5 Tips for Writing Better Cover Letters

CollegeQuest
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Macmillan Employee
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To help you get that first (or next) job!

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Congratulations! You found a job you want to apply to. But how do you present yourself as the best candidate?

Here are a few tips for writing cover letters that will make you stand out.

1. Make a list of keywords.

Go through the job description and note everything they’re asking for:

  • Skills
  • Responsibilities
  • Past experiences

Identify which of those items come up again and again. Maybe they ask about managing budgets in a couple different ways, or maybe they’re really keen for someone who can schedule meetings.

Once you identify the two or three main responsibilities, you’ll know what your cover letter should focus on.

(Bonus points: use this same list of keywords to strengthen your resume.)

2. Freewrite to generate ideas.

Think about the list you just made. How do your experiences relate to what the job description is asking for?

Set a timer for 1 to 5 minutes and brainstorm. See how many list items you can reasonably apply to each of your past experiences.
Allow yourself to write without worrying about spelling or coherency. If you don’t know what to write, just write, “I don’t know what to write,” and keep going.

When you’re done, you should have a good idea of which one or two experiences to focus on in your cover letter.

3. Go deep, not broad.

You might be tempted to try and expand on every single one of the qualifications that make you such an amazing candidate. But resist that urge in your cover letter.

Your resume is where you can share the breadth of your past experiences. Your cover letter, on the other hand, is a chance to plunge into one or two of those experiences and how they make you a great fit for the position.

Whereas resumes are surface level on many things, your cover letter should be in depth on a couple things.

4. Focus more on what they need than what you want.

Obviously, you wouldn’t apply to a job if you wouldn’t get anything out of it. But a recruiter will be far more interested in what you can offer them, rather than what they can offer you.

Focus on the value you would bring to the organization. Show how lucky they would be to have you on their team. As best you can, limit “I” statements, and really place the focus on them.

5. Be obvious!

The person reading your cover letter knows you are applying for a job. You know you are applying for a job. You don’t have to dance around the fact that you think you would make a good fit.

Clearly lay out how your past experiences map onto this new position. If you think you’re being too obvious, you’re probably doing it right.

After all, the person reading your cover letter is likely reviewing many other applications. Make it easy for them, and be very direct in linking your past experience(s) to this new opportunity.

Be confident and enthusiastic. You’ve got this.


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WRITTEN BY
Casey Wells
Northwestern University

Casey Wells is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he studied creative writing, playwriting, and French. He lives in Chicago where he takes improv classes, runs 10Ks, and guards a prodigious hoard of books.