There are five steps to writing a successful cover letter for a job application, even when you don’t have the job ad. These five steps not only help you write a great cover letter, but they also act as a cheat sheet for a phone screening job interview.

I encourage you to do this pencil and paper to begin. Do yourself a favor by not thinking about it as a marketing document, think about it as a career clarity exercise. This will stop you from editing your work too quickly to start.

Get a pencil and paper and follow these five steps to writing an effective cover letter. Once you have them all, then type it out and you’ll be amazed at how human, yet professional you sound.


Step 1: Identify 10 reasons why you like this particular role in this specific company

Make a list of the top ten reasons you would like to work in this company, in this exact role. Don’t overthink it too much, and don’t go and copy their values statement. Honestly reflect on why you want to work for this company. Write the answers down.

Some common reasons why you are drawn to work for their company might include:

  • You heard they have a great culture from someone you trust
  • The work on interesting projects
  • They share the same values about high-quality work and professionalism as you
  • They will help you reach goals you have been striving toward, and it’s a win-win
  • They work with a clientele you want to work with

Step 2: Identify which reason to mention in your cover letter

Choose the most compelling one to use. Most often, you tell them this in the opening paragraph. To get the attention of the company hiring you, you start by making the cover letter about them. Almost every cover letter template I have seen opens with “I am excited to apply for XYZ role because I bring with me 10 years of blah blah blah.”

Instead of starting the cover letter with a focus on you, start by focusing on them.

Step 3. Identify the hard and soft skills to include in your effective cover letter

Determine what the company actually wants and/or needs. Often we can categorize these into hard skills or soft skills. The idea is to figure out what they desire and hit some of those points in your effective cover letter.

An effective cover letter show why you should be considered for a job and leave a memorable impression






















How to find hard and soft skills in a job ad

  1. Review the job advertisement and identify the skills they are asking for.  If a skill gets repeated a few times, it’s probably a highly desired skill.
  2. Categorize them into hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are things you had to be trained or certified for (like PMP, accounting, or writing). Soft skills are attributes and ways of being like communication or problem-solving.

How to find hard and soft skills to mention in a cover letter without a job ad

If you don’t have a job ad to go off of, look for similar roles. Look up people who have that job title on LinkedIn and see what skills they mention in their profiles. If you have a strong network or know someone who works at your desired company, ask them what skills are respected at the company.

You can also look at this list of the top 10 desired skills.

Step Four: Think of specific career stories to show you have the desired hard and soft skills

Select one or two soft skills highlighted in the posting and think of your best story of where you used that skill. Jot down a few ideas that might work.

If you haven’t done story sourcing before, take my 7-day Career Stories Challenge to find your career stories and identify the skills you can highlight. 

Once you know your stories, write out a specific example of a time you used each soft and hard skill. Select one or two stories to share in your cover letter. It’s great if you have a story that uses two or three skills in one example.

Name the actual skills and a general line about your work experience in paragraph two, and then back it up with a story or two in paragraphs three and four.

Step Five: State exactly what you’ll help the company achieve in the cover letter

In the final paragraph of your cover letter show them what they can expect if they hire you. There are two ways to do this:

Option 1: Be super specific about the work you will do and the results you will get. This works best when you fully understand the company’s problems. It looks like this:

If I was the successful candidate, I would:
  • Modernize your filing system examining the current system and make improvements
  • Train the staff in digital-filing systems to ensure buy-in and consistent record-keeping
  • Create a new system to improve processing time
Help them imagine you doing the work you describe.
A tiny word of caution: If you do not know the company well enough, this can sometimes be seen negatively. Be sure that you fully understand the company and how they would react to this style.

Option 2. Tell them what they can expect to get if you work there. This is an additional place to name some skills. It looks like this:

If I was the successful candidate you would get:
  • A professional who is  devoted to best practices and keeps up to date on new research
  • Unwavering dedication to ensuring the client experience is memorable
  • My commitment is to set and meet high standards. You have built a strong reputation and I will work to ensure it stays that way.
Choose one option and then write it.

Did you notice it’s more like a cover letter formula than a cover letter template?

All the steps above help you to show up as yourself in the cover letter, but without sounding like anyone else. The bonus of writing your cover letter this way is that it becomes a cheat sheet for your job interview. You are commonly asked:

why do you want this job?

What skills do you have?

What difference will you make here?

You can just read it from your cover letter, you already did the work.


All of the recommendations I’ve made above are with the assumption that you know your skills and career stories. If you aren’t clear on that yet, take the 7-day Career Stories Challenge to figure out your career stories. It’ll make your whole search easier.

.7 day career stories challenge kerri twigg