20 questions about cover letters you’ve been too afraid to ask

Along with refining a strong resume, writing your cover letter can be the most nerve-wracking part of applying for jobs. You’ve worked hard, though, and this is your chance to show that you’re ready for the next chapter of your career.

You may have questions about what makes a good cover letter, and we’re here to help. Follow our advice for a polished cover letter that takes your application to the next level.

1. Does my cover letter matter?

You may not want to admit it, but your cover letter is crucially important. A strong cover letter shows hiring managers that you are seriously invested in your application, giving them confidence that you will bring the same dedication to your work. A cover letter is where they see not just your experience, but your character as a potential employee.

2. Are cover letters going out of fashion?

More and more companies bypass the cover letter entirely, preferring to see examples of your work and judging your personality by your social media presence. However, a cover letter is just one more piece of your application where you can sell yourself, and can still give you the leg-up on an interview or job offer.

3. Is a cover letter ever really optional?

If an application explicitly tells you not to include a cover letter, or if you don’t see a place to upload one, then you’re in the clear. When a cover letter is ‘optional,’ though, writing one anyway shows recruiters that you’re willing to put effort into your work.

4. Can my cover letter be longer than a page?

Short answer: no. Even if you want to outline a long work history and share the complicated path that led you to this particular application, editing yourself down will keep your language clear and your ideas moving forward. Don’t give recruiters a chance to lose interest.

5. How is a cover letter different from a resume?

Your resume shows hiring managers that you’re a qualified candidate, and your cover letter shows whether you’re the type of person they want on their team. While your resume should outline your experience, your cover letter can take a unique approach that reflects your distinct voice.

6. What should my cover letter… cover?

Use your cover letter to share a bit about who you are. Tell a story grounded in a personal anecdote, a core belief or a goal you work toward. But don’t keep it focused on yourself — use this story to explain what you can do for this company, and try to answer the key questions any recruiter has in mind.

7. Should I include my cover letter in the body of an email?

The jury is still out on this one, but consider this: if you attach your cover letter separately, you free up space to make a strong first impression in just a few sentences, saving recruiters precious time. Keep it friendly but brief, explain that your attached cover letter outlines the roots of your commitment to your industry or target role, and draw them in to read more.

8. Dear… who?

Even in the internet age, a cover letter is still just that — a letter. It should be addressed to the recruiter or hiring manager reviewing your application. If you’re not sure who that is, sleuth around online or even call the company up to ask. Don’t be afraid to get creative.

9. How do I start?

Your cover letter should command attention from the first sentence. Start with something unique that reflects your voice and builds a connection with the hiring manager. Thank them for their work, showcase your own accomplishments or name-drop a connection. For more ideas, check out our recommendations for a strong cover letter opening.

10.  How long should my cover letter take to write?

Give yourself forty minutes to power through your first draft and just write without worrying about spelling and sentence structure. Take a break, and then come back to edit. Wash, rinse, repeat. If you really mean business, it’s worth the hard work to get your language just right.

11.  How personal should my cover letter get?

Your cover letter is a valuable way to tell hiring managers something they won’t glean from your resume or website. If a personal story reflects your character, your style of communication, or how you tackle a challenge, it will add depth to your application. But don’t get too friendly — your boss-to-be doesn’t need to know the details of last weekend’s boozy brunch.

12.  Should my cover letter target a specific position?

Recruiters can sniff out a boiler plate cover letter in seconds, even if you mention the position you’re applying for in the opening sentence. Do your research on the needs of the company so that your cover letter makes it clear throughout that you are invested in this role.

13.  What tone should my cover letter strike?

Generally, you want to keep your cover letter polite and professional, but you can switch things up to match the vibe of the company — casual, formal or Insta-savvy. Scoping out a company’s social media can help you nail their typical voice and be sure you leave a good impression.

14.  I don’t have much experience. How should I address that in my cover letter?

Unlike a resume, your cover letter can be anything. Don’t dwell on your lack of experience — instead, play up the skills and character strengths you’ve refined through the course of your life. Explain what it is, industry experience aside, that makes you qualified for this role.

15.  How can a cover letter help my career change?

If you’re preparing to step into an entirely new industry, your resume may not line up perfectly with the role you want. Use your cover letter to connect the dots, explaining why you’re making the transition and what you bring to this employer.

16.  How much does formatting matter?

Like your resume, your cover letter’s content matters more than design. For a cohesive look, match your resume’s font and formatting. If your resume includes a hint of color or a unique header, consider using those elements in your cover letter as well. Just don’t do anything too distracting.

17.  Can I use bullet points?

Your cover letter should tell a story and keep a recruiter’s attention moving as you make a case that you’re the candidate they need. Don’t break your flow with a clunky structure or overly clinical language. Save the bullet points for your resume.

18.  Should I use a cover letter template?

Every cover letter should have a few key pieces. That said, your cover letter should be unique to you and the role you want. For the best results, start with a blank page and build each new cover letter from the ground up.

19.  What about a writing service?

Your cover letter should come from you, reflecting your voice and your ideas. But if you want to invest in giving yourself an edge, a writing service will make sure your cover letter has all the right words in all the right places (with no typos whatsoever). You could always ask a friend or family member for a second pair of eyes — just choose someone who you trust to be honest!

20.  How do I make sure my cover letter is a home run?

The key to a successful cover letter is balance. Boast about your accomplishments, but let recruiters see why you’ve earned bragging rights. Include personality and your personal story, but don’t keep the focus on you for too long. Address the job requirements, but find ways to surprise recruiters that set you apart as a candidate. A knockout cover letter can build on your resume and make you a top contender for the job of your dreams.