Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How to write a cover letter

(writing a cover letter is a big job)

As I mention whenever I have nothing else to blog about, I often half-heartedly look for jobs when I have nothing else to do. Plus I am, whenever I do actually work, a professional writer.

Therefore, as something of an expert in the broadest possible sense of the term, I thought I would share some tips on writing cover letters.

The cover letter is without a doubt the hardest part of applying for a job. After all, writing a resume is pretty straightforward. Filling out an online application is more a matter of patience than skill. But your cover letter is your chance to shine! Or sink. One or the other.

First, let me share an actual cover letter that got me an actual job:

To Whom It May Concern: Please read my resume. I really need a job. I have been working as a church choir director for many years. A church is a wonderful place to spend a Sunday morning, but if I have to work here one more day I will shoot myself in the head. You wouldn't want that on your conscience, would you?

... then I went on to describe my total lack of experience, since at that point I had none, and ended with a reminder that I would be happy to consider any salary that has five figures in it, which apparently made up for my total lack of experience because, as I said, I miraculously got the job. Thank you God.

Once I got that particular job, which ended up being a freelance gig, I started sending out emails looking for more freelance gigs. These query emails are similar to cover letters, so I'll share one of them as well:

To Whom It May Concern: I am a freelance copywriter. Over the past 10 years I have written a wide variety of financial marketing pieces from my cozy home office here in Michigan. My goal is to write marketing materials from a cozy home office in a tropical location, so I thought I would see if I can drum up a little more work. Please let me know if you would be interested in seeing some writing samples.

I had quite a bit of success with this little email. Amazing, I know.

Here are the lessons that you might take away from my quirky but successful cover letter/query emails:

1. Be yourself. Let your personality come through.

2. Don't be afraid to use a little humor. I wouldn't recommend my all-out quirky approach for, say, a computer programmer. But you could add just a small touch of tasteful levity. The H.R. department will appreciate it. Really.

3. It's ok to say "To Whom It May Concern." The real experts will tell you this is a no-no. But it worked for me. So there.

4. Get some professional help if necessary. With your writing, that is. I would be happy to craft a personalized cover letter for you for, say, $250. Plus I'll polish up your resume for $500 and fill out online applications for $1,000 each. Hey, tropical home offices don't come cheap.



Fran Hill said...

To Whom It May Concern:

Good post.

Lesley said...

Dear Fran:
Thank you for your job application. Unfortunately, we never hire people who begin their letters with "To Whom It May Concern." Be careful whose advice you take.

Fran Hill said...


Good post.

~Ellie Kings~ said...

You're terrible!! But I definitely saw your personality come through. I'll make sure to rob the bank first to pay for your help! :D

Lesley said...

Dear Fran:
On second thought, you're hired! Report on Monday, sweetiepie.

Lesley said...

Ellie: Terrible? Me? Those were my NICE letters. LOL

The Retired One said...

Funny post!!

I swear some of the resumes and cover letters I got when I was in the position of hiring people were AWFUL.
Full of spelling errors, punctuation errors, you name it!
And the interviews were even worse!

Sometimes if you just are sincere, use spell check and can walk and talk halfway intelligently, you get to be one of the top three candidates!


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