Cover letters and letters of intent are similar documents you can use to contact a target employer in your job search. With either type of letter, you should aim for a confident tone that outlines your skills and presents you as a talented professional in your field. However, these two items have key differences and are used in different contexts. Cover letters are for pursuing individual jobs, while letters of intent are for pursuing companies that interest you in general.

Read on for an overview and examples of differences for each option, and tips on drafting the right letter for your purposes.

Apply to a Job with Your Cover Letter

When you’re interested in a specific job opening, you should submit a cover letter. In virtually all cases, you’ll want to pair your cover letter with your resume – in fact the cover letter’s main purpose is to compel a hiring manager to read your resume more closely.

The five parts of a cover letter

1. Greeting (use “Dear Hiring Manager” or a variation)
2. A “hook” or intriguing statement about one of your career highlights
3. A brief paragraph introducing yourself and explaining why the job (and possibly the organization) intrigues you
4. Several bullet points giving more details on your top highlights and qualifications
5. A “call to action” asking for an interview

Sample cover letter

Jasmine Brown, CATC
123 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 12345 | (123) 456-7890 | [email protected]

August 31, 2022

Mr. Caleb Morris
Hiring Manager
JDO Health Services
(123) 456-7890
[email protected]

[1] Dear Mr. Morris:

[2] During my recent Substance Abuse Counselor internship, I was praised by my manager for performing thorough needs assessments and developing viable treatment plans for clients. I hope to bring that same level of diligence to your organization as a Substance Abuse Counselor.

[3] Your job posting jumped out at me, particularly the call for someone “focused on using cognitive-behavioral intervention methods to help people address substance abuse.” What motivates me most is helping efforts to combat the opioid crisis and other urgent drug problems in our city. I believe I can support these efforts based on my skill and experience in these areas:

[4]

  • Communication: Effectively engaged with diverse groups and individuals, making sound use of cognitive-behavioral intervention methods
  • Organization: Created and continually honed an efficient system for managing intake forms and other client documents
  • Collaboration: Built positive relationships with other members of the treatment team, and submitted feedback and ideas that contributed to an updated mission statement

[5] I would welcome the chance to discuss your advertised Counselor position with you further. Please call or email me to arrange an interview. I will follow up with you soon to confirm you received my application and see if you have any initial questions. I appreciate your time and look forward to possibly hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Jasmine Brown, CATC

Appeal to an Employer with Your Letter of Intent

When you’re generally interested in an organization that isn’t hiring at the moment, you should submit a letter of intent. This type of letter just gets you on the radar of an organization where you’d love to work, even though they don’t have any openings in your field currently. You don’t need to pair your letter of intent with your resume, since you’re not submitting a formal job application in this case.

The five parts of a letter of intent

1. Greeting (use “Dear Hiring Manager” or a variation)
2. A direct statement expressing your overall interest in the organization
3. A brief paragraph introducing yourself and explaining why the organization intrigues you
4. Several bullet points giving more details on your top highlights and qualifications
5. A “call to action” asking for an informational interview where you can discuss future opportunities

Sample letter of intent

Jasmine Brown, CATC
123 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 12345 | (123) 456-7890 | [email protected]

August 31, 2022

Mr. Caleb Morris
Hiring Manager
JDO Health Services
(123) 456-7890
[email protected]

[1] Dear Mr. Morris:

[2] I write to express my interest in working as a counselor for JDO Health Services.

[3] I’m an entry-level counselor with strong recent academic and internship experience. Your group’s mission speaks to me, as I too am passionate about finding ways to help people address and overcome substance abuse challenges. What motivates me most is advancing efforts to combat the opioid crisis and other urgent drug problems in our city. I believe I can be an asset to your organization based on my skill and experience in these areas:

[4]

  • Communication: Effectively engaged with diverse groups and individuals, making sound use of cognitive-behavioral intervention methods
  • Treatment Planning: Praised by my manager for performing thorough needs assessments and developing viable treatment plans for clients
  • Organization: Created and continually honed an efficient system for managing intake forms and other client documents
  • Collaboration: Built positive relationships with other members of the treatment team, and submitted feedback and ideas that contributed to an updated mission statement

[5] I would love to learn more about JDO Health Services and discuss any new counselor roles you may have available soon. I look forward to potentially telling you more about my skillset, and am available to talk at your convenience. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Jasmine Brown, CATC

A Different First Impression

The strongest differences between the two types of letters are in their introduction (parts 2 and 3 above).

With a cover letter intro, your main goal is to catch the hiring manager’s attention and stand out in a pile of other applicants for the same job. But with a letter of intent, you’re sending a “cold” inquiry rather than responding to a job ad. The recipient won’t already know what your letter pertains to, so you need to dispense with the cover letter “hook.” Instead, take a more direct approach and state your purpose up front.

When you’re writing a cover letter, focus on showing your interest in the job at hand. (You can also express any interest you have in the employer, but that should be secondary.) By contrast, on a letter of intent your focus should be on the organization in general.

Use your letter of intent to explain what aspect of the organization appeals to you and connects to your career goals. Perhaps you identify with their mission. Or maybe you feel like you’re a great fit with their corporate culture. Or maybe you just love and use their products every day. Whatever the employer’s appeal to you is, impress that on the recipient. They may not have job openings in your field right now. But if any jobs open up later on, the hiring manager will be more likely to give you a call knowing the extra enthusiasm you’ll bring to their organization.

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Jacob Meade

Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW, ACRW)

Jacob Meade is a resume writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience. His writing method centers on understanding and then expressing each person’s unique work history and strengths toward their career goal. Jacob has enjoyed working with jobseekers of all ages and career levels, finding that a clear and focused resume can help people from any walk of life. He is an Academy Certified Resume Writer (ACRW) with the Resume Writing Academy, and a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) with the Professional Association of Resume Writers & Career Coaches.