Cover Letter vs Letter of Interest: The Key Differences

Smiling woman typing a cover letter and letter of interest on laptop indoors sitting at a table next to her phone

People don’t write letters like they used to… except when it comes to job searching. Formal letters are an integral part of people searching for jobs and convincing managers to hire them. Two such documents are the cover letter and the letter of interest.

We’ll outline the difference between a cover letter and a letter of interest and explain the situations where each one can be used to help you land a great new professional opportunity. 

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a professional document submitted alongside your resume when applying for a job opening. It provides additional information to set you apart as a candidate and support the experience listed in your resume.

A cover letter names the position you’re applying for and elaborates on the skills that make you qualified for that position. It provides additional context, like personal anecdotes or professional accomplishments, that show why you’d be a good fit for the job. 

A cover letter is addressed to a job’s hiring manager, typically contains about three to four paragraphs, and closes with an invitation to contact you for further discussion. Candidates submit a cover letter following the instructions outlined in the job posting, which typically requires it to be uploaded to an online application system or emailed as an attachment. 

What is a letter of interest?

Like a cover letter, a letter of interest prompts a manager to consider hiring you. A letter of interest, however, is written when you’re not applying for a specific position. This most typically happens if you’re interested in working for a company but they don’t have any job openings posted at the time. 

A cover letter expresses your desire to work for the company and gives some background on why you’re reaching out right now. It should offer details on the type of role you’re looking for and where you see yourself fitting in at the company. 

Since a letter of interest isn’t tied to a job application, you’ll need to send it directly to the appropriate manager via email. This requires research to determine the best contact to receive your letter and move you closer to a job with the company. 

Contrasts between cover letter vs. letter of interest

Length

A letter of interest is shorter than a cover letter. Because you’re not responding to a job listing, getting right to the point is important. Don’t waste the reader’s time with a wall of paragraphs or a lengthy introduction. Instead, jump right into the reason for your correspondence. 

Tone

While both a cover letter and a letter of interest should be written in your own voice, a cover letter is more formal. A letter of interest can be punchier and should clearly express your enthusiasm. 

Situation

When you send a cover letter, the hiring manager expects to receive it since they’ve posted a job opening. Thus, they’re more likely to read the whole thing or at least give it a good scan. With a letter of interest, you’re appearing in the reader’s inbox unannounced, so you’ll need to expend extra effort to ensure your letter is actually read. 

Background research

With a cover letter, a lot of the information you need will be right there in the job listing. The job description will explicitly state the skills they’re looking for so you know what to focus on as you outline your qualifications. The hiring manager’s name may also be listed.

With a letter of interest, you’ll need to do more digging, first to learn who the appropriate contact is and second to learn what skills and achievements might catch their attention. It can be incredibly helpful to have a connection within the company that can point you in the right direction. 

When to use a cover letter

Use a cover letter when:

  • Applying for a publicly posted job
  • Applying for an internal position, transfer, or promotion
  • Submitting your resume for another purpose, like admission into a professional association

Need help writing a cover letter? MyPerfectResume has professional writers to help you compose a winning cover letter regardless of what career stage you are in.

When to use a letter of interest

Use a letter of interest when:

  • You’ve identified a company you want to work for but they don’t have a job opening posted
  • You’ve heard about an upcoming opening that hasn’t been publicly advertised
  • You want to stay informed about future job opportunities with the organization

Advice for creating a letter of interest

1. Explain why you’re writing

Begin by introducing yourself and briefly outlining the reason for your letter. This is a good example of why you’re interested in the company–you’re invested in their mission, admire their fieldwork, etc. 

2. Suggest where you might fit in

Just because there’s not a specific job opening doesn’t mean you can’t suggest one. Naming a position, department or role where you’d be a good fit gives the reader a reference point, which is preferable to simply sending them your qualifications and making them figure out where they might be able to use you. 

3. Cite your qualifications

Name skills and qualifications that make you an asset to this particular company. Focus on how the organization would benefit from having you as an employee, citing actual examples from your prior experience that support your case. 

4. Make an ask

End your letter with a call to action to strengthen its effectiveness. What exactly is it that you’re looking for? Do you want the recipient to give you an informational interview? Put you on their email list for job openings? Put you in contact with someone else in the company? Wrap up your letter with your request.

5. Thank them

Close out your letter with a sincere thanks for their time and consideration. 

Letter of interest tips

Use action words

You want your letter of interest to be a quick, punchy read. Use descriptive, demonstrative language as much as possible. Every word should serve a purpose. 

Once you’ve got a first draft, re-read it and change any sentences in passive voice to active voice (‘I’d bring drive, creativity and organization to the marketing department’ versus ‘the marketing department could benefit from my drive, creativity and organization.’)

Infuse your personality 

Since the company isn’t advertising an open position, they probably aren’t desperate to obtain a particular skill set. That means you must sell them how you’ll contribute beyond your technical skills. 

Use your writing to share a bit of your personality that will help the reader envision having you on the team. 

Add supporting materials

While your letter of interest should be succinct, there’s room to offer further reading that the recipient can review if they’re interested in learning more. Your resume, your online portfolio, your LinkedIn profile or your blog are all examples of additional materials that can help a hiring manager discern where there might be a spot for you on their team. 

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Cover letter how-to’s and samples

Looking for more information on writing a cover letter? We’ve got many resources for you, including guides on cover letters for your specific career situation, in our letters and templates library