How to write a cover letter?
January 13, 2006 7:27 AM   Subscribe

When applying for a job, how do I write a cover letter that doesn't sound contrived, and phony? The guides I've found don't seem all that helpful, especially considering most of the positions I'm applying for are entry level. General tips for writing a cover letter?
posted by mhaw to Work & Money (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
One thing to keep in mind is that cover letters are pretty much expected to sound contrived and phony. It's a contrived situation. All the other applicants' letters will sound the same, and whoever is reviewing the applications will be expecting that. Now, of course, if you can make yours different, that'd be great, but I say don't worry about it.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:29 AM on January 13, 2006

I think the best thing to do is to find out everything you can about the job and the company, so that, while most of the form of the letter will be contrived and phony, the content may stand out by highlighting your strengths and telling the reader how those strengths could be of benefit to the company. Make mention of how you meet the requirements for the job but also talk about skills or experience that you you have and you think most applicants for this job wouldn't have.
posted by srah at 7:52 AM on January 13, 2006

Mr. Pie said pretty much what I thought when I read the question. Bear in mind that if you stand out in some ways, it's not a good thing. If you come across all chatty and informal, it won't impress.

Keep a formal tone, stick to the point, and sell yourself as having some worth to the employer.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:52 AM on January 13, 2006

Your cover letter is your chance to stand out from the pack. Being someone who has reviewed many resumes sent to me, the cover letter is what I use to determine whether I should bother opening and reading the resume or just moving right along.

Cover letters that give me encouragement that spending time reviewing someone's resume highlight the relevent experience in the resume. Sometimes someone will have experience that doesn't seem clearly or directly relevent, but they can come up with a good way to show how what they learned in previous positions will help in this position.

I can tell when someone's used just a form letter and hasn't tailored it for the position they're applying for. If the cover letter specifically mentions things in the job description, for example, I'm much more interested. So if the job description says "answering phones, filing, and ordering supplies" and the cover letter says "at xyz company, I was responsible for answering phones, filing invoices and receipts for accounts receivable and payable, and ordering copy paper, coffee and twinkies for management weekly. In addition, I was responsible for blahblahblah [experience that might be appropriate]. I think I'd be a great fit for this position."

It shows that you read the description carefully and feel comfortable with the requirements.
posted by pazazygeek at 7:53 AM on January 13, 2006

Dammit! Relevant. What is wrong with me?
posted by pazazygeek at 7:55 AM on January 13, 2006

I got some good advice a while back.
posted by cmonkey at 8:57 AM on January 13, 2006

It depends on the type of job but I was always taught to have it in three paragraphs:

1. one about you (your skills and cv highlights),
2. one about the job you're applying for (why you want to do this job and why you'd be good) and
3. one about the company (why them in particular).

The heavy lifting is in your cv, so the job of the letter is to make sure the cv gets a chance. Highlight the best things on it and then try to show that you have researched this company and this job specifically.
posted by patricio at 9:10 AM on January 13, 2006

Best answer: The cover letter might not make you, but it can break you, so make sure it's flawless. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Many employers will automatically toss your resume if there's a typo in the cover letter, so again, proofread.

The cover letter is the first example the employer will have of the kind of work you do, so don't just use a form. Here are some structural tips:

First paragraph: Who you are and why you're writing to them. If you have a contact at the company who referred you, and if it will help you to be associated with that person, open with "Jek Porkins suggested that I contact you . . . " Tell them what position you want, and a one line reason that they should hire you.

Second paragraph: What you really want them to know about you that's relevant to the job. Tell them what makes you the ideal candidate. Be relevant, be direct, and assume that they'll read only this letter and not your resume. This is where you sell yourself.

Third paragraph: Closing -- you look forward to meeting with them in an interview. You can be contacted at your contact information. Etc.

And proofread, proofread, proofread.

Did I mention that you should proofread?
posted by JekPorkins at 9:16 AM on January 13, 2006 [5 favorites]

The best thing I have seen is this:

I recently applied for a job, using these tips to write my cover "email" and got an interview. I know they got a TON of resumes sent in, and I felt that these tips helped me stand out.
posted by Chuck Cheeze at 9:25 AM on January 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

It's only appropriate to think of this as a "cover" letter if you're submitting a résumé to a slush pile, in which case you need to include something like "Here's my résumé for your slush pile." Otherwise, you're writing a letter of application.

Make a succinct, convincing case for yourself. Use a sentence or two each for who here's who I am, here's why I'm interested in working with you, and here's why I think we'd be a good fit. As long as you've actually thought about these things and have answers for them, there's nothing phony and contrived about it.

The résumé is a detailed set of footnotes backing up your case with specific, verifiable references to your work history.
posted by tangerine at 9:29 AM on January 13, 2006

Best answer: Here's what I want to see in a cover letter:

1) Absolutely no typos or grammatical errors.

2) Clear references to the job description and how the candidate fulfills/exceeds it.

3) No jargon. By that I mean that technical terms related to the position are fine ("I'm well-versed in creating valid XHTML pages with clean, elegantly structured stylesheets"), but "I have a demonstrated capacity for efficiently executing all assigned objectives within a specified time frame" suuuuuuucks.

4) References to items from your resume that contextualize those items more fully instead of merely restating them. (E.g. Resume: designed and coded Web pages for major clients on strict deadlines ... Cover letter: My years as a designer-on-deadline for Foo, Inc. have taught me clever, straightforward solutions to common CSS conundrums, leaving me with attractive, hack-free, easy-to-tweak and easy-to-debug layouts.)

5) No transparent or gimmicky attempts to be "different." I'm looking for the best applicants. Give me a straightforward cover letter that effectively argues that you are the applicant most qualified for the description posted. Often the applications that stand out the most do so for all the wrong reasons. And honestly? If you hold to cover letter requirements 1 through 4 above, you've already distinguished yourself from the vast majority of my stack.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 11:12 PM on January 13, 2006 [2 favorites]

cmonkey's version of this question is a classic that I go back to anytime I have to write something along these lines. Plus, I have to find it in google by searching Metafilter for "utter wanker." Amazingly few results, that.
posted by whatzit at 2:30 PM on February 13, 2006

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