• When Writing Isn’t All Rainbows and Poetry (Or a Treatise on the Art of Cover Letter Writing)

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments No comments

    This woman is having way too much fun writing a cover letter

    Sometimes when you’re so busy writing for the hell of it you forget that writing can be an earthy, practical skill. Unfortunately, I’m reminded of its “utility” every day. I’ve spent 75% of the past six months writing cover letters. (Oh, and here’s the rest of my non-pictorial pie-chart: 20% on blogging, 5% on magazine writing, and 1% on my seedling of a novel…very depressing.)

    The worst part about writing cover letters is that one size doesn’t fit all. A job-garnering cover letter is anything but generic, so writing each cover letter usually takes considerable time and effort. (If they don’t for you, I’d love to know your secret.) These days, you have to write cover letters as compelling as a Don Draper ad pitch and as meticulous as Hemingway’s prose to even get considered for an interview. If not, well, you probably just wasted hours tweaking something that some guy at a desk took one look at and deleted from his inbox. Actually, you likely wasted your time anyway, even if your letter reads like an Oxford-educated rhetorician wrote it. (Sorry, I’m just ever so cynical about the job market.) So, what’s the ultimate answer to this predicament? Say “screw it” and don’t bother customizing your letter or buffing your prose? Not unless you want to decrease your odds for getting an interview.

    Over the past two years, I learned a few tricks to make cover letter writing a speedy process without sacrificing as much time or lessening my chances of getting noticed. Writing cover letters takes time away from writing the good stuff. So, if you’re also on the prowl for a job, I hope these tips help you save time and creative energy:

    1.   Save your old cover letters and use the good ones as templates. Particularly if they got you interviews. You can usually reuse them when applying within the same industry—just change some names, add and subtract a few details, and there you have it. This cuts down on time and works as quality control.

    2.   Cover letter comparison. When you identify a good cover letter (by getting an interview or through objective self-scrutiny), compare it to others you’ve written. You’ll probably notice some patterns. For me, I recently recognized that cover letters with fleshed-out details of one or two career-related experiences and lots of adjectives got me interviews.

    3.   Write genuinely. If you’re not too enthused about the prospective job, fake it. Use your writerly powers to imagine you’re writing in first-person as a character who really likes office work or whatever field your looking into. Then read what you wrote as if you were a ruthless editor questioning your character’s believability.

    4.   Always keep your audience in mind and stay consistent stylistically. If you’re applying for a more “formal” position, make sure your diction is formal. Omit contractions, don’t end or begin sentences with prepositions—basically strive for a slightly more academic style. (But don’t go overboard or you’ll sound stuffy.)

    Good luck all you job-hunting WBNers!


    In addition to writing for WriteByNight’s blog, Jenna Cooper writes for BE Mag and a blog called FemThreads.  Aside from writing, Jenna served as an AmeriCorps Member from 2008-2010 and will start her M.S. in Information Studies in Fall 2012.  She graduated in 2009 with a B.A. in English from the University of Texas.

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