How To: Write a Cover Letter

Confession session: I spent many years only applying for jobs that didn’t require cover letters. For most wage jobs at the time, there were applications (online and in paper form) or resume requests, but few required a cover letter.

I suppose I was partially scared to buckle down and write one, partially afraid to do it wrong, but mostly I just didn’t know what the hell a cover letter was.

If my resume tells you my experience, can’t you just interview me for the rest?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Cover letters are a necessary evil. The good news is that once you write one good one, it can last you a while.

If you’re as clueless as I was, this guide should help.

How To: Write a Cover Letter

Step 1: Understand the Purpose

Think of a Cover Letter as an introduction to your potential employer; it gives you a space to express your interest in the company, your reasons for applying, and the assets you can bring to the job.

A well written Cover Letter highlights positives on your resume, explains negatives and gives the hiring manager an idea of who you are. Plus, it showcases your writing and communication abilities.

Where the resume says “sup?” the cover letter says “I apologize for my friend, allow me to introduce myself.”

Step 2: Map It Out

What does your future employer need to know about you? There are a few key ideas that helped me in writing my Cover Letter:

  • State the job your are applying for, introduce yourself, say thank you for the opportunity to apply.
  • Think of 2-3 pervious jobs or experiences you’d like to feature. What were the main skills you learned from each? Assign 1-2 highlighted skills to each experience. Example: I was a Teen Leadership Director and learned how to write program curricula.
  • How do these skills connect back to the job description? Using words and phrases from the actual description, connect your previous experiences and skills to the job you are applying for. Example: My ability to write a program curriculum will help me in a job as a high school teacher because I will be able to write lesson plans and long term curricula based on state goals.
  • Mention any other skills or parts of your resume you would like to highlight.
  • Say thank you again for the opportunity to apply.

Step 3: Write It

You have all of the ideas you need, now you just need to sit down and make them into coherent sentences. Initially, write without editing, just get everything on paper.

When you have come to the end, go back and read it aloud, fixing spelling and grammar errors. Most times, there will be a lot of room for trimming as well.

Step 4: Edit!

Think of 2-3 people you trust to edit for you and give honest feedback. For me it’s typically my mom, my dad, and my site-mate from Peace Corps, plus a few others in reserve if I’m really nervous.

Consider all edits, but remember you don’t have to change anything. Pick and choose what feels good to you. When you’ve considered all of your outside feedback, read it aloud one more time.

Step 5: Send It
Remember to change the name of the company and position for each new job.

And that’s it, easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Best of luck!


5 thoughts on “How To: Write a Cover Letter

  1. Sorry to burst your balloon here with my cynicism but…As I understand it, these days most employers trying to fill open positions use some kind of program to scan resumes, and resumes only, for certain key words.

    If you ever run across one of the few old-fashioned employee and/or job-seeker friendly, or at least open minded when it comes to the latter, potential employers that will take the time to try to get a feeling for what the individual applicant will bring to the job, which can sometimes be gleaned through the cover letter, then consider yourself extremely lucky and don’t expect it to happen again!

    IDK but I’d expect, or at least hope, that maybe some educational institutions, where I believe your future employment might lay (or is it lie?) would look beyond the mere facts about you, your accomplishments and standardized performance, to see the real you and know ASAP if you and they will be a good mutual fit. Of course, again being cynical here, many schools at all levels are only interested in the performance stats and do not take the time or effort to see the other ways to value the person behind the numbers and facts.


  2. I hate jobs that ask for cover letters even though most I apply to lately ask for one. I have this generic cover letter than I tweak a bit for each job but it’s nothing special. I keep meaning to change it up but every time I sit down to do it, it’s like I forget every word I know and can’t come up with anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have the same thing, I keep replacing company names in the same letter. I’m sure mine could use some tweaking too. I really hate that everyone wants a cover letter now, I’m not convinced that most employers even read them. Why ask for more documents you don’t need? Ugh. Anyway thanks for reading!


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