The Evil HR Lady, who I secretly worship, has shamed me into posting an example of a good cover letter.
But first, let's take a look at what I consider an example of how not to do a cover letter. There's nothing particularly wrong with this letter -- other than being an utterly wasted opportunity, and I'll explain why:
Dear Human Resources:
Enclosed please find my resume for the position of staff writer.
I currently work as a copy editor for Acme Company, where I am responsible for editing brochures, fact sheets, and Web content. Before that, I spent a year interning at Tiger Beat magazine, where I had the opportunity to write several articles for publication. I also majored in English in college, with a concentration in writing.
I am seeking a position that that will utilize my writing skills with opportunity for growth.
I hope to hear from you to schedule an interview.
This letter doesn't add anything to the application -- it just summarizes information already available from the resume. That's just a waste of space, and space is already really limited! Plus, I hate this: "I am seeking a position that that will utilize my writing skills with opportunity for growth." Don't tell the employer what you want (and especially in such generic terms) -- tell them why they should want you. And be specific.
Plus, it might as well be a form letter, because nothing about it is specific to the job being offered or the company offering it. It's sort of the equivalent of a fax cover sheet.
Here's an example of a cover letter that would grab me:
Dear Ms. Smith:
I hope you will consider me for the position of staff writer, as advertised in The Washington Post.
I was particularly excited to see a position open at the Sierra Club, as I have long been a fan of your work. I'm impressed by the way you make environmental issues accessible to non-environmentalists (particularly in the pages of Sierra Magazine, which has sucked me in more times than I can count), and I would love the opportunity to be part of your work.
Reading over the job description for the position, I recognized myself. As you will see on my attached resume, I have more than seven years' experience in non-profits, writing everything from newsletters to Web sites to brochures to letters to the editor and op-eds. In addition to in-house publications, my work has been published in newspapers around the country.
Additionally, I am a fast, versatile writer, and I specialize in taking complicated information and presenting it in an easy-to-understand, upbeat format. I've never missed a deadline (in a recent performance review, my manager called me "the fastest writer on the planet") and pride myself on being able to juggle many different projects. My copy-editing skills border on the obsessive-compulsive; I have been known to correct mistakes on restaurant menus!
I think my skills and experience are an excellent match with what you are seeking, and I am excited about the chance to work with you.
If you would like to talk with me or schedule an interview, please call me at 555-555-1212. Thank you for your consideration.
This letter does the following:
- It shows personal interest in working for this particular organization, and it's specific about why, which makes it both more believable and more compelling. It's human nature -- people respond when they feel a personal interest from you. Works in dating, works in job-hunting.
- It only briefly touches on the writer's work experience, giving just the upshot and leaving the details for the resume.
- Perhaps most importantly, it provides information about the writer that will never be available from a resume -- personal traits and work habits, and even a reference to feedback from a previous manager.
- It's far more interesting to read than the first cover letter. I want to call this person in for an interview, and I don't even have a staff writer position open ( nor do I work for the Sierra Club, for that matter).
Now, can you do this for every position you apply for? Yes. It's sometimes easier for non-profits, because you can talk about why you support their mission (so I admittedly took the easy way out in my example). But you can do it for regular companies too, with a little bit of research. No time for that when you're applying to 30 different jobs? Narrow it down and focus on fewer, take the time to write a truly compelling cover letter tailored to each specific job and company, and it's likely you'll find that five truly personalized, well-tailored applications will yield you better results than 30 generic applications.
Take my word for it: Your competition is sending in cover letters like example #1 (if they even bother with them at all). You will dramatically rise above the pack if you put in the time they're not.