A cover letter is your means to make a solid first impression with a new employer. And as we all know, those first impressions are hard to cancel out. And that makes cover letters so important! Write a weak cover letter, and all that hard work on your resume won’t matter a bit.
So how do you write a cover letter that gets the reader at hello? We have this shortcut method:
- Review the proposed cover letter outline
- Check various cover letter examples for more inspiration!
- Grab an attractive cover letter template…
- …and start filling in the gaps!
How to Outline a Cover Letter: 3 Prep Steps
Before you start working on your cover letter, do some groundwork. All this prep won’t take more than 30 minutes.
Step 1: Understand What The Employer Needs
Neuroscience research suggests that when forming an impression about someone, we tend to “automatically attend to and parse relevant information about somebody, based on how important they are to our own motivations.”
In other words, we juxtapose a new acquaintance with our own social world. Will this person be of any value to me? In fact, interactions with new people activate the same region of our brain that is responsible for pricing objects.
So in an oversimplified sense, we assign a value tag to every person and based on it, we decide how to orient ourselves to that person. A similar exchange happens when an HR is reviewing your application packet. Your cover letter is the first assessment point they rely on to determine your value.
Thus, before you begin writing, line up a few “value propositions” that you can offer to a potential employer. For example, as a teacher, you can state that:
- You are certified as a special education instructor/has other credentials
- Have experience in developing curriculum plans/organizing extra-curricular activities etc.
Step 2: Research the Company Details
Just as with a resume, personalization is key. To do that effectively in your letter, line up the following information in advance:
- Full name of the hiring person
- Background on company culture/mission/vision
- Any important corporate news that may serve as a “connecting point”.
Step 3: Familiarize Yourself with the Cover Letter Format
Every cover letter includes several standard format elements:
- Body paragraph or two
- Closing paragraph with a call-to-action
- P.S. section (optional)
How long should your cover letter be? About one page, or roughly 300 words. Don’t beat around the bush with loads of generalizations. As well, do not copy your entire resume into a letter.
Now let’s take a look at how these guidelines translate into an actual cover letter outline.
Sample Cover Letter Outline
Remember: while the cover letter format is rigid, its content is not. You can adapt this example according to your needs, and job requirements. For additional cover letter writing tips, check out other posts on our blog.
Addressee First Last,
20 Street Address City,
(this makes sense for mailed/printed out cover letters. You can omit this for digital submissions)
Good day [Name],
Opening paragraph: Here’s how you should start a cover letter:
- Explain why are you interested in the job
- Share your main career accomplishment
- Show your enthusiasm about the company/position.
Note: If you are responding to a publicly advertised job, include the name of the position and the name of the job board. HR staff really appreciate knowing where their posted jobs are getting the most response.
Body of your letter (Paragraph 2): Get down to business in this section. Highlight specific skills and experience do you have that will be most attractive to the hiring manager. Focus on promoting just 2-3 core skills and leave the rest for your resume (aka your value propositions).
Body of your letter (Paragraph 3): Use the next paragraph to further expand on your experiences:
- Talk through some of your accomplishments
- Provide more details about your current position to add more credibility to your earlier claims.
Plan to spend quite a bit of time editing and polishing this paragraph. You must connect your experience with the needs of the company as outlined in the job listing.
Closing paragraph: How do you close your cover letter with a bang? Below are several tips:
- Clearly state what you can bring to the table.
- Recap your core skills/experiences
- Confirm your enthusiasm and include a call-to-action.
A call-to-action is a quick statement prompting further action e.g. “Look forward to meeting with you in person!”, “Let’s schedule an interview at your convenience.”, etc.
Signature: Use a professional closing line such as ‘Regards’ or ‘Sincerely’. Space down about four lines, and type your name. Consider adding an electronic signature, if you’ve captured yours. This will go between your closing and your typed name. Indicate whether your resume is attached.
There you have it – a basic cover letter outline with loads of pointers for styling your own one! If you’ve ever suffered from cover letter writer’s block, just refer to this outline. It contains everything you need to produce an impressive cover letter for any position.