Writing Cover Letters

By: Ellen Larson

I have an irrational hatred of cover letters. I find them hard to write, and I’ll do pretty much anything to avoid them. I had to write a cover letter last week, and I put it off for five days before I remembered an article I had read, “How to Write and Impressive Cover Letter From Scratch in 30 Minutes” by Sara McCord. The title itself makes a bold statement, which is why I read it in the first place.

McCord breaks down the process into three ten minute blocks. In these first ten minutes, you should write down your main points—why are you interested in the position, what prior experience do you have, what can you uniquely bring to the position, etc. It’s easiest to have your resume and the job description open and available, so you can make sure you hit the best points. McCord also gives the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten, when she recommends to skip the intro. Skipping the intro let me skip the time trap that has taken countless hours from me in the past.

The next ten minutes are devoted to adding examples. You’ve already written down why you’re great for the job—now go deeper. An anecdote about a project you worked on is infinitely better than saying “I am organized and hardworking”. Connect your skills to the job description, but to borrow McCord’s words, don’t make it a laundry list.

The last ten minutes are devoted to editing. Reread and reread again to fix grammar issues. Write the intro if you skipped it. Add smoother transitions, or better phrases. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are vitally important to your cover letter—nothing makes it more unreadable faster.

And that’s it. When I had first read the article, I was skeptical that writing a cover letter could ever be this easy or this fast. But lo and behold, this method saw my cover letter finished thirty three minutes after I opened the empty document. And for pretty much the first time ever, I actually felt good about what I had written. So the next time you need to write a cover letter, try this out. You might be surprised by your success.



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