When and How to write a Cover Letter

By Sam Bauer

Your cover letter should be in a professional format. Think of it like a personal essay dressed up in business casual. I’ve used my cover letter as a general guideline for how to format your own.

Basic Structure: When writing a cover letter, you want the information to come across in a certain order. Most importantly, you have to start with why you are writing to the recipient and why you know who they are. Making the other person have to figure out who you are does not lend itself to a good first impression.  

Ex. Dear [Hiring Manager],

For a long time, I’ve known that my joy in life is to write. Creative writing, non-fiction, journalism, no matter what the style I enjoy the process. Over the course of my college career, I have discovered different methods of writing and the tools to help create the message I want. So, when I saw the opportunity to be a [Position] at [Company] on [Job Board], I knew I had to apply. 

The next paragraph is where you go into your skills and background. Your cover letter should work in tandem with your resume, not be a copy of it. 

Ex. With my degree, I now have a background in both psychology and literature. This may not seem specific enough to work as an Associate, but the art of communication is grounded in those two subjects. I have a basic understanding of social psychology, sensation and perception, health psychology, program evaluation, and motivation and self-regulation. All these subjects lend themselves to understanding why people make the decisions that they do and how to cheat that system. My background in business writing, creative writing, and study of the classics have all been case studies of communication. How does one communicate without alienating one’s audience? How can one not just absorb information but engage with it? Anyone who works as an [Position] needs to know those things.

Finally, make it clear how to contact you. It’s a simple step but if you misspelled something then it won’t matter how well you crafted the other sections. 

Ex. I would appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about what I can offer [Company] as a [Position]. I can be reached at my cell at (860) 759-7400 or via email at sambauer1170@gmail.com. I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Sincerely,

Sam Bauer

We’ve figured the how, now we need to discuss the when. Here is the golden rule for cover letters: only offer it when you feel like it better explains what you have to offer. If you are applying for a machinist job for example, then you don’t need to emphasize your soft skills and your resume will show the work you’ve already done. Cover letters are mainly useful for opposite ends of the company, entry level positions and upper level positions.They are especially helpful in explaining gaps in employment. 

One last tip: I would encourage you to make your letter fill in the blank. Making a new cover letter for each job you apply to is not worth the effort. Not only will that effort go unappreciated but the longer you’ve been applying for jobs, the quicker your writing will start to deteriorate. That’s not to say what you’ve written can’t be improved over time but definitely do not write new letter from scratch.

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