Welcome back to another episode of The Bitches Teach You How to Get Your Ass Hired! Last time we reviewed some cardinal rules of resume writing. And today—you guessed it!—we’re gonna learn how to write a coherent and effective cover letter.
But first, a caveat. While I have sat on both sides of the hiring table over the years—both as my last company’s internship coordinator and in my recent successful job search—I am by no means an expert. That’s practically the secondary motto of our blog!
Bitches Get Riches: Finance. Feminism. We have no idea what we’re doing.
So don’t make the mistake of beginning and ending your cover letter practicum here at BGR. Go read Ask a Manager at least. It’s their whole area of expertise. But here are some of the most important rules, based on my own personal experience… and a twenty-second text conversation with Kitty.
For the love of God, proofread
Yes, I am a professional editor and a pedant to the core. I proofread my own grocery lists for style consistency and I will fucking fight you on the Oxford comma. But that doesn’t mean you can just ignore my 10000% sound advice here.
Proofread your damn cover letter. Nothing says “I am a careless fuckface just phoning this in” like obvious typos in a cover letter. And not just for the publishing industry! This might shock you, but a large portion of the working world is, in fact, literate, and consciously or unconsciously, they will make assumptions about you based on your writing.
You want those assumptions to be “Wow! What a competent and intelligent human!” not, “What a slovenly, ignorant heathen. Allow me to make all kinds of unfair assumptions about their intelligence based on this misplaced modifier and the fact they spelled my name wrong.”
If you’re a shit writer, not to worry! Buy a six-pack and give both it and your cover letter to a friend to proofread. That’s the noble art of the friend trade! Don’t have any friends? Damn, son. That’s why they invented Grammarly.
And here’s a little editorial secret: vary your sentence structure. Just mix it up a bit. If you begin every sentence with “I am…” you’ll just sound like a broken record or a robot. And despite fear mongering to the contrary, I bet we’re still about twenty years out from the robot uprising. So nobody’s hiring robots… yet. Especially not while they’re still so bad at stuff.
Rewrite a new cover letter for each job
Applying for jobs is time-consuming af. Not least because you need to take the time to personalize your cover letter for each and every job application.
You cannot recycle the entirety of a cover letter every time you apply to a new job. You just can’t. For one thing, you risk leaving in details about the last job you applied to.
I have cringed with secondhand embarrassment every time I’ve received a cover letter that states “I am a great fit for [some other publishing house].” Rather than taking pity on the applicant, my knee-jerk reaction was always, “Well, they clearly don’t want to work for my company,” right before I sent them a form rejection letter.
But more importantly, your cover letter is where you express why you are perfect for them. Every employer is different, and likewise the way you fit into their incomplete jigsaw puzzle will be different.
A cover letter is the one place you get to express that unique fit. Keyword being “unique.” By very definition, that eliminates the wholesale copy-and-pasting of a cover letter.
This goes for every part of the cover letter. Use a personalized salutation and sign-off. If you can’t find out their name, use something universal like “hello” or use no salutation at all. “To whom it may concern” is the formal letter writing kiss of death. Clear indication of artificial robot intelligence.
Use their lingo
If the job listing says they’re looking for a “self-starter” who is “task-oriented” and “motivated to succeed,” then by the power of Grayskull you had better include those fucking buzz words in your cover letter.
A lot of employers use software to sift through job applications. This software looks for keywords rather than substance. While this is just one of many alarming harbingers of the coming robot apocalypse, it’s also yet another annoying barrier to getting hired. The way around this software is to pack your cover letter full of the same kind of language used in the job description.
And while using the lingo of your audience is always, always a terrible idea when you’re speaking to a cultural group other than your own, in your cover letter it indicates a familiarity with the job and industry.
Short and to the point
Don’t be afraid of white space. Just like with your resume, it’s better to leave them wanting more than so overwhelmed with text they don’t read or retain any of the information. Leave something for the interview! They don’t need to know every fucking thing you’ve ever done in your career, just the highlights.
The one-page rule is less important with cover letters than it is with resumes. But still, you should err on the side of less being more. Especially if you are relatively new to the industry or the professional world in general.
I cannot stress this enough: nobody cares about your irrelevant experience enough to read through it to get to the good stuff.
Answer the most important question
Think of your cover letter as a way of answering the question, “Who are you and what are you going to do for me?”
Tell them who you are, including your most important skills, experience, and accomplishments. Then explain how you will use those attributes to make their company better, stronger, faster. And while nobody’s hiring robots (YET), six million dollar men are very likely in high demand in the job market!
This also gives you a chance to show that you understand their company and its needs, that you’ve done your homework and researched the fuck out of them. Employers like that shit, as I know from personal experience.
A few months after I was hired at my first job out of college, my boss mentioned that he called me in for an interview on the strength of my cover letter. I’d written in detail about what I liked about the company, demonstrating that I didn’t just want a job—I wanted that job. I didn’t want to work for just any company—I wanted to work for their company. It set me apart from those desperate souls who were just looking for a paycheck. Not I! I was looking for a career. A vocation. A calling.
And then I worked there for eight long years growing steadily more miserable until I could no longer stand it BUT THAT’S BESIDE THE POINT, KAREN.
Thus ends my list of cardinal rules for the art of writing cover letters. If you want a more specific guide, right down to what to write in each paragraph, check out career wunderkind Tori over at Victori Media.
Now I know y’all have some truly stupendous tips and tricks for writing a cover letter for a job application. Let’s hear ’em!