Applying For Jobs
Writing a Cover Letter Is Actually Pretty Easy
I used to think cover letters were pretentious. Okay, I still do. Nonetheless, if you don’t write one, you likely won’t stand out from your competition. As annoying and unnecessary as they may seem, they really are an important part of your application. Even if a hiring manager doesn’t read your cover letter, you can show initiative by simply including one.
That doesn’t mean all you should do is take a cookie-cutter template from Google and just change “[COMPANY NAME]” to the place you’re applying to. If your hiring manager is someone who actually reads cover letters — even if it’s only for 15 seconds — they’ll be able to spot a ‘template’ versus something unique that you drafted just for that job. When I say ‘template,’ I’m referring to cover letters that are more-or-less exactly the same aside from changing the company’s name and focusing on specific keywords in the job description.
Believe it or not, you can actually follow a simple formula yet write a ground-up cover letter that is entirely unique for every single application, and it won’t feel torturous. It’s okay to have a basic template such as:
- An introduction
- Talking about three things that make you the best fit for the position
- A closing statement
I used to hate writing cover letters because I simply did not know what I should be talking about. It all seemed rather vague to me. There was no defined set of rules — all I was told to do was ‘wow’ the employer and differentiate myself beyond merely the experience listed on my resume.
When you’re a logical, yes-or-no, 1-or-0 kind of person, you hate vagueness. It can make you shut down entirely. I like cooking, for example, but when a recipe gives you freedom like “cook until somewhat brown,” my brain overloads. There are so many questions I start asking, like:
- What is ‘somewhat’ brown?
- Does the entire thing need to be ‘somewhat’ brown, or just a specific spot?
- Do I need to take it out of the oven immediately when I see ‘somewhat’ brown, or merely turn off the heat and let it continue to sit in the oven?
If you’re like me, you hate this kind of vagueness. So, here’s a clearly-defined system you can follow which will ensure your brain stays focused and doesn’t give up. I’ll walk through an example of my cover letter system and how I think about each part as I work through it.
A cover letter is a letter, after all, so you want to start with a “Dear ____,” and you can fill in the blank with the hiring manager’s name. If you don’t know their name, just put ‘Hiring Manager.’ Simple enough, right?
Now, you start writing your introduction. Let the employer know you’re excited about the opportunity, and make that known right away by saying something like “I’m very excited to be applying for the [insert job name] position at [insert company name].” Yes, you’re filling in some blanks, but most of your letter will be entirely unique and written specifically for that job.
Once you let them know you’re excited about the job, tell them why you’re excited. Are you passionate about what they do? Do you think you have the perfect combination of experience and skillset? Let them know! Once you tell them you’re excited and why, tell them that there are three things that make you the perfect fit for the role.
Your Three Things
This is where the cover letter becomes entirely unique. Your three things will likely vary job-to-job, and you should be tailoring the ‘three things’ based on what the company is looking for. If they mention that they’re looking for someone detail-oriented and seem to place a big emphasis on that trait, make it one of your ‘three things.’
Each of the ‘three things’ will be its own paragraph. Within each paragraph, talk about why you are that ‘thing.’ If you write about being detail-oriented, give personal and professional examples (whichever you think works best for that role) that allow the reader to finish the paragraph and truly believe you are incredibly detail-oriented and would be perfect for their role.
If you’re still confused, here are three things I talked about in a recent cover letter:
- “First, I am very tech-savvy.”
- “Second, I’m a quick learner, and am passionate about learning.”
- “Third, and most importantly, I am extremely detail-oriented.”
After each of those phrases, I followed it up by explaining why I was those things. I used professional work examples and tied it in to how those traits would apply to the specific role I was applying for.
Notice what I did with the third point, though? I wrote “Third, and most importantly…” You want to save the best for last. The other two ‘things’ let the reader know that you’re good at multiple things, but that third ‘thing’ is what you specifically excel at. That third ‘thing’ is usually the trait that the employer is specifically looking for. The other two ‘things’ just help differentiate you from your competition even more.
Finish It Off
Finally, write a closing statement that re-affirms your desire to work there. This is the area where, if you were applying to jobs out-of-state, you’d tell them about your desire to relocate to their location for the position. This is where you’d tell them about having a flexible schedule or telling the employer that you “look forward to hearing from them soon.”
This part is definitely more vague than some of the other parts but just helps you wrap up the letter and not have it abruptly end after you tell them you’re perfect. Tell them you’re perfect and then use your closing paragraph to make them want more, inviting them to continue the conversation.
Then, write a signature. Thank them, and write your name beneath that. Once you get the hang of this ‘introduction + 3 things + conclusion’ format, you’ll be spitting out cover letters in no time. You’ll have an idea of what you should write for each cover letter, and you’ll tailor that format for the needs of that specific job. I assure you that you can follow this format to create an effective, ground-up cover letter within 15 minutes or so.
This format was inspired by a poster on reddit, who wrote a free cover letter guide. I may have deviated from some of his advice but ultimately the end result is very similar. I just chose to do what works best for me. Click here to read The Art of the Flirty Cover Letter by Nick Fox. It’s free!