An HR Manager Breaks Down Exactly What Your Cover Letter Should Include

Sabrina Paparella

Cover letters are one of the murkiest aspects of a job application, perhaps because what should go into one seems so broad; you likely have a range of experiences you want to fit into a single letter in the hopes of wooing a prospective employer. Creating the perfect cover letter is about being precise yet thorough and, ultimately, putting your best foot forward. It can be tempting to see a cover letter simply as a long-form version of your résumé, but it actually provides a much more exciting opportunity. Cover letters allow you to explain gaps in your résumé and speak to specific reasons you're seeking employment. Perhaps this is an employer whose work you’ve always followed—a cover letter is an opportunity to explain this.

Although it's true that cover letters take more time to put together than simply attaching a résumé, there are certain pieces of information you should always include in each, while other sections will get more into the nitty-gritty of the job at hand. We reached out to our very own HR manager, Anne Kimsey, to see what she looks for when it comes to cover letters for graduates—and it turns out there are some precise dos and don’ts. Keep reading to see what one HR manager says about creating the perfect cover letter for graduates.

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Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

Although Kimsey says she “doesn’t always require cover letters, nor do I always look at them,” it’s always best to include a cover letter when given an opportunity. If you’re applying to any type of position that involves writing, then it’s especially important to include a cover letter, not just for what it says, but for how it says it. Kimsey explains, “I like to require cover letters for editorial roles because they help me determine the writing skills and abilities of the candidate.”

When it comes to length, there’s one absolute rule: “Cover letters should always be less than one page, and they should be to the point.” The anatomy of the perfect cover letter, according to Kimsey, is made up of three paragraphs, which she describes as the “most useful” form of a cover letter.

The intro paragraph should be about you. Explain any interests and career goals that are relevant to the position you’re applying for. This is an opportunity for the employer to learn a little bit about who you are.

The second paragraph will be the longest part of your cover letter—this is when you can get into the nitty-gritty of why you’re a great fit. Talk about your experience and qualifications, specifically how those qualifications relate to the job you’re applying for. Kimsey says, “Using words from the job description, or synonyms to words in the job description, are a great way to tie together the position and your experience.” Kimsey warns, “Don’t use the cover letter as a way to just repeat your résumé.” Instead, be sure to elaborate on what sets you apart from other candidates.

The third paragraph acts as a conclusion. This is where you’ll thank the employer for their consideration. There’s no reason to stretch this section to more than a couple sentences—be sure to keep it brief enough to have your cover letter stay on one page. Instead, use the majority of the page for your second paragraph.

Up next, see the top skills employers look for when it comes to your résumé.

Explore: Cover Letter

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