Cover Letter Checklist | What to Do Before You Apply With a Cover Letter

Making sure your cover letter is well-written and error-free increases your chance of getting an interview. In this article, you can learn about the steps you should follow before submitting your cover letter and resume.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a document you send with a resume when you’re applying for a job. It serves as an introduction and explains why you are a good candidate for the position you’re applying for. It complements your resume, providing extra information about why your skills and experience meet or exceed the requirements shown in a job posting. Cover letters are like written sales pitches designed to convince the hiring manager to interview you.

Steps before applying with a cover letter

You can use these steps as a checklist to help you write a cover letter:

1. First, write your cover letter

When you’re writing your cover letter, make sure the introduction is compelling enough to grab your recipient’s attention, with your career objectives and key strengths stated clearly. Ensure each paragraph flows smoothly into the next. Check whether your conclusion leaves a strong impression and contains a direct call to action, encouraging the recipient to interview you.

2. Second, check the contact information

Make sure all contact information for you and the employer is correct. Check the names, postal and email addresses, and phone numbers included in your header, signature and other areas of your documents. Check for spelling errors, missing digits and typographical mistakes. Make sure you include your contact information, including your cell phone number and email address, so your recipient can reach you. Compare the contact details you have with the employer’s website to make sure there are no mistakes.

3. Third, cross-reference your cover letter and the job posting

Put your cover letter and the job posting side by side to check whether you have addressed all the requirements. Your cover letter should make it clear that you are the kind of candidate the employer is looking for. It should also outline the ways you would benefit the company.

Make sure your skill and experience keywords match the job posting’s keywords. Remember to include any elements the job description asks for, such as the date you can start work or the job reference number.

4. Fourth, edit your cover letter

Edit your cover letter so that it sounds good. Your cover letter should be no longer than one page with three or four paragraphs. If the job posting lists a maximum cover letter length or word count, you may need to reduce your cover letter even further. Look for sentences you can simplify or make more clear. Remove anything that does not support your application.

5. Then, proofread your cover letter

Proofreading your cover letter helps you find and correct accidental errors and awkward sentences. Read through your cover letter several times. Proofreading out loud helps you identify parts that sound repetitive or clumsy. Refine as you go to improve your cover letter.

6. Next, format for applicant tracking software (ATS)

Some companies use software programs called applicant tracking software (ATS) to search through applications for keywords from the job posting. ATS programs respond to clear, simple formats. Using an ATS-friendly format for your cover letter ensures that it can find your keywords and rank you favorably. 

Try to keep your cover letter simple because ATS programs can find it hard to read tables, images, text boxes and special characters. Use a common font style such as Arial, Tahoma or Georgia.

7. Remember to save in an appropriate file format

Save your cover letter as a .doc, .txt or .pdf file. ATS programs can easily read these common formats. These are not usually the default file formats, so you may need to look for them in a drop-down list when you save your file. Your cover letter should also have a name that clearly identifies it is your cover letter, such as ‘HardcastleLee_CoverLetter.pdf.’

8. Once again, proofread your cover letter

A final proofread will make sure your cover letter does not contain any typing mistakes or awkward phrases. It provides one more chance to make your cover letter the best it can be. If you have time, conduct your final proofread a day or two after completing the steps above. Time away from your letter will help you look at it clearly and you can look for areas to refine.

9. Lastly, ask someone to review your cover letter

Ask someone you trust to review your cover letter to get a second opinion. Professors or teachers, industry professionals, family members and friends are all good options. Give them a copy of the job description so they can check whether your cover letter fits the position. Ask them to identify any errors, sections that need more information or any other areas that need improvement.