April 16, 2019

How to Write a Compelling Cover Letter

When applying to a job, every candidate wants their application to stand out and increase their chances of getting an interview. Other than submitting a top-notch resume, though, how can you spark the interest of a potential employer? A well-written cover letter gives you a significant advantage and can even boost your application to the top of the pile. At sophilabs we've seen how a cover letter can help a candidate's strengths shine. In this post we'll share our guide to composing a solid cover letter that will act as the perfect complement to your resume and complete your competitive application.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a formal letter in which you provide more details about your qualifications and experience and explain why you would perform well in the job you are applying to. You don't want to simply repeat what's listed on your resume, though. The purpose of a cover letter is to talk about specific experiences that have prepared you to meet the particular requirements of the open position.

For example, you might elaborate on how you honed your abilities to collaborate as part of a team while working on a specific project at your last job. You could illustrate your leadership skills by talking about how you delegated tasks or mentored new hires. Or you could demonstrate how you like to take initiative by describing the new ideas you implemented that made things run better at previous job.

Your cover letter is where you can expand on the things you don't have the space to thoroughly describe on your resume. More importantly, it's where you make a clear connection between your experience and the job requirements so the potential employer can see why you're qualified for the position. A strong cover letter can make the difference between a truly desirable job candidate and just another applicant in the pool.

Why write a cover letter?

Your may think your resume stands out on its own and that a cover letter sounds like a lot of unnecessary work. However, it's important to remember that a cover letter includes professional experiences not mentioned in your resume and expands on those that are, in addition to providing an important first impression. Many employers read the cover letter before looking at the resume. Some employers value the cover letter even more highly than the resume because of what it can reveal about an applicant's professionalism, written communication skills, and overall fit for the job.

It's a good idea to include a cover letter even if the job posting doesn't explicitly request one. Submitting a cover letter with your resume shows you took the time to send a quality application and demonstrates true interest in the position. If your education or professional experience isn't an exact match for the job description, the cover letter is the perfect space to prove how you have the necessary skills and qualifications to perform well at the job. Skipping the cover letter means you'll miss the opportunity to explain why you're prepared for the job and what you can contribute to the team. 1

At sophilabs we highly value cover letters because they show us when candidates take extra care with their applications and really want to work with us. Cover letters allow us to get to know applicants better, obtain a more complete picture of their qualifications, and assess whether they share our company values and vision.

Our Step-by-Step Guide

So how do you go about writing an effective cover letter? Let's walk through the process and take a look at the necessary steps.

1. Do your research.

The strongest cover letters start to form even before putting words to paper. You should begin the writing process by thoroughly researching the potential employer so you understand the company culture and how the job fits within the bigger picture. What is the company's vision? What needs would your position meet? Your letter needs to be specific to the position you're applying to so you can effectively argue how your skills would solve the problems the company needs this position to solve. Reading through the company's website also gives you an idea of the tone you should achieve in your letter; try to mirror their level of formality and enthusiasm. 2

There are a lot of sample cover letters out there, and while it might be tempting to copy-paste a letter you found online, it will be immediately obvious to the employer that you didn't put in the necessary thought or effort to write something original. Similarly, it's not a good idea to draft one generic cover letter and use it for every job you apply to. Hiring committees can tell when an applicant simply changed the name of the company and the position. If a cover letter doesn't show why an applicant is qualified for the specific position and why they're enthusiastic about being a part of the team at that particular company, the cover letter is not fulfilling its purpose.

At sophilabs we appreciate when an applicant has taken the time to get to know us before composing their cover letter. We think the recruitment process works best when both the applicant and the potential employer are a mutual fit. Well-researched cover letters help us find candidates who share our values and will thrive within our company culture.

2. Use a professional format.

The visual presentation of your letter will act as the first impression even before a potential employer begins reading, so you want to be sure the overall layout looks clean and professional. Keep the content of the letter to one page in length. Standard business letter format is usually expected. If you submit your cover letter as an attachment, make sure it's a PDF or another file format that can't be edited to ensure that there will be no changes to the formatting when an employer downloads it. You can check out our template if you're not sure how to get started.

Our cover letter template

If you are writing your cover letter in the body of an email, it may not make sense to strictly follow business letter format. All the contact information in the heading will probably seem superfluous and too formal. Instead, include your contact information below your name at the bottom of the email. Alternatively, you can add an email signature that will automatically include your current professional title and contact information. Including the date is unnecessary since the email service will stamp the email with the date and time anyway. If the application instructions don't mention what to include in the subject line, write the job title and your name.

Whether you send your cover letter as an attachment or in the body of an email, make sure you find an actual person to address your letter to. Writing "To Whom It May Concern" sounds stiff and impersonal—not to mention, it may indicate a lack of research or attention to detail on your part. In the best case scenario, the job posting will include who you should send your application to (i.e. "Interested applicants should send their resume to Blake Jones at bjones@companyemail.com"). If this is not the case, address the letter to whoever your supervisor would be or to the director of the department in which you would be working. If you can't find anyone to address your letter to, just try to make it as specific as possible (i.e. "Dear Marketing Associate Hiring Committee").

3. Focus on what you can contribute to the team.

The central argument of your letter should be that you would be a valuable addition to the team and that you have the skills and experience necessary to perform brilliantly in the available position. It's crucial that you stress what you can contribute to the employer, and not why this job would be a great opportunity for your career.

Start your letter by stating what job you're applying to and where you saw the posting (For example: "I am writing to apply for the position of Marketing Associate as advertised on Indeed"). If you were recommended for this job by a mutual acquaintance, here is the place to mention that. Then outline the most important skills and qualifications that make you an excellent choice for this position.

Spend the rest of the letter expanding on these skills and qualifications with concrete examples from your experience. Mine the job advertisement for indications of the kinds of problems the employer needs this position to solve, and demonstrate how you are capable of solving them. If they value teamwork, give examples of successful collaboration. If they require specific technical skills, describe your training or the professional accomplishments you achieved with that skill set.

If you don't have a lot of experience in the field or don't fulfill all the job requirements, don't apologize for your missing knowledge or skills. Instead, use specific examples to demonstrate your current strengths, your ability to learn quickly, and your potential for growth. Remember to be selective, though; an effective cover letter is no longer than one page.

You also want to make it clear that you've done your research on the company and have actively chosen them as a place where you would love to work. Discuss the skills and personal qualities you have that reflect the company's values. This will demonstrate that you're both professionally qualified and a good fit for the company culture.

At sophilabs we appreciate a well thought-out cover letter. In addition to helping us get to know the candidate better, a strong cover letter shows us that they've truly reflected about what their role would be within the company and how they would work with our team.

4. End on a strong note.

It's important to leave a lasting impression, so don't treat the last paragraph as generic throw-away lines. Emphasize once again what skills you bring to the table and that you hope to have the opportunity to make a valuable contribution to the team. It's a good idea to include some language here that reflects the company's mission or core values to drive home the fact that you understand who they are and want to be a part of their vision.

Stress that you are available to answer questions or provide more information about your skills or qualifications, should it be necessary. Don't state your salary aspirations or availability for an interview unless the application instructions specifically ask you to. At the end, be sure to thank the reader for their time and consideration.

5. Check it over, and get another opinion.

Once you've written a draft of your cover letter, thoroughly revise it for content, edit it for style and clarity, and proofread it for any errors. Read it aloud to yourself to identify areas that need more work. It's a great idea to have another pair of eyes take a look at the letter to be sure it nails the right tone and has the intended impact. Show your letter to a friend or family member to see if they find the letter compelling or if there's anything missing.

After you submit your cover letter and resume, keep an eye on your email inbox and incoming phone calls to ensure you won't miss it if the employer contacts you. At sophilabs we make the initial contact with candidates via email, so we recommend checking your filters so our email doesn't end up in your spam folder.

An Asset to Your Job Application

Taking the time to write a compelling cover letter is well worth the effort. A cover letter gives you the chance to make a convincing case for why you would be a great addition to the company. It allows you to give the employer a more complete portrait of who you are. It's also a fantastic opportunity to show off your writing skills.

At sophilabs we consider the cover letter an invaluable source of information about the job candidate, and we appreciate the time and care taken to compose a well-crafted letter. Download our template to get started on your own cover letter!

Our cover letter template

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"How to Write a Compelling Cover Letter" by Adriana Campoy is licensed under CC BY SA. Source code examples are licensed under MIT. Categorized under people & culture.

Photo by Daniel Fazio.

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