Monster Cover Letter Graduate School

Smart tips to help you format and write a cover letter

Struggling to write a cover letter that will catch an employer's attention? We've got tips to help you show your best self—and a sample you can use to get started.

There's nothing scary about writing a cover letter.

You've found the perfect job, hit the "apply" button, and started the process with your engines revved and ready. But wait! Slam the brakes! They want a cover letter. Oh no. 

Don't let this request derail you. Here's everything you need to know to write a letter that truly sells your skills. Plus, scroll down to see a sample cover letter you can use to craft your own.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a one-page document that, along with your resume, is sent with your job application. A cover letter is your chance to tell a potential employer why you’re the perfect person for the position and how your skills and expertise can add value to the company. The letter should be professional but personable, and serve as a sort of introduction.

Do I need to send a cover letter?

A lot of job seekers today wonder if a cover letter is still appropriate to send with your resume—and the answer is yes! Even if an employer doesn’t ask for a cover letter, it couldn’t hurt to send one. In fact, it’s can help you get someone's attention in a different way, and it can be a great way to display your enthusiasm for the job and company.

What are the basic elements of a cover letter?

  1. Greeting: Address your cover letter to the proper person.
  2. Opening: Write a personable, inviting opening paragraph that notes how your skills are a perfect fit to the job and displays your enthusiasm.
  3. Hook: Highlight your past achievements as they relate to the job you're applying for.
  4. Skills: Emphasize additional relevant skills, such as computer languages or certifications.
  5. Close: Briefly recap your strengths as a candidate, and include your contact information.

Cover letter tips

1. Parrot the keywords: Just like with your resume, your cover letters should be customized for each job you apply to. Start by reviewing the job description. In it, you will find important keywords that let you know what kind of employee the company is hoping to find. Use these same keywords throughout your cover letter.

2. Adapt for the company: Each version of your cover letter should talk about how your skills will benefit the particular company that you want to work for. You want to target the company’s needs—not your own. Demonstrate how you could help them achieve their goals. Remember: You're selling yourself in a resume and a cover letter, but the employer has to want to buy.

3. Show you "get" them: Your cover letter should demonstrate that you have done some research into what the organization's pain points are. Presenting yourself as a solution to a hiring manager’s problem can help your cover letter take the right tone. If you’re applying to an administrative position, be sure to mention your time-management skills; if you’re an IT professional, include your expertise in improving efficiency. Always ask yourself: How can I help this company?

4. Proofread. Don’t assume spell check will catch every mistake (it won’t). Slowly review your cover letter to make sure everything reads properly. Have someone else read your cover letter for backup.

Need even more confidence before you start your cover letter? Below are some additional cover letter tips you could reference—or keep scrolling for a cover letter sample:

Cover letter mistakes you should avoid: From overusing “I” to being too vague, there are a bunch of pitfalls that can trip you up. Don’t let them!

Cover letter format and advice tips: Learn how to set up your cover letter and what each section should include.

Cover letter tips for new grads: You might lack real-world work experience, but your cover letter can be chock-full of activities that demonstrate your potential to succeed.

Cover letter tips for technology professionals: The ease of applying to online jobs has led many IT professionals to skip sending a cover letter, but that’s a mistake. 

Cover letter tips for finance professionals: If you’re searching for a finance job or want to be prepared just in case, you will need a dynamic cover letter to grab the hiring managers’ attention.

Tips for better email cover letters: If you're emailing a resume, your cover letter will deliver the first impression. These eight tips will help you craft a better email cover letter.

Cover letter sample

Check out the sample cover letter below (or download the template as a Word doc) to get some inspiration to craft your own. And we've also got you covered if you're looking for a cover letter in a specific industry. 

Once you've finished your cover letter, consider joining Monster—you can upload and store up to five cover letters and resumes, so that you can apply for jobs on our site in a snap!


[Date]

Ms. Rhonda West
Customer Service Manager
Acme Inc.
123 Corporate Blvd.
Sometown, CO 50802

Re: Customer Service Representative Opening (Ref. ID: CS300-Denver)

Dear Ms. West:

I was excited to see your opening for a customer service rep, and I hope to be invited for an interview.

My background includes serving as a customer service associate within both call-center and retail environments. Most recently, I worked on the customer service desk for Discount-Mart, where my responsibilities included handling customer merchandise returns, issuing refunds/store credits, flagging damaged merchandise for shipment back to vendors and providing back-up cashiering during busy periods.

Previously, I worked within two high-volume customer-support call centers for a major telecommunications carrier and a satellite television services provider. In these positions, I demonstrated the ability to resolve a variety of issues and complaints (such as billing disputes, service interruptions or cutoffs, repair technician delays/no-shows and equipment malfunctions). I consistently met my call-volume goals, handling an average of 56 to 60 calls per day.

In addition to this experience, I gained considerable customer service skills during my part-time employment as a waitress and restaurant hostess while in high school.

I also bring to the table strong computer proficiencies in MS Word, MS Excel and CRM database applications and a year of college (business major). Please see the accompanying resume for details of my experience and education.

I am confident that I can offer you the customer service, communication and problem-solving skills you are seeking. Feel free to call me at 555-555-5555 (home) or 555-555-5500 (cell) to arrange an interview. Thank you for your time—I look forward to learning more about this opportunity!

Sincerely,



Sue Ling

Enclosure: Resume


No one seems to agree on cover letters. How much time do you need to spend perfecting them? Do hiring managers even read them? Is it better to just send in your resume and call it a day?

Now, I'm not in HR, but I've been approached by applicants who wondered whether their cover letter would actually be read. My answer is one not many of them wanted to hear: "Sometimes." Sometimes it will be read. Other times, you can get away with just sending in your resume -- like when you network your way into applying for a position.

The truth is, you can't really predict on a case-by-case basis -- and you're better safe than sorry. For the most part, having a cover letter will give you an upper hand in ways your resume doesn't. It allows you to show off your writing skills, provide details that you couldn't fit on your resume, demonstrate your passion, and show your willingness to put in as much time and effort as possible. 

But if your cover letter is sloppy, you might as well have not applied at all. Grammatical errors could mean your application is thrown in the trash. Using a generic "one-size-fits-all" cover letter -- especially if you forgot to change the name of the company -- will definitely hurt your chances. So if you take the time to write a cover letter, take special care that it reflects you in the best possible light.

Let's take a look at an example.

Sample Cover Letter

Here's an example of a great cover letter. The numbered sections are explained in more detail below.

1) Header

The level of formality your header has will depend on the company you apply to. If you're applying to a formal business, it's important to use a formal header to open your cover letter, like in the sample above. Put your address, the date, and the company's address. But if you're applying to a company that isn't as formal, you don't need to include yours and the company's addresses. You can still include the date, though.

2) Greeting

Using "To Whom It May Concern" is okay, but you may want to take the time to research the name of the recruiter or hiring manager online. If you do your research and aren't confident you found the right name, then you should definitely use the generic greeting -- but if you are sure, then it shows you put in the effort to find their name and it will catch the recruiter's eye.

If you have the recruiter's name, do you greet them by their full name, or by their courtesy title (i.e. Mr., Ms., or Mrs.)? Similar to the header, it depends on the company's level of formality. If you're applying to a corporate business, you may want to consider using "Mr. Snaper" instead of "Jon Snaper." If you're applying to a start-up or a business with a more casual culture, you can use "Jon Snaper," as shown in the example.

3) Paragraph 1: Introduction

Your opening paragraph should, in 1-3 sentences, state why you're excited to apply and what makes you the perfect candidate. Get right to the point, and don't worry about explaining where you found the posting or who you know at the company. This isn't a place to go into detail about why you're a great candidate -- that's for the second paragraph. Here, simply list a few key reasons in one sentence to set up the rest of your letter. Keep in mind that the recruiter may cross-reference your cover letter with your resume, so make sure the two sync up.

4) Paragraph 2: Why You're a Great Fit for the Job

Next, sell yourself and your experience by choosing one or two concrete examples that show why you're a great fit for the position. What did you do at a previous company that gave you relevant experience? Which projects have you worked on that would benefit the new company? How will your prior experience help this company grow? Stay humble in your explanation of credentials while still showing that you would be an asset to the team. Use this paragraph to show you're genuinely excited and interested in the position.

5) Paragraph 3: Why the Company is a Great Fit for You

While it's certainly important you're a good fit for the job, it's also important that the company is a good fit for you. "A cover letter typically describes why you're great for a company -- but how will you benefit from getting hired?" asks Emily MacIntyre, Senior Marketing Recruiter at HubSpot. "We want to know why our company appeals to you, and how it will be a mutually beneficial working relationship."

In the third paragraph, show you're serious about growing and developing your career at this new company. What impresses and excites you about the company? Is there something that you feel strongly about that aligns with the company's goals? For example, the candidate in the sample letter used this space to show his personal commitment to environmental causes aligns with the company's green initiatives.

6) Strong Closing Paragraph

Don't write off the final few sentences of your cover letter -- it's important to finish strong. Be straightforward about your interest and enthusiasm about the new position without coming off too strong. Tell them you're available to talk about the opportunity at any time and include your phone number and email address. At this point, the ball is (rightly) in the recruiter's court to decide how to follow up.

Last but certainly not least, thank them for their time and consideration. 

7) Formal Sign-Off

Use a formal sign-off like "Best," "All the best," or "Sincerely," and finish by typing out your full name. You don't need to sign it with a pen.

5 Cover Letter Tips From the Experts

While the sample from the previous section provides a basic framework for writing your cover letter, there are also several tips you can follow to help get your cover letter to stand out from the crowd.

1) Do your research.

In order to craft a truly compelling cover letter, you need to show that you understand what the company does and what their pain points are. And that usually entails doing more than simply reading a job description.

Start by soaking up all the information you can find on the company's website and blog, and then consider drilling down into the LinkedIn and Twitter accounts of executives and employees you could end up working with. That research will help you fine-tune the messaging of your cover letter.

As author and entrepreneur Jodi Glickman told the Harvard Business Review:

Think about the culture of the organization you’re applying to. If it’s a creative agency, like a design shop, you might take more risks but if it’s a more conservative organization, like a bank, you may hold back."

2) Keep it short.

You might have heard that keeping your cover letter to one page is ideal. But according to Forbes tech journalist Seth Porges, you may want to consider keeping it even shorter than a single page.

As Porges once noted (in appropriately concise fashion):

"Less. Is. More. Three paragraphs, tops. Half a page, tops. Skip lengthy exposition and jump right into something juicy."

3) Don't state the obvious.

One trick for helping you keep your cover letter concise: Avoid wasting real estate on information that the hiring manager already knows -- like the position you are applying for.

As Porges wrote for Forbes:

Never ever, ever use the following phrase: 'My name is ___, and I am applying for the position as ____.' They already know this, and you’ll sound inexperienced."

4) Add some personal branding.

Career coach Evelyn Salvador recommends using personal branding elements -- specifically a slogan, a testimonial, and/or a mission statement -- to help make your cover letter more attention-grabbing. As Salvador told Monster.com:

Each of these elements is optional, but it might just be the thing that makes your cover letter stand out from those of other candidates."

Here's a quick run down on what those three elements are, and examples of what they might look like.

  • Slogan: A short summary of the value you'd bring to a company/role (e.g., "Using data to solve the problems of tomorrow.")
  • Testimonial: An excerpt from a letter of recommendation, thank-you message from a customer, or other short quote that highlights your past performance (e.g., "[Your name] was prompt, professional, and responsive throughout the entire process. I can't wait to work with her again the future!")
  • Mission Statement: Similar to a slogan, but focused more on the philosophy behind why you do what you do, and why you want to accomplish what you want to accomplish (e.g., "The key to customer happiness is creating products that people love. My mission is to produce the most lovable products on the planet.")

5) Don't force humor.

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