How to Write a Cover Letter
Shmoop's got you cover lettered.
No matter what your dream job is—and we're talking anything from A-list celebrity to personal assistant for a Smurf—you need a cover letter to get it.
It's a daunting task, we know, but this course will walk you through the process step by step until you have glitzy, glammy, and most importantly, you-y cover letter.
Unit 1. How to Write a Cover Letter
In four short lessons, we'll take you from blank page to knock-their-socks-off cover letter.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 1: Blank Page, Beware
You're staring at your computer screen, and you swear—swear—it has started staring back at you. It knows you're about a write a cover letter, and it wants to make you as uncomfortable as possible:
Yeah, our computer screen can be a little nasty.
Before that blank page comes at you with a weapon and a vengeance, let's start spilling some ink. You have to start somewhere, and we here at Shmoop are all about non-judgmental brainstorming, so that's exactly where we'll start.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.1a: Spill Your Brains
First things first: break out that job description.
If your résumé is catered to the job you're applying for, your cover letter should catered to it with the addition of a chocolate fondue fountain. Translation: your cover letter should be 100% super-specific to the job you want. It needs to be very you, but it needs to be you in relation to the job.
Step 1: Go through the job posting and pull out what you think are the most important qualities they're looking for in a person. This isn't the "BA/BS required," "familiarity with EndNote," or "basic knowledge of HTML required" parts. You should have already taken care of those on your résumé.
We're thinking of things like
- independent worker
- ability to meet tight deadlines
- ability to prioritize
- organizational skills
- analytical skills
- communication skills
Jot those down on an empty doc. We're looking for at least 5.
Step 2: Now let's get personal. For each thing you listed, jot down a note about how you exemplify that quality. Here are some examples:
- self-starter: I founded the very first a cappella group at my high school.
- independent worker: I have done project-based work for an online education company that required me to complete projects without anyone checking in on me.
- teamwork: My work at Habitat for Humanity required a lot of teamwork to get an entire house built in just a few days.
Okay, your turn. Add those to your document.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.1b: Spill Your Brains
Feeling pretty good about yourself? We thought so. And we're not gonna lie—we're pretty impressed, too. Here's the thing, though: you only have space for a few things. Cover letters have to be pretty short (a few paragraphs), so while you can drop all those words (and by all means, do—we love us some buzzwords), you'll have to focus in on just a few.
Step 1: Go through your list and pick your top three qualities/experiences. You'll want to pick things that are both important to the employer and highlight your best qualities.
So while it might be awesome that you used to do Habitat for Humanity (seriously, that's awesome), the person deciding if they should give you a web design position probably won't be all that moved. Now, unless, you have ESP, it might be difficult to predict what your potential employer might want to know. So, ask yourself this question: has x activity given me any knowledge or skills that would help me excel in this job? If the answer is a definite no, don't choose it.
Write down your top three in that same doc. We'll call it the brainstorming doc.
Step 2: Now that you've narrowed it down, it's time to add again. Wait, what? Yeah, we said it.
Some jobs will require specific information in the cover letter. How will you know? They'll tell you—they're nice like that.
Go through that job posting, and if it says "In your cover letter, be sure to address your research experience," address your research experience. We don't care if it says "In your cover letter, write a poem in iambic pentameter"—just do it. Whatever they tell you to include, include it.
Add some notes about any of these extras in that same brainstorming doc.