How to write a cover letter without gouging your eyes out with a pen

No one likes to write cover letters. I’ve seen marketing students near tears when faced with having to churn out flawless formal writing about themselves. I’ve been in this writing/editing/academic world long enough that I’ve begun to follow my own advice.

I know, it shocked me too.

Here are some tips to make the whole gross process easier.

1. Go ahead and freak out.

I know, I know, you never did anything interesting in your life. You are so underprepared for this job, you might as well give it up and become a chimney sweeper, except you’re afraid of spiders and small spaces. You can’t think of a single good thing to say about yourself. God, writing this shit is so irritating, you would rather scrub your toilet. Go ahead and scrub your toilet, your spouse will thank you for it later.

Are you done? Good. Because I’m tired of listening to your shit. Everyone can write a damn cover letter. Read on.

2. Why should you get this job? What is your angle?

It’s just like Passover. What makes you different from all other job applicants? What combination of experience, education, and personality sets you apart? It doesn’t have to be a huge difference, but something drew you to apply to this job.

Write that down. Don’t worry about spelling or phrasing. Are you a perfectionist? Maybe the computer isn’t the best medium for you, what with the blinking cursor and blank white screen expecting brilliance at any second. Steal your children’s crayons and write them down on last month’s unpaid electricity bill. Trust me.

3. Break this down into stages.

No one can write perfectly phrased sentences about themselves in one fell swoop. So what do you have? A cover-letter template from your previous job as an accountant? A few phrases written in sea-foam green? A bulleted list? Nothing?

3a. If you have nothing, go back to step 2.

Use a fucking voice recorder if you can’t bear to write things down, but tend to babble on (or “interview well” is the nice way to say it).

3b. Here are some ways to break it down into steps. Mix and match.

  • Set a timer and keep writing for fifteen minutes. Do not stop. Write everything you can think about this job and yourself and your experience. You should be able to get a few good sentences and/or ideas out of the mess.
  • Write phrases that can describe your experience or your abilities.
  • Write a mad lib. My experience with XX makes me a perfect fit for Company Y because of ZZ. Fill in the x, y, and z later.
  • Take a break/go for a run/bake a pie.
  • Write the whole letter in the persona of a bored sixteen year old. Make sure you include everything you want to say and say it using a ton of curse words or text speak or whatever. Then clean it up and make it sound professional.

How do you write a cover letter?


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