Two men are in a business meeting and one of them is holding a paper with a laptop in front of him.

Many resumes these days are read by bots that are looking for certain keywords and qualifications. There are things you can and should do to tailor your resume to these bots, but even in this modern high-tech world of hiring, you still need to think about an old fashioned document that will influence interview decisions after this initial round of sifting: the cover letter.

If your first reaction to those words is “Ugh,” I get it. I haven’t had to write a “real” cover letter for about 8 years (outside of helping a few friends and family members along the way), and just the memory of them makes me shudder. 

But while composing these documents is unarguably tedious, and the whole idea of them can seem a little antiquated, cover letters remain an important arrow in your job-hunting quiver.

Even when companies employ bots in their review of job seekers’ qualifications, eventually a human being is going to put their actual eyeballs on your application (and this will typically be the very first step in the hiring process at small businesses, which most businesses are). A well-done cover letter remains an important differentiator among a sea of resumes showcasing mind-numbingly similar lists of bullet-pointed skills and experiences. Taking the time to make yours an effective and memorable introduction to yourself as a candidate can truly be the difference between nabbing the job you want and continuing to job search endlessly on Indeed and LinkedIn from your couch.

This article will provide some context, to writing the best cover letter you can, as well as a helpful cover letter format to follow, and a few general tips on crafting your cover letters in a way that’ll facilitate your progress down the professional path you desire. To get some expert advice, I spoke with career consultant Joseph Liu; be sure to check out our podcast with him for even more tips on changing jobs.

When to Write a Cover Letter (Answer: ALWAYS!)

Naturally, when a job application requires a cover letter, you’ll write one. And while it may seem a little more nebulous when there’s no cover letter mentioned, it’s actually not. When a cover letter is listed as “Optional” or not mentioned at all in a job application process, it’s very tempting to skip it altogether. Don’t give in to this temptation; always submit a cover letter with any resume or job application. 

One hiring manager I spoke with said that even though her company doesn’t require candidates to submit cover letters, the firm is far more likely to move forward in the process with the applicants who do. A senior IT manager I spoke with gave me the same advice and was emphatic about always submitting a cover letter, even and especiallywhen not mandatory. Neither of them even mentioned the letter’s content; when it’s not a requirement, the very act itself puts you a notch above the pack, because it makes a great first impression.

That said, of course, the content doesmatter. You can’t just write drivelto a potential employer and expect a favorable response. A =good cover letter is crafted with care.

What Is a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is a one-page document that introduces you, and your resume, and your unique qualifications to a hiring manager. For the most part, it is written in prose, following a fairly standard format (in its structure, but not necessarily its content). That format includes contact information (i.e. name, phone number, and email address), a greeting like “Dear Sir or Madam or “To Whom It May Concern” — although if you know the hiring manager’s name, use that — and a body that includes an opening paragraph, a middle paragraph, and a closing paragraph, followed by a signed salutation like”Sincerely, Full Name.

The body of the letter is the most important. Each paragraph should be relatively short— generally 3-5 sentences each — and should express your personality, connect the specific job to your specific skill set, convey what makes you a good fit for the company, and expand on your resume if needed (particularly if you have an unconventional past and/or work experience).

How to Write a Cover Letter: Crafting the Content

The heart of the cover letter obviously resides between its greeting and closing. Ultimately, you want to tailor this content to the job