On Cover Letters

posted Oct 28, 2012, 11:05 AM by jj pionke
This last week, I attended a cover letter writing seminar.  To be a little more specific, my program at the University of Michigan has a Career Development Office and they put on brown bag seminars that pertain to career development from getting an internship to getting a job.  There is usually something going on every week, though there tends to be more of these in the beginning of the term rather than the end of the term when we are all a little crazed with finals and projects and a zillion other things.  At any rate, I did attend a cover letter writing seminar last year (I think) and since I am applying to jobs and what not, I figured it was a good idea to get a refresher.

The biggest obstacle that I see in cover letters (I've taught business writing....a million years ago) is that people want to qualify what they have done.  They want to put on limiters like "I did X but...."  No buts!  You did it!  Don't limit what you have done.  Own your accomplishments just as much as you own your failures.  At any rate, the advice was pretty standard like take the job description and the preferred items and make sure you are mentioning how you fill them in your cover letter.  Don't repeat what is in your resume.  They are going to, if not read your resume, then at least browse it, and if both documents are saying the same thing, it's not gonna work.  A rough draft, no more than a page, and other such advice.  So, if I know all this, why is it so hard to write a cover letter? 

I think it largely has to do with the fact that when we are writing a cover letter we are trying to sell ourselves, something that is very hard for most of us.  I think it's also hard because if we are writing the cover letter, then we are typically serious about the job that we are applying to - that we want it and that we are hopeful that we are going to get it.  When we don't hear yea or nay about an interview, then it can be a bit soul crushing.  Cover letters also take time.  You can't send the first draft and you can't reuse cover letters from company to company because invariably, they are all looking for something a little different and if you use a form letter, it is going to show. 

It's not quite cover letter writing season yet but it's getting there.  I wrote a draft for a job that has caught my interest and I went to the walk-in hours for the career office and had them look it over.  The feedback was very positive so I am feeling good about my cover letter writing chops.  Of course, the proof will be in the pudding if I get an interview.  If I get the interview then that is a whole different post and also you know, I'll need interview coaching.  That said, one step at a time.  Classes, cover letters, essays, finals, projects, grading, and a whole host of other things are all going on.  Here we go!