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3 elements of a killer cover letter

Written by: Jenny Foss
Published on: Apr 26, 2018

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How do you make sure your cover letter convinces a reviewer to call you in for the interview? First, grab them at “hello.” Next, draw them into your professional story, making sure you’re coming across as a solid “yes” to each of these questions:

  • Can this person do the job?

  • Do we like this person?

  • Do we think this person is going to fit in around here? Is he or she “one of us”?

Here’s a section-by-section approach that has helped hundreds of our clients land job interviews:

Element no. 1: A strong lead

Your lead is the heart of your cover letter. This is your best opportunity to evoke an emotional response and introduce yourself as a dead-on match.

This is where you say, “Here’s who I am, why I love what you’re doing, and my specific reasons for applying."

Whenever you can, use a personal anecdote. This will not only affirm your interest in and understanding of the organization, it’ll position you as a likable person with a genuine connection to the work. For example:

When I was 8, my older sister dared me to ride my oversized bike down the biggest hill in our neighborhood. Of course, I had to rise to this occasion. In my terror, I forgot to apply the brakes, hit a curb, and flipped right over the handlebars. Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet made by your company. I’ve been a loyal customer ever since.

Today, I’m a strategic marketing leader and – in spite of it all – an avid competitive cyclist. It would thrill me to serve as your next Senior Marketing Manager.

This story provides a clear and personal explanation for the applicant’s interest, while suggesting that she is the candidate they’re looking for. (And it sure beats, “Please accept my application to your Senior Marketing Manager role, which I saw advertised on Work for Good on April 24.”)

Element no. 2: Direct evidence that you’re a fit

Next, provide evidence that you’ve got the specific skills this company is looking for. This section is your opportunity to connect the dots between what the reader needs and what you can deliver.

I typically begin this section in a very obvious way, using this exact line: What, specifically, would I bring to XYZ Company in this role? Underneath that header, develop a few key points showing you understand what the organization is looking for, and exactly how your background lines up.

How do you reach that understanding? First and foremost, you study the job description. In addition, you might talk to people who work at the company to get more specific input on what the hiring manager or department needs.

State each skill or capability they’re looking for, and document something you do, or have done, which demonstrates it. Example:

A strong understanding of the cycling community, and the ability to influence its members. Ahead of a local 2018 Spring Ride fundraising event, I convinced five cycling clubs to double their 2017 goals through an email and social media campaign, highlighting the difference an extra $1,000, $2,000, or $3,000 would make.

Element no. 3: A solid close

Many people fizzle out at the end of cover letters – or, worse, go with the “hard sell.”

In fact, some well-meaning advisors will insist you close by proclaiming that you’re “the one,” and that you’re going to call them on this date to set up a face-to-face meeting. It doesn’t work: Decision makers find it so obnoxious that you may lose them, even if the rest of the cover letter is stellar.

Certainly, you want to be proactive and confident, but don’t stray into pushy or cheesy territory. End strong by being friendly, on-point, and free of cover letter cliches like, “I’m uniquely qualified,” or “I’m the ideal match.” A final example:

I believe my energy, desire to innovate, and recent successes in building a profitable outdoor apparel brand would serve XYZ Equipment Co. very well. I would love to meet to discuss the value I could add as your next Senior Marketing Manager.

And then you're done! For the most impactful, results-generating cover letter, do a little sleuthing to find the appropriate person to address, and personalize your greeting.

Jenny Foss is a career strategist, recruiter, and the voice behind the popular career website,, which offers advice and services for navigating job search and career transition.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on