end your doubts about cover letters, all ye who enter here

A reader writes:

I’m sure you get tons of emails letting you know how helpful your site is, but I’d like to express my gratitude because your advice helped me land my dream job.

As background, I was working for a large corporation with (what I felt was) a toxic work environment doing a job that I hated. Naturally, I was looking for new employment.

A good friend of mine sent me a job posting for a position with a note saying that I would be perfect for the job. When I read it, I felt like I was looking in a mirror. When I started researching the small non-profit, I fell in love with it (and wish I had discovered it earlier because I would have loved to have taken advantage of their resources even before looking for new employment). I really wanted this job.

I knew that a good cover letter would be important, but I felt very insecure with ones I had written in the past. I’m a decent writer, but I felt that the ones I had written based on advice I had received in the past were ineffective. So, I started googling and found your site. I read every post on cover letters and especially appreciated the real world examples of good ones (I know you’ve “sworn off” them, but I found them incredibly helpful.) With new tools in my belt, I wrote my letter and sent off my application.

During my first interview, I was told that my cover letter was amazing. In my second interview, they told me again how much they liked it. I got the job (and I love it!) and (because of my position) I’ve seen some of the notes that were written about the many applicants – in the “pros” section for me, they wrote, “really great cover letter.”

Obviously, I didn’t get the job just because of the cover letter – my experience and temperament really mesh with this job and the company – but clearly it was a huge part in getting me to the front of the applicant list.

​Thank you again for your excellent advice and website. You gave me exactly what I needed to get into a position in which I am happy, challenged, and making a competitive salary – it really doesn’t get better than this.

That is awesome. Thank you for taking the time to say it, and for reinforcing the importance of writing a great cover letter — something that people doubt me on all the time, but there is a reason I keep pushing it and you are illustrating it. My mail is full of letters from people who talk about how their job search changed dramatically once they started writing better cover letters. It matters.

I’m glad for another opportunity to say it.

{ 54 comments… read them below }

  1. BRR*

    In my current troubles with writing my boss pointed out how my cover letter wasn’t great. I really wanted to go, “That was before I knew how to write one, let me do one now!”

  2. AndersonDarling*

    This letter is so timely! I’ve been arguing with my husband because he doesn’t think men use cover letters when applying for “guy” jobs like mechanics. I feel like I’m pulling teeth just to get him to write “This job is interesting and I would like to submit my application for it.”

    1. I'm a Little Teapot*

      So writing a cover letter would somehow impugn his masculinity? The idea that cover letters are gendered seems bizarre to me.

      It’s possible that cover letters aren’t common in skilled trades – I don’t know much about that environment – but that would be a function of work culture, not gender.

    2. AcademicAnon*

      TBH in some industries you don’t write cover letters. And the blue collar trade type of jobs you typically don’t. But it’s not because it’s a “guy” type of job.

      1. HR Caligula*

        In skilled jobs not so much, I hire for industrial plant and vessel operations and don’t recall any cover letters for mechanics, engineer, refer techs, etc. It’s all about licenses & certificates.

  3. Turanga Leela*

    I love when people write good cover letters. We hire for very specific niche work, as in we exclusively handle cases about teapot spouts, and we really want to hire people who are passionate about teapot spouts. I can’t tell you how many letters I get that say “I have extensive experience with teapot handles and bases,” and clearly haven’t been customized for us at all.

  4. Amber Rose*

    I’ll say it too: I directed my husband here and helped him write his based on your advice. He applied for a government job to which probably hundreds of others applied, and 40 people interviewed for, and got the job. I doubt he would have got the interview without the cover letter.

    I got my job without a cover letter but my situation was incredibly bizarre. And I still used your advice to shine up my resume.

  5. John R*

    Everything this letter writer said is true. This site made me realize:

    1. Blindly applying for dozens of jobs was foolish and got me nowhere–targeting 10 or so that I really want, doing my homework and writing a good cover letter made all the difference in the world. I’ve been in my new job four months now and am loving it. I was a bit hesitant to leave my old job because I was up to five weeks vacation, but thanks to this site I negotiated an extra week of vacation in lieu or a slightly higher salary but this new job is so interesting I don’t feel the need for a vacation yet (though I’ll definitely take one when the time comes).

    2. This site made me realize that *I* have as much say as an employer in terms of work environment, i.e. I kind of always knew I didn’t have to take a job just because it was offered, or could ask for things, but this site really drove it home. After becoming a regular reader, there were a few interviews I went on where I could tell “this isn’t the place for me” and just getting a general sense of the type of place I want to work, and don’t want to work.

    1. Kim Bordes*

      I struggled with the “perfect ” cover page but reading this site and the tips I was over analyzing what to write or say. There are so many sites on the internet with your objective or profile is outdated leave it off, I disagree. The jobs I was extremely qualified for when I interviewed I didn’t get the feeling I could work there for 16 years as my previous employer. Then as you so perfectly put it I was just applying blindly to jobs when the end of the day seemed to be a bust.

  6. Liza*

    I am hiring right now for my first time ever and reading Alison’s posts about cover letters got me looking forward to reading them! I’ve been amazed and sad to see how few people are including them even though the application instructions say that a cover letter is required. It does make it easy to weed out a lot of applicants, because attention to detail is really important for this job and leaving out the cover letter shows me that the applicant doesn’t pay attention.

    1. NortheastNonprofitDirector*

      Yes! I’ve been a manager for years, but I just hired for two positions and I was astonished at how few applicants submitted cover letters. As Liza says, it made it easy to whittle down the number of applicants. And one candidate – though she didn’t get the job – definitely rose to the top due to her exceptional cover letter.

  7. Elizabeth*

    I do wonder if the OP making what sounds like a major industry change was part of the reason the cover letter was so loved. I’ve always been someone who was kinda meh on cover letters when doing the hiring (in part because of how poorly written they usually are, let’s be real!), but they were integral to me when someone’s list of experience on their resume had very little to do with the job/industry I was hiring for. If someone was able to actually articulate the reason for the switch, that made a huge difference in getting their resume onto the shortlist of people to interview; you’d be surprised (no you wouldn’t) at the number of people who didn’t make any mention of it at all.

    1. Revolver Rani*

      I completely agree. I was a career changer 6 years ago, and I think my cover letter was essential to (a) make it clear to the recipient that I hadn’t submitted an application for the wrong job listing, (b) explain why my previous career would make me great at the job even though I didn’t explicitly have 5-7 years experience that the listing asked for, and (c) head off some of the “why are you changing careers” questions or at least try to frame those discussions on my own terms.

      (b) is, of course, the most important. I really needed to sell myself. The listing asked for 5-7 years doing X, and I had been doing Y, and I had no reason to expect the reader would know the ways in which the day-to-day work of Y has a lot in common with X. I had to connect the dots for them, to show how the expertise in Y would make me really great at X.

    2. hbc*

      Amen. I’m very open to the possibility that someone didn’t take a straight line path here (I pretty much have to be, it’s a bit of a niche industry), but give me a little help in seeing it, please. Even addressing one of those gaps (and showing that you read the job posting) puts you in the top 5% of candidates.

  8. the gold digger*

    I got an interview for a job that didn’t even exist once because of my AAM cover letter. The posting was for a director level. I wrote that I was not qualified for that job, but I would be great working for that person.

    Recruiters have told me that they are talking to me because of my cover letter. I have helped friends with theirs. One friend credits me with getting the interview and then the job. I don’t think that’s true – I only help people who are already fabulous but just don’t express it well.

  9. Stranger than fiction*

    I’m not positive, because they never actually said so, but I feel pretty strongly that one of the reasons I got my current job was due to the cover letter. They asked a couple of specific questions in the job ad like “do you like doing such and such and do you excel in a fast paced environment!” So I opened my cover letter with an enthusiastic answer to both those questions instead of beginning withthe usual paragraph about what I’m applying for and why im a great fit (that was still next) but I think it really grabbed their attention because they called the next day.

  10. bob*

    About 4 years ago, after 2 1/2 years of unemployment during the big meltdown, I tidied up my resume and changed my cover letters based on Alison’s advice and the interviews started rolling in! Then the job offers started rolling in! Well just 2 at the same time but it was great after all that time.

  11. Me me*

    Well, I didn’t have to write a cover letter for my current job (they found me) but I completely credit this site for getting this job. I bring this up because the advice here is spot on in all aspects, cover letters, resumes, interviewing, and following up.

    In my case it was the resume changes I made that got my current employer interested and I followed up my interview with a great thank you note since I didn’t have a cover letter. But most of all it was my interview skills that did the trick. Everything about how I applied for jobs and prepared for interviews changed once I found this site. Interest in me increased dramatically (I had about 10 interviews in a span of a month and was offered 3 jobs!). And a lot of that was because of my cover letters. The job I chose just didn’t happen to need one.

  12. Lily in NYC*

    I interviewed a candidate a few weeks ago who had a fantastic cover letter and asked all of the right questions -I was so tempted to ask her if she was a reader here. She starting in a few weeks so maybe I’ll ask her after I get to know her better.

  13. Cruciatus*

    I agree cover letters are important, but I want to add my personal story in that I only started getting hits when I stopped *agonizing* over it. I would set aside an entire weekend to do one. But I started to tell myself “Hey, you keep getting rejected after spending all this time on it. Write one, move on.” I of course proofread it and all that jazz, but I was done in an hour (hey, after spending a weekend on it, an hour was good!) and I started getting a bunch more interest. I think I came across as more myself and competent without second guessing every line. And I now have two job offers and am TRYING to make good on one of them today! (though that looks unlikely.)

    1. NJ Anon*

      I think your strategy was wise. I am much more “myself” when I just let it flow and don’t agonize. I think the “human” in us comes out.

    2. Erica*

      I appreciate this comment. I am one who agonizes over cover letters and reading advice about how to agonize about them even MORE just keeps me from getting any done at all! And spending seven hours writing the “perfect” cover letter only to have no response or even acknowledgement is profoundly demoralizing.

      1. Rose*

        Erica you’re not the only one in this position. I loathe writing cover letters, and take all day to write one making sure it’s perfect and never hear anything from them. Even when I’ve tried doing a different style nothing ever comes of it.

  14. AnnieNonymous*

    That’s great! It’s always reassuring to hear, “Your resume is really impressive” or, “Your cover letter is well-written” at the interview stage. It definitely alleviates a lot of stress. I’d even encourage interviewers to say these things when appropriate to put the interviewee at ease.

  15. Kyrielle*

    I can’t prove my cover-letter helped me land my current job, which I’m loving – but I strongly suspect it. More than one person who interviewed me commented on some facet of it. For that matter, the job I ultimately wasn’t offered that I interviewed for at about the same time, my main interviewer also commented on it positively.

    I really, truly think that all your advice on cover letters (plus picking only opportunities I was excited about) is why, out of two applications, I made it to the interview stage on both and got an offer on one.

  16. Jennifer*

    I don’t know on this. It helped me out one time (I wasn’t originally hired, but got hired after the first choice bowed out and one person mentioned afterwards he liked why I was interested in it), but I will admit that sometimes it’s just hard to write a cover letter pretending to be psyched about certain jobs, especially when you’re applying because you mostly qualify for what it does rather than your having a passion for their particular teapots. If I absolutely don’t care about whatever they do all day (or their website is incredibly unclear as to what they do, or if you’re just gonna be another machine cog and not doing anything with their special teapots), I just want a job doing something else than what I do now and I can’t be picky, then….eh….?

    1. T3k*

      Yeah, I’m trying to figure out how to get myself excited about a job that just matches with my skills but doesn’t particularly appeal to me otherwise. My dream job is in a very niche industry and jobs with my skill sets in them are very rare (like they mainly want people who can make teapots dance while I just make them look pretty). At the very least, I can use some of the stuff off my dream industry cover letter and add on a paragraph that covers a particular job’s requirements list, but otherwise, I feel fake if I say “I’m thrilled about this opportunity…”

      1. Kyrielle*

        If you enjoy learning new things, and/or if anything you’re likely to learn there moves you toward where you want to be, there’s always “I’m really looking forward to learning more about X” – especially if you can say it sounds fascinating. :)

    2. some1*

      It’s also harder when you are unemployed and applying to everything you’re qualified for because you need a job :(

      1. Sueme*

        It’s also difficult in teaching,where a bunch of districts use the same application site. You have no idea who might look at your application, so a cover letter can’t be specifically tailored to one situation.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You just need to talk about why you’d be awesome at the job. If you can’t genuinely do that, it’s probably not worth your time to apply (seriously!).

      1. Mints*

        It’s been illuminating when I’ve been in “agressibe job search” mode and I see a listing I feel like I should apply to, but when I start to write the cover letter I just get suddenly distracted by EVERYTHING. I realized if I’ve been avoiding writing for an hour I should just give up. And then, seeing listing where I can just bang out a cover letter super fast, those are good listings.

  17. some1*

    I credit this site for reiterating how important it is to be be a good fit for the team as well as having skills and knowledge. My former boss mentioned in my first review that I had said that in my interview and said that I WAS a good fit. He didn’t say that’s why he hired me but it showed me that Alison was right about being a fit culture-wise and personality-wise for the team or the org is important to hiring managers.

  18. Relosa*

    Even though I probably won’t get it and have radio silence from the company, the last really good cover letter I wrote got me an immediate phone call for an interview.

    Cover letters are everything – I put WAY more work into them than I do the resume (not saying I don’t tweak it – but if you have a resume version that fits the job well-enough, you can put a lot more effort into the first impression with the cover letter, and if there are any gaps or discrepancies, use them to your advantage)

    1. Relosa*

      Update: I also just applied to another position with an A+ cover letter and only a B- resume (wasn’t tailored specifically but close enough, is a little disorganized, and has a job entry on it twice!) – got an interview offer an hour after I submitted my materials.

      1. Relosa*

        I also didn’t realize there was a double entry on it until after I sent it in. Whoopsies.

  19. Experiment Emily*

    Yeah….I don’t know. I wrapped up a job search about 5 months ago and landed a great, new job. I wasn’t desperate in my search; just wanted to see what else was out there. Like the LW, I’ve always been insecure about my cover letter too — so much that I decided that I wouldn’t even bother with one unless it was a required field on the online application.

    In my OldJob, I worked for a large, well-known company with thousands of employees. In my own experience, when I’ve been a hiring manager, I never even SAW the cover letter. HR never passed that on to me; I just received the app and the resume. I know in our online application system (that’s used at MANY other companies), the cover letter is an optional attachment. If the applicant wrote one, I never once got to see it. Now, if HR read the dang thing, that, I’ll never know. From that experience, and knowing that I was targeting other large F500 companies in my job search, the

    With no cover letter, I had no trouble getting phone interviews, and ended up with 2 offers when all was said and done. (My field is IT management, if you’re curious).

    Now, GRANTED, I had my focus on big corporations, not small companies/small non-profits. YMMV

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are employers who don’t care about cover letters. There are also a ton who do. As an applicant, you generally don’t know who you’re dealing with, so it makes sense to write a good one, considering that there’s a good chance it will pay off.

      Of course people get hired without good cover letters. But it raises your chances significantly when you do them (in most industries, at least). Given how hungry people are for ways to rise above their competition, it’s hard to argue for not bothering.

    2. Kyrielle*

      I think my cover letter helped but I could be wrong – but I can say that at my old job, we did see the over letters (~300 employees), and both places I interviewed at (around 50 employees and 5000+ employees with lots of international locations, respectively), the interviewers saw the cover letters.

      Lack of a cover letter is absolutely not a barrier, but a good cover letter can help you, I believe. In some cases it may not, such as if you encounter a company where the person doesn’t see it. My guess is all small companies, the hiring manager will see your cover letter; once you get larger, it probably depends on the company.

  20. Emily*

    Same here, OP! Once I got the job the boss even told me “I didn’t even look at your CV – I picked up the phone after I read your cover letter”. Huge difference. Thanks Allison :)

  21. loquaciousaych*

    For my current job, I got the only interview they gave because of my cover letter. It was short (3 or 4 sentences), but it totally encompassed why I would be excellent at the job. I got offered the job the same day of the interview- it was amazing.

  22. Anonymouse*

    Ditto! I rewrote my coverletter based on the above here and suddenly got so many more interviews!

    Thanks, Alison, for the blog and sharing your advice for free!

    Also, I love all your Game of Thrones reference!

  23. J.*

    I wanted to chime in and thank you as well. Your blog has officially convinced me that, while contacts might be helpful, it’s a good cover letter and resume that will really get your foot in the door. When I first applied for jobs right after graduating from college, I didn’t hear back from anywhere, despite extensive internship experience. Now, two years later, I wanted to transition from teaching at a private school into publishing, and for that, you need publishing internships (which are often just as competitive as full-time jobs). Fast forward to my having fully digested your posts on cover letters and totally changed the way I write mine: I heard back from dozens of places and had my pick! Now that I’m an intern at my first choice and I get to see the 60 applications that are coming in for the fall internship, I’m realizing again and again (as my supervisor also said) that the way most people talk about themselves is exactly the same. A great cover letter really does stand out.

    So thank you, Alison! :)

  24. Coach Devie*

    I would love to see more examples here!! I hope you un-swear them off some day, Alison!! The ones you have posted have been great for when I explain to friends what it ACTUALLY means to tailor a letter to the job and show your personality / experience at the same time.

  25. Barefoot Librarian*

    I have to second the OP’s enthusiasm and praise. I went from a really stressful, toxic job last year, to working in an amazing librarian with amazing people and I have no doubt that the cover letter and interview advice I got here helped. I’ve been told several times how good my cover letter was!

  26. SJP*

    This is lovely to read. I too just landed by dream job and for once in my career actually felt I wrote a really strong cover letter. Plus it was commented on saying how good it was too!
    I am keen horse rider and equestrian and live in the home of Horse Racing in the UK (Newmarket) so when writing my cover letters applying for roles working in the industry here I was confident that my experience, vast knowledge of horses and my passion for them would really shine through in my cover letters. I just had to get in front of the people hiring (there’s only a few roles and a large pool of people wanting them) and It made all the difference and I just landed my dream role, shipping horses all over the world, last week and have been on the job 4 days.
    Sometimes situations happen which really get you down but to land a role you’ve always dreamed of can disperse all of that sadness and frustration in an instant

  27. JJ*

    Writing a great cover letter definitely helped me get my new job. About 2 months ago I started looking for a job. I came across this site when I searched for resume and cover letter advice and changed my resume and cover letter based on the suggestions here. The job was a great fit based on my experience and education but in a different industry. Writing a good cover letter helped me position myself.

    Additionally, I bought “How to get a Job” for interview tips. I have no doubt using this information helped me land this position.

  28. Rosey*

    Here’s a question. I’ve just applied for my dream job and now found this site. Before now I didn’t think my cover letter was too bad but now I realise I’ve failed to stand out from the crowd. Help!! The job fits my background and I love the company- do I have the opportunity to redo? Should I rewrite and submit again? And if I do should I be honest and say I really want the job and just played it too safe the first time around? Or should I just say “I’ve updated”
    Or have I missed my chance in this one, Should leave it alone and just really hope my average covering letter and cv see me through to interview?
    Would a company relish my honesty and openness that I’m “redo’ing” because I want he job and feel I didn’t convey myself and personality first time around??
    Help much appreciated
    Ps so pleased to have found the site!!

    1. The IT Manager*

      Unfortunately redoing and resubmitting the letter will seem odd and likely have a worse effect than an average or poor cover letter. I recommend you hope for the best and prepare to be awesome in the interview. I hope you get the opportunity to interview.

  29. Nicole*

    Please answer, instead of 12 I put 15 Capen hall when writing the address!!! I worked on this cover letter for two weeks! I feel so stupid!!! For hr managers is that bad!!! I was so focused on making the cover letter good….I graduated from institution … The office of admissions

  30. TMW*

    I never really gave much thought to my cover letter until I came to this site. Before reading the advice on cover letters on this site, my cover letter was very generic and did not really convey my personality. I’ve just now revamped my letter (because I am trying to get a job in a different industry). The finished letter now has more of my “voice and personality”. It explains how my skill set can transcend over to the new industry and the position. I just sent out my new and improved letter. I’ll keep you posted if it makes a difference.

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