What Should be in a Cover Letter?

What should be in a cover letter for a job application? Knowing what to put on your cover letter is tricky, but knowing what to keep off is even more challenging. And with such an importance placed on cover letters, you want to make sure you’re doing things right. Don’t let your cover letter be tossed into the trash bin (either in real life or virtually)- put the right things in your cover letter for success. But how?

So, what should be in a cover letter (and what should you leave out)? You want to stick to the truth about your skills, history, background, and education. Avoid placing incorrect names or spelling/grammatical errors. Your paragraphs should be loaded with information, but not too long. Don’t be too personal or impersonal, pushy, or demanding. Remain professional and keep it short and to the point.

If you want to make sure that your cover letter is done correctly, you have come to the right page. We are going to make a must-know list of everything that should and should not be placed in a cover letter. These tips and tricks will help you to put together a top-notch cover letter that employers are excited about, hopefully leading to a phone call and interview.

What to Include in a Cover Letter for a Resume

what to include in a cover letter

When it comes to a cover letter, it’s not exactly rocket science- you need an introduction, a few paragraphs explaining why you’re the best choice for the job, and a closing. But while this is a basic structure, sometimes it can get foggy on what specifics should be in or on your cover letter.

Here are a few must-haves for your cover letter:

  1. A greeting with a name. You never want to use the outdated ‘To Whom It May Concern’. Employers absolutely despise this and are likely to throw out your cover letter altogether. It’s impersonal and tacky. Instead, do the best research you can possibly do to find a name. Start with ‘Dear Mr. Reynolds’ or ‘Hello Dr. Angela Smith’.
  2. Information about your background. Now, you never want to repeat your resume in your cover letter. This should be entirely new information that will excite and thrill the hiring manager. You want to place as much information as possible as to why you should be the one chosen for the position. 
  3. Bullet points can be used. If you have a lot of info and don’t want to overload the reader, then you can use bullet points instead. Just make sure that the bullet points are detailed and don’t use any boring, typical adjective like ‘top-notch customer service agent’. Instead, say something like ‘Increased sales by 25% in the first 3 months of working at _____’.
  4. Proper formatting. Formatting is key for a professional-looking cover letter. The main thing to remember is that everything should be formatted to the right-hand side, and you should never double space. This is unnecessary, not only because it looks unprofessional but it makes the cover letter longer, too.
  5. Reasons they need- not want- you. Now, we touched a bit on this earlier, but it’s important to note that this is going to be the letter that piques the hiring manager’s interest. You should have ample reasons why they need you located in all three paragraphs of your resume. Don’t skimp on the details! Sell yourself.
  6. A strong closing. Save the best for last and really wow the employer with your closing paragraph/sentence. If you have done something incredible- like won several awards or helped a company get out of bankruptcy or something similarly worthy- put it in your last sentence. Think- “I would love to show you how I can up your sales within the first 3 months- just like I did at ______” or “I can’t wait to show Mason Elementary why Gaston Elementary nominated me, Teacher of the Year, for 3 years straight”.
  7. A formal goodbye. Don’t just say ‘Bye’ or ‘See You Later’. Remember, being professional is a must. Instead, a ‘Thank You For Your Time’ is the perfect option. Leave three spaces afterward to place a signature, which is very professional. 
  8. A call to action. Don’t forget a call to action! Saying something like P.S. I am available anytime Monday through Wednesday for an interview gives them a subtle push to ring you up.

What Should Not Be Included in a Cover Letter

what should not be included in a cover letter

While having everything you need in a resume is key, what is possibly more important is what to leave out. There are a lot of major don’ts when it comes to writing a high-quality cover letter, and these subtle yet common mistakes can really ruin your chances of moving forward in the hiring process.

Here are some things you should never put in your cover letter:

  • Grammar or spelling mistakes. These are big no-nos so double check before sending. Any type of grammar or spelling mistake can lead the hiring manager to believe that you’re unprofessional and lack the basic skills that are necessary to perform the job well.
  • Anything personal. Your hiring manager doesn’t care that you would be a great fit for the chef position because you love Italian food. It’s best to keep personal information out altogether. If you can, switch the comment to be positive, such as- “I spent a year in Italy, touring the restaurants and learning from a top Italian Chef. These experiences will reflect when creating Italian cuisine in the kitchen”.
  • Anything that isn’t true. You don’t want to start your professional relationship with an employer based on lies. While you might get by with it at first, they are likely going to find out at some point and give you the boot. It’s simply a waste of your time, and theirs.
  • Negative comments. The hiring manager doesn’t want to hear that you’re bitter at your last employer. Move on and stay positive. Positivity is always key and can lead to a call in no time. 
  • Too long of a cover letter. You should never write or send a cover letter that is longer than half a page. This is annoying for the hiring manager and they might skip your letter altogether as there is simply too much to read and sifting through a cover letter that’s too long isn’t worth their time.
  • Anything too personal or impersonal. Dodge the ‘To Whom It May Concern’ greeting, but also leave out the ‘Hey’ or ‘How Are Ya’ greetings. Being too impersonal will lead the employer to think you are unprofessional. Always remain professional from the start to the end.

Related Questions

Is it bad to use a cover letter template?

No, it’s okay to use a cover letter template to gather ideas and a basic format. However, your cover letter should be personalized and tailored to your personality and style. Employers don’t want to see another cookie-cutter cover letter day in and day out.

How long is too long for a cover letter?

Your cover letter should include your information, greeting, and a few paragraphs (1 to 3) describing why you’re the best man or woman for the job, ending with a goodbye, and a call to action. However, this entire thing should never be longer than half a page. Anything longer is a nuisance for the hiring manager and may be instantly tossed.


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