Tips for writing cover letters


By now, we have all now written several cover letters to employers. I’ve always found cover letters difficult to write. At first glance, it seems easy because you follow a formula: explain why you’re writing, address your skills for the position and close.

The other day, squished in the six-by-six office cube, my boss, the nonprofit marketing director, mumbled pieces of a cover letter and voiced his opinion to me, and let me just say, it wasn’t a good review. While the guy followed the basic formula, he forget to add several crucial details that could determine if he gets the position.

  1. Show, don’t tell!

The poor guy, whose cover letter was destroyed, failed to keep his audience interested. His writing lacked personality and my boss mentioned it felt insincere and forced. Instead of writing a cover letter like that, tell a story (in a few words) of how your past experiences and skills brought success to your employer. Always show, don’t tell!

  1. Answer the questions

It’s always important to address the questions an employer asks; this is one of the mistakes the guy made and I could tell by my boss’s reaction that it bothered him. It may seem obvious, but the employer asked it for a reason, so make sure you clearly answer it.

  1. Employers don’t always read it

trashcanYep, he sometimes doesn’t have enough time to read a full-page cover letter. I thought he was joking, until he told me he didn’t even read mine! I applied for a different position and talked with a woman about my interests, who then told him I would be perfect as his intern. That’s why he hired me. You’ll never know if this happens, so make sure your cover letter addresses points 1 and 2!

  1. Find the right closing

I have “sincerely” set on my iPhone as my default signature for every email, personal or professional. When he helped set up my office email, he sort of snorted when I wrote, “Sincerely, Felicia Kloewer.” In his opinion, it’s just too formal for emailing the people we support at our nonprofit. He suggested, “Best.” I suggest changing your closing depending on who you’re contacting.

Felicia Kloewer

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11 Responses to Tips for writing cover letters

  1. These are all really awesome tips for writing a cover letter Felicia! You made them quick and dirty and easy to understand and that is honestly all anyone will ever ask for when they want to know how to write a cover letter. I really like how you used your own personal real life experiences from your internship to paint a picture behind why you should think of the four you’ve listed should be the way to write a cover letter.

    I agree with what your boss said about “Best”. Though you always want to have an appropriate tone at work whether its emails or a face to face conversation, we are all human and like a little sense of informality in and out of the workplace. There’s almost no sincerity in “sincerely” because its so generic, but “best” comes off as a little bit more casual and caring.

    All in all this post was awesome. It gave me insights as well as made me think about the things I say and do in the office!

  2. jroger10 says:

    Awesome tips! I think we’re all frantically updating websites and mailing out resumes at this point, so this has been really useful and relevant.

    My closing is usually “Thanks,” or “Thank you,” more formally, or sometimes “Sorry/Apologies” if I’m being inconvenient without also giving something. I try to only ask questions/ be needy in the same email as sending in work or something useful.

    My cover letter is three short grafs, though showing instead of telling without reiterating the resume like you addressed is difficult. So about half a page with news-style grafs: short, relevant and digestible.

    Thanks for the tips, I will always read that! 🙂

  3. cbuch232 says:

    Thank you for this post. It is interesting how cover letters are supposed to be formal and structured, yet creative and personal. When you’re applying for a position, you’re trying to prove why you stand out from the crowd. Therefore, I can understand why your boss through away the poor kid’s mundane and possibly insincere cover letter. Also, I liked the link you added about cover letter writing. It should be useful for all of us moving forward.

  4. Felicia what an awesome post! Very helpful tips on the cover letter process! It was interesting to hear what your boss had to say about that kids cover letter as I always wonder how often bosses bother reading our cover letters. I will keep those six tips in mind when I write my next cover letter. I sometimes get caught up on writing this because I try and keep it short and sweet but still keep it as if I’m telling a story about myself.

    As far as ending emails I too use sincerely in a formal setting but generally for emails and such I just use thanks or thank you when addressing anyone at my work. Again great insight it, I appreciate your advice!

  5. hansonlauraj says:

    Great cover letter advice, Felicia. I was just about to write one, so I appreciated the reminder!

    To be honest, I laughed out loud at your “best” suggestion. Quick story: when I was 14, my Washington DC lawyer cousin sent me an email and signed it with “best.” I have since signed all of my emails with “best” or “all best,” including from my original email account “volleyballgirl.” I really wish/really don’t wish that I could go back and look at those emails from a 14-year-old girl trying to sounds mature from her email signature, not thinking about the childish account name.

    Again, great post! It’s definitely advice that we can all use as we start thinking about jobs post-graduation.

  6. kaitlynchock says:

    Thank you, Felicia! This was great! I really appreciated your tips. You did a lovely job breaking down the necessary components of a cover letter. I also liked that you acknowledged that most employers don’t read cover letters but still emphasized the importance of writing them. I also appreciated the fact that you incorporated your own experiences into this post, it really helped to emphasize your points.

    I end most of my emails with “best” so I appreciated that your boss advocated that signature. I feel validated, thank you. The tips and resources were super helpful! I think we should all have a PDXSX cover letter writing session, where we post up in a coffee shop and work on job applications together.

  7. Great tips on cover letters girl! My brother asked me to help format his resume the other day and launched into a huge tirade about how stupid cover letters are when I asked him to draft one so I could help him edit it (he’s a business major). I think what he was really feeling was upset because he doesn’t feel he’s very good at writing. With your tips, maybe he’ll feel more confident tackling the task!

    I’ve always found it’s good to start my cover letters with a somewhat sassy story about when I got detention in elementary school for reading a non-fiction book under my desk. I use that story because I think it demonstrates my independent personality, love of the written word and passion to research topics that interest me. It’s gotten me the internship I have now, and I’ll plan to use it again in the future when the timing is right! In the process of helping my brother, I’ll probably try to help him find a story that demonstrates his passion in the same way. When you can open with an anecdote instead of a traditional ” I am a hard worker and really awesome” spiel, I think it helps you stand out from the crowd!

  8. Thank you for posting this! Like Laura, I was actually just thinking about cover letters. I had to write one this past weekend. You’re so right in the fact that cover letters are kind of a blurred line between owning it and blowing it. It’s just an unclear exercise that I think most of us struggle with.

    I like how you mentioned the “show, don’t tell” factor. I think many of us get so caught up in explaining what we’ve done that we forget to add personality and uniqueness to the letter (which could make or break our chances of standing out from the crowd!) so it’s important to remember that.

    I also end most of my emails with “best,” “very best” or “all my best.” One of my old managers at the UO Career Center was a genuinely sweet, knowledgeable and powerful woman. She ended her emails with “all my best” each time and I always had a good feeling after reading it. It showed that she truly cared about what she was saying to her email recipients. I stuck with it ever since!

    It’s funny how something so simple can change the way we’re seen and understood. You’re right in that “sincerely” sometimes sounds too formal. So where’s the happy medium? Sometimes, “best” is best. 🙂

    Amazing post. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Fantastic advice, thank you!

  10. davidhamernick says:

    Wow, really good points! I like your blogging style– very straightforward. Those are certainly four steps I will keep on the tip of my brain in the months to follow. It seems like cover letters are those beasts that are so simple they’re actually kind of difficult to nail. I’ve definitely taken to using “Best” at the end of all my emails, and it feels good! It’s really hard to find appropriate closers. I wish there was a good list somewhere. Aside from “Best” it’s hard to think of other good ones; you can’t use “Keep on rockin’,” can you? 😉

  11. simonemyers says:

    This was a great post, Felicia! I have certainly struggled with writing cover letters for the exact reasons you mentioned in this post. I feel like there’s such a fine line between the professionalism and personality employers are wanting us to have in our letters, but your tips are definitely helpful! I’ll keep them in mind when I write my next cover letter. Thanks for the tips 🙂

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