There are a lot of emotions involved in job hunting: from the excitement of new opportunities and new people, all the way through the deep desire to sell your stuff and move to a secluded island so you never have to apply for a job again.
This is especially true if you’ve just graduated from college, because your application has to stand out from the hundreds of others with the same amount of experience and education.
The secret? A great cover letter. When done well, it shows off both your personality and your skills, and it may be just the thing that lands you your dream job. But, a half-hearted, cookie-cutter letter is a one-way ticket to the “no” pile.
Don’t let that overwhelm you—here are 9 ways to make the cover letter-writing experience easier on yourself.
1. Write down why you want/deserve the job.
This is for you, so don’t worry about being professional or witty. Start with the basics: “I’m great with people,” “I admire this company,” or “I”ll learn so much from this team.” Anything goes here. You’ll use this in your introductory paragraph to show off your personality (see step 4).
2. In the original job description, highlight/underline the skills that make you a qualified candidate.
When it’s time to write your “hook” (step 5), this will make it easier to draw connections between your class experience or current internships and the one you’re applying for.
3. Find a helpful template.
Your cover letter should be anything but cut-and-paste, but it never hurts to have something to build from. Most cover letter templates are very good, though you may need one that’s customized for your field.
4. Write an introduction.
Here’s a secret most writers won’t tell you: the first draft of the first paragraph of every piece is usually garbage. So, write whatever introduction you need to to get you into writing the second bit. At the end, you’ll come back and fix this (step 8).
5. Write your hook.
This is where your list of skills and qualifications (from Step 2) will come in handy. Let’s say you’re applying for an administrative role at an elementary school. The job listing says it requires someone who is calm under pressure, has strong communication skills, and experience with children. Maybe you’ve never worked with kids before? Try something like, “As the current Shift Supervisor at Dave’s Pub, I meet a variety of people, and I’m comfortable communicating with them in a busy, stressful environment.” There, you’ve already knocked out two of the important skills on the listing.
The really tricky part here is that you could write a bio of your work experience, but you have to keep it short and to the point. Highlight things that are listed both on your resume and in the job description to keep it pithy.
6. Write your closing.
Phew, you’ve made it this far, now it’s time to sign off. Restate the position you’re applying for, your excitement for the position (as you listed in your first paragraph), and the strongest skills you bring to the table. Close the paragraph by saying you look forward to learning more about the position and the company.
7. Take a 10 minute walk.
You got through the nitty gritty, now take a break. Walk around the block, make a sandwich, watch an episode of The Office (just one, don’t get carried away). Then come back to your cover letter. The break will help you see it with fresh eyes, which makes editing much easier.
Now’s your chance to go back to the first paragraph. Read it out loud. Does it sound like you, or a robot? For example, “I’m excited to apply for the Marketing Associate role at ABC Limited,” sounds more human than, “This is my formal application for the Marketing Associate position at the ABC Limited company.” Write it how you would say it.
9. Have a friend read it.
Even more important than a cover letter that shows off your personality and skills is one that doesn’t include any typos. As the writer, you’ll read it the way you intended to write it, so you should ask someone else to look at it. A friend, your mom, a neighbor, whoever has just a few minutes to spare.
That’s it! 9 tricks for making the cover letter process easier. Good luck—no doubt you’ll be settling into your new desk in no time (which is awesome, even if your new desk isn’t on a secluded island off the coast of Spain).