How to Write a Simple But Effective Cover Letter

Draper Bowen

Did you know that over 85% of resumes received by hiring managers do not include a cover letter?

While that may not seem significant to you, it is to the people reviewing and vetting resumes for the job you are applying for. Resumes that are sent in without a cover letter appear to the hiring manager to have been submitted almost blindly. It’s as if the job applicant sent their resume to a slew of openings in the hopes that someone would call them back.

This is NOT the kind of first impression you want to make on a potential employer.

Resumes that include a cover letter, on the other hand, receive special attention and are frequently the first resumes reviewed by an HR representative. A cover letter shows the hiring manager that you care enough about the job you’re applying for that you want to stand out from the crowd. When you take the time to write a cover letter, you demonstrate initiative and demonstrate your ability and willingness to go above and beyond. It shows that you are detail-oriented and willing to do things that other applicants (and workers) are not.

In essence, it demonstrates that you are well-organized, competent, and professional. A well-written cover letter shows the hiring manager that you are serious about the job, and it gives you the best chance (along with a relevant resume) of landing an interview and, ultimately, the job you truly desire.

While a cover letter is a huge benefit for job applicants, there are some definite best practices you can use to ensure your cover letter is heads and tails above everyone else’s.

The following is how you should address your cover letter:

Let’s begin with what to avoid. The most obvious thing you should avoid is writing a generic cover letter that is irrelevant to the job you are applying for. This negates any benefit of putting one together in the first place. The first thing you should avoid is addressing your letter to “To Whom it May Concern.” This, once again, just adds you to the generic cover letter pile and does nothing to distinguish you from the other applicants.

To avoid this, try to find out the name or job title of the hiring manager and address the cover letter to him/her. If this is not possible, the following addresses are preferable:

1) Address your cover letter to the head of the department to which you are applying. So, if you’re looking for a job in sales, use “Dear Hiring Sales Manager,” “Dear Hiring Marketing Director,” or “Dear HR Director.”
2) If you don’t know who to address your letter to, try “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Human Resources Director.”
3) If you know the hiring manager’s name, always address them as such: “Dear Mr. Brooks,” or “Dear Ms. Collins.”

This is the type of detail that takes only a few minutes to customize, but it makes a big first impression on the hiring manager. Again, it demonstrates that you care enough – and are resourceful enough – to go above and beyond what the vast majority of job seekers are unwilling to do. The implication is that you will be more organized and detail-oriented on the job. And this is the type of person that hiring managers are looking for.

Following that, the content of your cover letter is where you will either make or break a good impression. Don’t be intimidated here. The hiring manager is not looking for a college essay or a sample of your writing abilities. What they do want – and what you want to give them – is to understand why you are uniquely qualified for this job. In other words, they want relevant experience that is specific to the position you are applying for.

Let me repeat that because it is critical: What the hiring manager is looking for is relevant experience of yours that directly relates to the specific job skills and duties for which they are hiring.

And the good news is that there are some simple, sure-fire best practices you can implement that will provide them with what they are looking for right away. Here’s how you can do it:

Number one: Carefully read through each employer’s ad description and highlight specific words and phrases that describe the skills and day-to-day activities they are looking for. As an example, consider the phrase:

“Relevant experience in phone prospecting; candidates should be prepared to make 50 to 75 cold calls per day.” Furthermore, the ideal candidate should have experience contacting existing or inactive accounts in order to expand and grow the client base.”

When you see something like this, it is instructing you on how to write your cover letter. The next step is to match up any (or as many as possible) of your previous positions where you performed similar duties. Then, in your cover letter, include a brief description of that. As an example:

“The skills and duties you seek – specifically phone prospecting and calling into inactive accounts – are exactly the type of work I did at Sherman Rentals and ABC Financial.” I am an expert at cold calling, averaging 68 prospecting calls per day.

“I was also in charge of calling into existing accounts and won awards for my ability to reactivate and upsell existing customers.”

How simple was that? You will be doing something that 98 percent of your competition will not do if you take a few minutes to highlight specific words and phrases and repeat them in your cover letter. Your efforts will be noticed, and your resume will rise to the top of the stack.

By the way, if you haven’t won any awards, don’t make them up! Instead, focus on the accomplishments you have made and the results you have obtained. Again, your goal here is to match your relevant experience to the specific job skills and duties they are advertising for. Remember, when describing your experience in your cover letter, use their exact words and phrases.

Taking this simple step is 75 percent of the way to writing an effective cover letter. The other part is to express genuine interest in their company and job opportunity while keeping it brief. Here is an example of a complete, best-practice cover letter that you can use as a template:

Dear Hiring Manager for Sales,

My name is John Brown, and I was thrilled to discover your job posting on I’ve always been interested in the online advertising industry (or whatever industry their company is in), and I believe I have the relevant experience you’re looking for to be a success with your company.

The skills and responsibilities you seek, specifically prospecting by phone and calling into inactive accounts, are exactly what I did at Sherman Rentals and ABC Financial. I am an expert at cold calling, averaging 68 prospecting calls per day.

Furthermore, I was in charge of calling into existing accounts and even won awards for my ability to reactivate and upsell existing customers.

I would appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the account manager position you are advertising for, and I look forward to discussing how my professional background can benefit your company.

I’ve attached my resume for your review, and I’d be happy to discuss my experience or answer any questions you might have.

My cell phone number is (515) 555-5555, and it is the best way to reach me. You can also email me at [email protected].

I hope my experience is what you’re looking for, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Brown, John

Use this template to apply for any sales position. (Or any other position for that matter.) Simply change the name of the company and the type of job as needed, and match up your skills and duties as previously discussed.

By spending just a few minutes customizing a carefully worded cover letter like this, you will instantly become one of the first, if not the first, candidate to receive a call back. You will be in high demand, and you will soon be able to choose which opportunities to pursue. And having multiple companies interested in hiring you gives you the negotiating power to request and receive things like a higher salary, a better commission structure, and even a possible hiring bonus.