The Six Steps of Writing a Cover Letter

These past few months, I have been pawing around for job and schooling options that are palatable to a creature like me. Inevitably, this process has thrown me up against my ancient nemesis, the cover letter. It seems strange to have such enormously clashing feelings about a rather homogeneous type of writing, but somehow cover letters manage to fill me with terror, bafflement, and satisfaction, all at once.

I thought that you, my abundant readers, might also have trouble with this fiddly art form, and so I have prepared a very serious guide to the cover letter writing process. I hope you find it useful.

Hermitina’s Guide to Writing a Cover Letter, in Six Steps

(If you were familiar with the company prior to applying, skip Step 1.)

1. Familiarization. Before writing a single word of your cover letter, it is vital to have a solid understanding of the company’s history and philosophy. Check if they have a website; if so, read over their entire website while nodding sagely. Then, see if Wikipedia has a page about them, before resorting to desperate Google searches like “most important things about McSpove Bros. Jellyfish Emporium.” For bonus points, figure out what “synergy” means.

2. Connection. Since you know all about the company, it should be easy to communicate why you and it are an ideal match, right? Of course! However, your grasp of this central point will disappear the moment you open a blank document to begin writing, like so many cockroaches at dawn. Instead, you must begin from scratch. Start with “I like otters and you have a picture of an otter on your website,” and work up from there.

3. Swagger. Once you’ve figured out why you fit the position and company, you must convince them that they cannot live without you. I believe the standard approach to this part of the process is to toe the line between “confident boaster” and “insufferable braggart.” Describe your education, your work experience, and your interests, and then highlight the fact that everything you have ever done was mere practice for the sacred moment when you first read their job posting.

4. Application. You’ve read through your letter and résumé at least fifteen times. Go ahead and push the “send” button. After one more re-read.

5. Infatuation. Now that you’ve written a letter to convince the company that you’re perfect for them, you’ve come to believe it yourself. Every time your inbox displays a new message, your heart leaps in anticipation that they might have written to you. You picture yourself in the workplace, your cheek muscles aching from all the smiling you’re doing. On weekends, you imagine, you will meet up with all your new coworkers to gallop through fields of daffodils, hand in hand.

6. Bitterness. If you haven’t heard back from the company within four days, transition into a period of sullen mourning. This should involve moping any time you hear the company mentioned, as well as disdaining any work or products of theirs that you secretly admire. Occasionally, you may adopt an air of long-suffering patience to tell your friends about that perfect job you applied for, concluding your tale with a tremulous “but I haven’t heard back yet.” If and when the company does call you back (having read your masterful cover letter), immediately revert to Step 5 as you euphorically prepare for the interview.

With these easy steps, you shall achieve success!

9 thoughts on “The Six Steps of Writing a Cover Letter

  1. I would like to apply for a job at a place that has otters on its web site. Places without otters are a waste of time. Oooh, I just noticed the accompanying photo. Perfecto. (Let me know if you need a translation for my Spanish.)

    first-fruits iuuide

  2. The whole process reminds me of online dating, which has always squicked me. Both require you to sum up yourself in a few paragraphs (is that really possible)? Both require you to sell yourself in a way that feels somehow phony, and probably doesn’t have that much to do with how well the relationship will suit you.

    There’s this wonderful alternative to online dating: hanging out with your friends, meeting people, and letting dating happen, or not, as a natural outgrowth of real-life social interactions. I guess it helps if you have a social “scene,” like dancing.

    I wish there were an analogous alternative to job interviews. Getting a job after some letters and interviews is like getting married after a Facebook flirtation and a couple of dates. Like marriage, it’s very difficult for either party to leave (financially for the employee, financially and legally for the company). It’s odd to me how few other companies think about this.

    Maybe the closest idea is that of hiring people after working well with them in real life, on events, or art, or activism, or open-source coding, or… The Bay Area is such a great place for this. It doesn’t work if you’re bowling alone. But who wants to bowl alone?

    Anyway, good luck with your ongoing job/school/life search! I’m sure you will knock ’em dead.

    1. Ooh, man. That’s an apt comparison.
      And yes, my kingdom for a consistent equivalent alternative to job interviews! It seems as though, now and then, one gets really lucky and happens to have a friend in the right place at the right time for career joy… but just as often, it’s a shot in the dark.
      Thanks for the luck!

  3. Good luck with your job search! I very much like your writing style, and my hope is that you find a job soon that you love and can use this talent (if in fact you are looking for a job where you can employ said talent).

    I would add a Step 0, which *may* be optional, but almost always helps:

    0. Network. Find a friend (or even an acquaintance) who works at your target company, or get an introduction from a mutual friend, and then try to use them for a faster track into the company. As in affairs of the heart, one is often introduced to people that we have relationships through their friends (or, more generally, their network). There’s a kind of mutual vetting that is occurring. You are more likely to get looked at, but you also have a chance to hear more about what the company is like (and whether you really want to take a chance with it).

    Sure, there’s also the employment equivalent of “a chance meeting leading to ‘love at first sight,'” and it sounds wonderfully romantic — and if it happens to you, then that’s great! — but you might “grow old” waiting if you’re not the “lucky” type.

    1. Thank you kindly! I would indeed hope to find a job where I can use my writing abilities.

      Your Step 0 — yes yes. I’ve heard that this is almost indispensable. I’m still seeing if I can turn up one for my current company pursuit.

      Say, how are things at Google? ;)

  4. A crucial part is to illustrate precisely how you will be indispensable to the company. Simple way, go through their job posting, and make sure you address each of their stated requirements in their cover letter. Slightly better way, that’s more fun, get drunk when you write your cover letter. This is relevant to your mention of swagger. Self-aggrandize, boast, you are the king of gods, you are so stunning, you will walk in, set up incredible processes, save them so much money, etc. And illustrate that you’re not making things up, by showing examples from past jobs.

    And then, next morning, when you’re sober, whittle the cover letter down. I find going over the top, and then whittling back down, to make for a more dynamic, engaging tone. I’ve seen stunning cover letters, and they all told a story, a dynamic story in which the applicant’s history meshed in an interlocking manner with the company’s needs. It takes skill to write such a letter, and doesn’t come easy.

  5. This is the funniest dang ol’ post, Bubbie-and is actually quite useful (as have been your many specific, thoughtful suggestions, as well as the part where you essentially wrote an entire cover letter for me just recently). I couldn’t bring myself to read this post until now-a month and a half later-because it is such a huge, terrifying thing for me, especially lately. How screwy is that?! (You know all this about me, though.) I’m so excited for everything you’re doing and genuinely, really truly believe something fantastic and perfect (or near to) will happen, sooner than later. It HAS to-right? I’m immensely proud of you and figure that you your resume always stands out and that it’s only a matter of time for you to be “the one” for your ideal employer-you’re doing a good job, I think, of both working hard towards it and also simply waiting patiently. One suggestion, if I may: perhaps add, to step 6: …”and/or enlisting sister to beat [desired-but foolish-potential employer] up”. P.S. Amen, Quinn, well said-and Man with…your step 0 is brilliant, and the part about mutual vetting is something I hadn’t considered before. Love, Mooman errnshi, AKA your stupid sister

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