charm and enthusiasm shine through. Think about what would make you sit up and take notice if you were reading this cover letter. What would inspire you to call you in for an interview?
  • Proofread and proofread again. It can never be said enough: Have a trusted friend proofread your cover letter before you send it along. Even professional editors miss mistakes in their own writing. Get a second set of eyeballs on your cover letter before you hit “send” or “upload.” 

Every time you send out a résumé, you’ll need to have a great cover letter to send along with it. It’s a good idea to customize your cover letter for each job you’re applying for. The cover letter is another way of introducing yourself to a potential employer. What it says about you can be the difference between getting in the door and missing your chance.

Before You Write

Each cover letter takes preparation. Here we’ve outlined some things to keep in mind when preparing to write your cover letter:

  • Think about yourself and your experiences. Then think about how you would like to relate your experience to the organization you’re writing to. Which of your talents, skills, personality traits and accomplishments should this particular organization know about? Brainstorm a list for yourself.
  • How did you hear about this opportunity? If it was through a personal contact, write down the name. If through an advertisement, write down where and when you saw it, and list the specific points the ad wants you to include.
  • What do you know about the organization you’re writing to? What attracted you to it in the first place? Maybe it’s personal (a friend worked there), or maybe you are impressed with what the organization does or admire their unique work philosophy. Do some research about the company online or through trade magazines, etc.
  • Whom are you writing to? It’s always best to write to a real, live person (with a title) if you can, so if you’re not responding to an ad that includes a specific contact, try to look up the name of someone in particular to write to. Be sure to spell both name and title perfectly. If you cannot find a specific person to write to, try “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Human Resources.” Avoid gender-specific salutations such as “Sir” and “Ma’am.”

The Right Format

Busy people don’t want to read long letters from people they don’t know. The cover letter should be one page long, and in standard business letter format. This means that you may indent your paragraphs or not – but not indenting gives a bit more room. Leave wide margins (minimum 1 inch) and use a clean, simple font like Arial or Times New Roman. Don’t be tempted to use a tiny font just to fit everything on one page; 10- or 12-point type is best. Write clearly and avoid hyphenated words at the end of a line.

Compose the Letter

  • Paragraph One: The first paragraph is the most important. Because it will be the first thing your potential employer reads, it has to make a great impression. Start out by telling how you heard about the job – friend, employee, newsletter, advertisement, etc. This is especially important if you’ve been referred by a mutual acquaintance. For example, if a friend recommended that you write someone he knows at a company, don’t start with “My friend, John Peterson, told me you have a job opening so I thought I would write.” That will not “wow” anyone. Instead, try something like “I was thrilled when my friend, John Peterson, told me there was an opening for an assistant photographer at your company.” Show a little excitement and passion for the potential employment; then follow this with a few key strengths you have that are pertinent to the position you’re looking to obtain.
  • Paragraph Two: Here you should describe your qualifications for the job – skills, talents, accomplishments and personality traits. But don’t go overboard. Only pick the top three talents or characteristics that would make you stand out as a candidate. Your résumé is there to fill in the details. When writing this, think about how you can contribute to this company and why your specific skills, talents and accomplishments would be best for the company.
  • Paragraph Three: Describe why you think you’d fit into the company – why it would be a good match. Maybe you like their fast growth, know people who already work there or you’ve always used their products. Companies feel good if the candidate feels some connection to them and has a good understanding of how the company works, even before he or she is hired.
  • Paragraph Four: Mention the enclosed résumé, give them a reason to read it in-depth (e.g., For my complete employment history and applicable computer skills, please see the included résumé) and ask for an interview. Suggest a time and a way for you to follow up. Make sure you give the reader ways to easily contact you.

Essentials

  • Proofread carefully. No mistakes are allowed! No misspellings, no incorrect dates, no grammatical errors. None. Even a single mistake indicates carelessness to the employer and may disqualify you before your résumé has been reviewed. If spelling and grammar aren’t your strong points, ask for help. Having a second pair of eyes proofread your résumé and cover letter can help you catch mistakes you may have missed.
  • Write individual letters. Personalized communications are always the way to go, so take the time to tailor each letter to the organization and person to whom you’re writing. “Stock” or “generic” letters are easily recognizable to recruiters and send the message that you don’t care enough to personalize them.
  • Appearance counts. Invest in nice stationery. Use “Monarch” size paper (7 1/4” x 10 1/2”) if you like, or the standard size (8 1/2” x 11”). Always use a quality printer and send originals, never photocopies or corrected versions.
  • Forget photos. Unless you’re an aspiring actor or model, don’t enclose a photo. It gives the screener one more arbitrary reason not to call you for the interview.
  • Use simple, clear sentences. Choose every word carefully. Constantly ask yourself, “Is there any way I can say this more clearly?” And, “Am I communicating my ideas to the best of my ability?”
  • Keep copies of your résumé and cover letter. You’ll need to have them handy when you follow up later. Always keep a supply of clean, unwrinkled résumés on hand during the process of interviewing for jobs.

Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out

  • Be yourself. A “formula” approach is fine, but each letter should reflect your personality and your enthusiasm. Let it shine through. Take pride in who you are and what you’ve done. The reader is looking for a human being, a person who knows what he or she can offer and can express it well.
  • Clearer expression. Most people come close to expressing what they really want to say but usually miss the target. Take the time to craft your words and sentences to mean exactly what you intend and you’ll be in great shape. Ask others to review your letter/résumé to ensure that you’re communicating what you want to say.
  • Write in the active tense. Active verbs are the key when writing cover letters and résumés. Instead of saying, “...my best attributes include team play and motivating people,” say “I’m a dedicated team player who can motivate people…” The latter promises a go-getter employee – someone who can take action instead of waiting to be led by the hand.

Common Mistakes

  • Writing to a department or title. It’s always best to write to a real person with a real title. The exception to this is when you’re answering an ad and specific contact information is not provided.
  • Using “Dear Sir.” Many cover letter readers are women. If you cannot get the name and title of someone to write to, it’s safer to use either a job title or generic title like “Dear Human Resources Manager,” or “Dear Sir/Ma’am.”
  • Overusing “I.” It’s okay to refer to yourself, but not in every sentence. Remember to use “you” even more. Show the “you” to whom you are writing that you’re more concerned with meeting his or her needs than meeting your own.
  • Exaggerating your experience. Don’t “stretch” anything you say. Be completely truthful while still presenting yourself in the best possible light.
  • Forgetting to give the employer a way to contact you. Never forget to include your phone number or email address or both. How will the employer let you know about your upcoming interview if he or she can’t call and tell you about it?
  • Forgetting to sign the letter or to attach your résumé.

Sample Letter

September 12, 2008


John D. Smith Human Resources Manager Mom's Marmalades, Inc. 123 Main Street New York, NY 10000

Dear Mr. Smith:

I was thrilled when Tom Townsend, a mutual friend, suggested I write to you about opportunities at Mom’s Marmalades. As a self-starter who’s already had some strong experience as an entrepreneur, I’m interested in a marketing internship with your company.

I am hardworking, analytical and like taking initiative. In the past year I have accomplished a lot:

  • Received one of only three prizes in school science fair
  • Worked weekends two years straight as a telephone call center representative
  • Managed a small online bookstore that grossed over $600 in sales in four months

I’ve always believed in the quality of your jams and have enjoyed them since I was seven years old. I would love to be a part of the specialty foods business, especially at Mom’s Marmalades.

Enclosed, please find a copy of my résumé. I will give you a call next week to see if we could set up a time to discuss my becoming a part of your company for the summer. Feel free to call me at (212) 555-5555 or send email to jhiggins@mail.com.

I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Sincerely, (Signature) Joe P. Higgins

Online Cover Letter

With more employers posting jobs online, it’s likely you will be faced with submitting an online cover letter through email. Generally speaking, an online cover letter should always be used whenever responding to a job posting found online or if specifically requested by the employer. While online cover letters are just as important as print cover letters, and follow the same basic rules, they come with some special considerations.

  • Online cover letters are shorter. An online cover letter should be two to three paragraphs and under 150 words. The idea is that your cover letter should not be any longer than one screen in length (the employer should be able to read it in full without having to scroll down his or her screen).
  • Make the most of an email subject line. Don’t just leave the subject line blank or insert a job number unless that’s what you’re instructed to do. Use the subject line to sell yourself. For example, if you’re applying for a sales position, in your subject line say something like “Experienced Salesperson for Executive Sales position.”
  • Use plain styling. While some email allows special formatting, many will not recognize specialized text, bullets, tabs, boldface text or formatted text.
  • Email your cover letter to a friend before sending it to your employer. This will give you an opportunity to make sure the formatting and content look okay on the receiving end.
  • Use job-specific keywords. As with online résumés, using critical keywords will enhance the likelihood that your cover letter and résumé will get noticed in a future database search.
  • Maintain a professional tone. Email is often written more casually. Remember that this is not an email to your friend or family member. Avoid using abbreviations, slang, wild colors, emoticons (happy faces, hearts, etc.), inspirational quotes as part of your signature or any other everyday email techniques.

Online Cover Letter Example


Subject Line: Experienced Entrepreneur for Marketing Internship position

Dear Hiring Manager,

I am writing in response to the job posting on the Mom’s Marmalades website for a marketing internship position in the New York City office. As a self-starter who’s already had some strong experience as an entrepreneur, I can offer Mom’s Marmalades:

  • Two years’ entrepreneurial experience, including the opening of an online bookstore
  • Computer proficiency, including Microsoft Word, Excel and Photoshop
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills

I’ve always believed in the quality of your jams and have enjoyed them since I was seven years old. I would love to be a part of the specialty foods business, especially at Mom’s Marmalades.

My attached résumé provides additional information on my background and qualifications. I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible to arrange a time for an interview.

Thank you for your consideration.

Joe P. Higgins 777 State Street New York, NY 10101 joe.higgins@mail.com Home: 917.333.5555 Cell: 917.555.4444

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