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The best step-by-step guide on how to write an effective cover letter for a job application in 2021

The best step-by-step guide on how to write an effective cover letter for a job application in 2021

A cover letter is a piece of writing attached to your job application.

It gives you space to introduce yourself to the employer/human resources agent/hiring manager in a more personal light, provide context for your qualifications and professional experience, expand on your relevant skills, achievements and qualifications, and explain your motivation for joining the company.

But, not all cover letters are created equal; to stand out from the competition, your cover letter, just like your CV, has to be distinctive.

So, how do you write a unique cover letter that will make your hiring manager call you up minutes within receiving it? Read the lines below, and you’ll find out.

In the meantime, here are some surprising 2021 facts:

  • According to a recent TopResume survey, the world’s largest resume-writing service, “recruiters admitted caring less about employment gaps, and more about cover letters and thank-you notes than before the COVID-19 crisis.”
  • Amanda Augustine, the TopResume career expert, explained this result makes perfect sense as many job-seekers are now forced to apply for roles outside of their standard career path or field altogether.
  • In her interview with CNBC Make It, Augustine explained that an excellently written cover letter could benefit workers by giving them a chance to explain a drastic career change during the pandemic, but make it practical and pleasant to read.

How to write an effective cover letter?

  1. Effective cover letters: How to write them
  2. Start with a professional header
  3. Include a standout greeting/salutation
  4. Write a noteworthy opening paragraph
  5. Follow with a middle paragraph
  6. Finish with a proper closing paragraph
  7. Add the postscript
  8. End with a professional sign-off
  9. Reviewing your cover letter
  10. Details to avoid/not include in your cover letter
  11. How have cover letters evolved throughout the years?
  12. Cover letters in IT: Do’s and dont’s
  13. Cover letter myths exposed

Effective cover letters: How to write them 

Recruiters are busy people; you should anticipate that they’ll be reading lots of generic cover letters, especially if you’re applying to a lucrative position. So, grab their interest right away by following our guide. 

This guide will show you:

  • How to start a cover letter and write it better than your competitors.
  • Cover letter writing tips to boost your chances of landing a job posting of your dreams.
  • Actionable ideas on how to start and end your cover letter, plus how to fill out the middle part.
  • The suitable templates to use for the body of your cover letter to get you more interviews.

Need help writing a cover letter? PandaDoc can help! With 167+ cover letter templates in its base, Panda shares templates with cover letters which will make your process much easier.

Just pick the template that agrees with your industry, and enjoy the beauty of effortless cover letter creation.

Letter to apply for a job: Steps to follow

A perfect cover letter has several steps you want to follow.

Step 1. Start with a professional header

Every professional cover letter header should include the following: 

  • Your full name
  • Your phone number
  • Your email address
  • The date
  • The hiring manager’s name and professional title 
  • The company name and its address  

Facultatively, you can add: 

  • Your professional title
  • Your home address
  • Your city of residence
  • Your social media accounts (applicable for LinkedIn and Twitter only)
  • Links to your professional websites Although recent years have adapted to a more casual tone and formatting in writing cover letters, that doesn’t mean abandoning its initial, professional intention.

In that sense:

  • Send your cover letter from a respectful address; sexydaddy@gmail.com or coolgirl123@hotmail.com won’t work.
  • Use an email address from a recognized provider — either Gmail or your domain if you have one.
  • Don’t send your CV and cover letter from your current work address. It’s disrespectful to both your current and potential employer.
  • Ensure your resume, cover letter, and social media profiles share contact information that is consistent and accurate. 

Step 2. Include a standout greeting/salutation


The greeting/salutation is one of the essential parts of the first paragraph of a cover letter as this is the very first thing your hiring manager sees.

A foolproof strategy to make your cover letter greeting catch their attention is to start like so: 

Dear John, 

That’s right. When we see something addressed to us personally, we react with positive recognition. In addition, the hiring manager scanning your letter will feel like they are reading something personal, tailored specifically for them, and respond positively to whatever’s written next.    

Good examples of cover letter greetings: 

  • Dear Hanna,
  • Dear Miss McGee,
  • Dear Ms. Wright,
  • Dear Mrs. Johnson,
  • Dear Mr. Davis, 


In cases where you are not familiar with the hiring manager’s name or it wasn’t promptly provided to you, the below options will serve well:

  • Dear Hiring Manager
  • Dear PandaDoc Sales Team Hiring Manager
  • Dear PandaDoc Team
  • To whom it may concern

Step 3. Write a noteworthy opening paragraph


We know how hard you’ve worked on your CV and cover letter. Still, unless you make a great first impression with your cover letter, and the introduction grabs the hiring manager’s attention, your information will probably end up in the trash.  

Let’s take a look at a few examples of bad and good cover letter introductions:  

BAD

In response to your posting for the Senior Java Developer on your website, I would like to express my interest for the position. As a Java Developer with 5+ years of experience, I believe I would succeed in this role. 

Why is this the wrong way to go about an opening statement? Honestly? It provides zero value. The way this paragraph reads is, “I’ve been doing this job for 5+ years already, so I think I’d be good at it.” Is that what hiring managers are looking for? Hardly.  

Now, here’s how a cover letter opening should sound like: 

GOOD

As an admirer of PandaDoc and its product, I was thrilled to see your posting for a senior developer position. I have 5+ years of experience successfully leading 10+ teams online and live. In addition, I have succeeded at expanding XYZ’s client base by 21% since 2015. I am positive I am the right person to hire for this position. Why? Because I’ll work smart to help you overcome our company’s upcoming challenges and make our product even more stellar (if that’s even possible). 

The HM’s likely response? “Wow, this person already feels like a part of the team!” 

Let’s reiterate: the main reason your cover letter opening must be effective and different is so you could get the chance to show how well you know your prospective employer’s needs, highlight your short-term and long-term achievements, or express your enthusiasm for potentially joining their company.

Step 4. Follow with a middle paragraph

The second paragraph or the middle paragraph is the section where you explain why you are the perfect person for this position.

But, as explained in the paragraph above, you are not going to impress anyone by telling them you’ve already done the job they are recruiting for.

So, now that you’ve got their attention with your superb cover letter introduction, got them to the middle paragraph, this is your chance to shine and offer them precisely what they are looking for.

How? By showing that you’ve got what it takes to satisfy the company’s specific needs.

Say the company you are applying for needs: 

  • Social media management skills (1).
  • Someone to organize and supervise the content team of freelance writers for their new portal (2). 

Let’s see the best way to manage this application and show your employer you are both (1) and (2).  

In my current position at XYZ, I have initially developed, then supervised a strategy and its application across all of our social media platforms (1). A year ago, my key responsibility was to organize teams of 10+ graphic designers, both in-house and online, develop strategies that would help them stay on top of the tasks, and ensure everyone stays on the deadline without jeopardizing the quality delivered. 

The results we’ve achieved a year later: 

  • Seven of the nine social media profiles I’ve developed strategies for have gained client recognition and a success rate of 87% .
  • Our team of graphic designers has expanded to 25, with no resigns and my task strategy still in use (2).


Voila! But, this is where you draw the line. You don’t want them to think you are bragging. Instead, you’ve only communicated your results in the middle paragraph, and it’s now up to them to decide how to proceed. 

The way to impress hiring managers in your job search is by identifying transferable skills related to new positions.

Step 5. Finish with a proper closing paragraph 

You’ve done everything well so far, and now you are at the finish line where nothing could go wrong, right? Nope! 

The closing paragraph of your cover letter is the decisive part, and you have to be really smart about it. This is the paragraph that should make the hiring manager excited to start reading your CV or resume.  

The best cover letter ending is one that provides value.  

Tell the hiring manager you are excited about meeting in person and discussing ways your experience and knowledge fit into their company culture and how you can contribute to your future employer’s company growth. 

Here’s a good cover letter example for a closing paragraph: 

I would appreciate the chance to discuss your objectives in person and show you how my results and success at XYZ can translate into your company’s growth.  

Step 6. Add the postscript 

Let’s never underestimate the power of a well-crafted post scriptum, especially not in a cover letter!

While the above-listed sections are all must-haves of an effective cover letter format, the postscript (i.e., P.S.) is what gives every letter its unique flair.

For some reason, hiring managers are drawn to post scriptum like a magnet, so use this to your benefit. Whether you are sharing something exciting about your career or just saying that you’d be happy to provide more information about yourself, it’s up to you. 

See this postscript cover letter example:  

P.S. — I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to show you how my social media strategy helped grow our ROI by a record-breaking 15% in a single year. I’m available to provide more information at a time convenient to you.

Step 7. End with a professional sign-off 

A professional sign-off is like the cherry on top of a super delicious cake – the thing that ties it all together. 

Add “Sincerely” at the bottom of your cover letter and follow it with your full name. A handwritten signature is recommended if you are sending out a more formal cover letter.

If you’d instead go with something else but the well-worn-out “Sincerely,” here are some sample cover letter closing options that should be your safest bets:

  • Best regards
  • Kind regards
  • Thank you
  • With best regards

Additional options to sign off a cover letter are:  

  • Regards
  • Yours truly
  • Sincerely yours
  • Respectfully yours
  • Thank you for your consideration
  • Have a great day

Any of these closing greetings should work, whether you are sending your cover letter to a corporation or a more casual business. 

Need help writing a cover letter or filling out a job application form?

Go to PandaDoc to streamline your recruitment processes and create job application forms quickly and easily with PandaDoc’s suite of document creation tools.

Reviewing your cover letter

Before sending your cover letter, review and proofread it to make sure the application you’ve worked so hard on doesn’t end up in the bin due to something banal like an omitted comma or some weird formatting.

Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • A cover letter is typically single-spaced and uses either US Letter (USA) or A4 (Europe and elsewhere) page size. Use a standard font like Arial or Calibri, the font size between 10.5 and 12 points.
  • Adjust your cover letter margins between 1″ and .5″ on each side to make it readable and easy on the eyes. 
  • Left-align all the cover letter content except for your own contact details, which can be cantered.
  • Mind your cover letter grammar by filtering all content through a trusted spell-check tool or giving it to an expert to proofread.

How long should a cover letter be?

A professional cover letter typically spans between 200 and 350 words, but this can vary depending on how much you want to communicate. Just don’t make it too short or turn it into a book, and you should be fine.

Details to avoid/not include in your cover letter

To dodge coming across as unprofessional and avoid potential discrimination from your future employer, remove the following from your application documents:

  • Personal information: Religion, family, sexual orientation, gender, and similar information.
  • Photos: Whether a professional headshot or a selfie, photos are no longer welcome on CVs or cover letters.*
  • Salary information: Salary expectations, former salary, etc.
  • Questions and inquiries: Job expectations, questions about company benefits, company culture, etc. Leave all questions for the interview process.
  • Information copy-pasted from your CV: Instead of copy-pasting skills lists or bullet point sentences from your CV, reference that information in a new way and expand on it.

*If you are applying for a position where your physical appearance matters (i.e., modeling and such), your employer is allowed to ask for photos with the resume and cover letter.

How have cover letters evolved throughout the years?

In 2021, not submitting a cover letter won’t automatically land you a rejection. Still, it won’t work in your favor, either – especially if your application ends up with a hiring manager who considers cover letters a necessity. 

If you want to stand out from a stack of resumes with your professional job application, putting together a brief, witty cover letter to include with your resume makes total sense. 

Compared to the previous decade, cover letters now:

  • Have a concise, to-the-point introduction instead of a lengthy summary.
  • Place emphasis on adding value instead of focusing on self-promotion.
  • Emphasize mutual benefits that could spring out of [this] collaboration.
  • Promote assertive call to action instead of tiptoeing around polite sign-offs.
  • Use a more casual but respectful language that makes the letter more personal and honest.

Cover letters have drastically changed in the last few years which has significantly enabled applicants’ process of reaching recruiters and getting their attention.

Cover letters in IT: Do’s and dont’s

An IT cover letter is structurally slightly different than regular cover letters. The reason is simple – IT experts are often tasked with explaining complex ideas to those with significantly less understanding or knowledge of the topic. 

So, the cover letter must show you can conduct complex projects and share knowledge among your peers. 

Here’s a list of Do’s and Don’ts that should help you write an IT cover letter successfully: 

IT cover letter do’s

  • Keep it one-page, with the ideal length between 250 – 350 words (approx. four paragraphs).
  • Detail your relevant technical skills and proficiencies to make them easily comparable to the job posting requirements.
  • Emphasize the other qualities desirable from an IT employer’s perspective.
  • List all start-up work and/or side projects you’re working on.
  • Underline your aptitude for constantly learning and improving your skills.
  • Show how passionate you are for the IT industry overall and why.

IT cover letter don’ts

  • Don’t exaggerate about your level of competency or experience. 
  • Stay away from the company-specific terminology; use what is known and understood at an industry level
  • Don’t highlight your technical skills only; emphasize your communication and people-based skills, too. 

In essence, a perfect IT cover letter is a balanced view of your high-level technical experience and your ability to collaborate with various colleagues, clients, and stakeholders. 

Cover letter myths exposed: 5 cover letter myths you should stop believing immediately

In the sea of cover letter (mis)information, it’s sometimes hard to determine which ones are the correct information to rely on.

We expose five most common cover letter myths you should abandon completely:

Myth 1. No one reads cover letters anymore

False! In fact, in situations where HR is evaluating equal candidates, the cover letter may just decide who gets the interview! While most hiring managers/recruiters don’t look at a cover letter immediately upon receiving it, they will read it if your resume rings with them.  

Myth 2. Cover letters should summarize your resume

The purpose of a cover letter isn’t to summarize your skills and expertise but emphasize your eagerness (not desperation!) to get this job. It gives you a window to tell your employer how committed and passionate you are about your career, why you’d be the right candidate for them, and how your background and mindset can assist their company’s future success.  

Myth 3. It’s okay to send your resume without a cover letter

Unless the job posting you are applying for explicitly says not to send a cover letter – always send it! A cover letter is an addition to your resume and a way for the employer to see you’ve put a little extra effort into trying to get the interview. 

Myth 4. Cover letter is your chance to talk about your feelings

Nuh-huh! Your resume isn’t there to talk about your personal life in any way; it’s there to talk to your employer about them and how they can benefit from the marvelous assets you offer. While you can describe unique traits that set you above other applicants, don’t get too personal.

Myth 5. After you send a letter, the ball is in the employer’s court

Most employers are super busy people that have no time for hunting you down unless they need you right away. In that sense, if you don’t hear from them, call or e-mail to confirm that your resume and cover letter have been sent.

Final thoughts

The best application letter for job vacancy is one you didn’t write between meetings, but one you’ve dedicated some time, thought and structure.

Follow the advice listed above, and start writing your cover letter today. And, if you need help, PandaDoc is just a click away!

Yauhen Zaremba

Yauhen Zaremba Director of Demand Generation at PandaDoc

Yauhen is the Director of Demand Generation at PandaDoc. He’s been a marketer for 10+ years, and for the last five years, he’s been entirely focused on the electronic signature, proposal, and document management markets. Yauhen has experience speaking at niche conferences where he enjoys sharing his expertise with other curious marketers. And in his spare time, he is an avid fisherman and takes nearly 20 fishing trips every year.

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