How to Write a Great HR Cover Letter
By Laura Fontenot
May 26, 2022
While you might read hundreds (or thousands) of cover letters as part of your HR job, it can be a challenge to write one of your own. Where do you begin? What should you include? How do you get someone to read it carefully? And probably the most important question: Do you still need one?
The answer is yes. A cover letter is still an important tool in an effective job search. The cover letter's job is to give the reader specific information tailored to the open position. It is also the perfect place to show passion for your career. You want to go above and beyond what's on your resume by giving a personal touch to your achievements and stories of success.
You're likely familiar with the basics of a cover letter. You should have a strong opening that highlights an accomplishment, talks about your excitement for the job or shares a networking connection.
The body should showcase your most relevant stories of success and skills (using either paragraphs or bullet points), and your closing should thank the reader for their time. But a cover letter is also an opportunity to stand out by tailoring your message.
What follows is an overview of the various types of cover letters, how to decide which one you should use and how to best personalize your cover letter to capture your reader's attention.
Types of Cover Letters
Did you know there are many types of cover letters? You're likely familiar with the traditional cover letter that responds directly to a job posting, but there are actually several versions you might need to utilize in your job search. Some of the more common types include:
JOB-POSTING REPLY LETTERS
Your "normal" cover letter. This cover letter is tailored to a specific job posting and company. Key Tip: Focus on demonstrating why you are the best candidate for the role by showcasing specific skills and achievements tailored to the open position.
A letter used to reach out to a company or recruiter to explore potential opportunities. You're not responding to a particular job posting but instead introducing yourself to a company you'd like to work for.
Key Tip: A cold-call letter needs to grab the reader's attention. Consider a powerful first sentence highlighting your best result or answering a specific problem: "Does your organization need a proven diversity and inclusion expert with 20+ years of experience?"
A recruiter letter is simply a letter sent to a recruiter or search firm. You'll use this kind of letter when you want to respond to job postings placed by a search firm or to explore potential roles the recruiter is trying to fill.
Key Tip: Similar to a traditional cover letter, you'll want to talk specifically about your best achievements related to the job you're targeting.
This letter's purpose is exactly as it sounds: to network with a colleague, an acquaintance, a former manager and anyone else who can help your search.
Key Tip: Immediately let your contact know why you're reaching out and how they can help you. Are you seeking a recommendation? A new connection to get your foot in the door at a company? Keep the letter brief and to the point.
Should You Write an E-Note or Traditional Letter?
An e-note is simply a letter sent in the body of an e-mail rather than a stand-alone letter in a separate attachment. There's no need to let the recipient know you're enclosing a cover letter—just write it in the e-mail itself.
An e-note is shorter than a traditional cover letter attachment and doesn't have the normal heading (with your name, contact info and formatting that matches your resume). Both an e-note and a traditional cover letter should be customized to the job and focused on your achievements.
In most cases, an e-note is the best approach with just a few exceptions. If you're submitting your documents to a database or e-mailing a top executive (like a CEO or member of a board), you'll still want to use the traditional cover letter. If you're simply e-mailing your resume, use an e-note instead.
Key Tip: I recommend writing a traditional cover letter and then copying and pasting the body of the letter when you need to use an e-note (simply remove the format/heading). Then read through it to make sure it isn't too long for an e-mail.
Write Separate Cover Letters for Specific Jobs
There's no doubt that an effective cover letter needs to be written for individual jobs and companies. But how? Focus on your best achievements, relevant skills and something that the resume may not have: a personal touch!
Look through your resume for some of your best stories and proudest moments. Maybe you reduced the average time-to-hire by weeks or lowered the monthly health insurance premiums by 36 percent. Consider using these results within your cover letter by sharing the story in detail, with information on how you went above and beyond.
Also, consider showcasing your best skills, whether they are talent sourcing, creating job descriptions, preparing budgets, onboarding, benefits coordination, project management or any other HR-related function. Don't forget about leadership, mentoring and training—key skills for many HR positions. You can also share your relevant education, training, certifications, credentials and organizational activities, including being a member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Lastly, don't forget the human touch. Write about why you are passionate about what you do. Why do you love HR? What skills are you fantastic at? Why are you the perfect fit for this role? How can you help transform the organization's HR efforts?
The best piece of advice when writing a great cover letter is to tailor it to your goal. Think about your best, most relevant skills and achievements that you want to showcase. Then add a personal touch about why are you excited about this opportunity. Taking a few minutes to customize your cover letter will improve your chances of achieving your goal: to earn an interview.