The Cover Letter For Your Resume


“A resume is a hand grenade, with the pin removed,” quipped my favorite outplacement consultant. “The (anti) personal departments use resumes to filter out candidates.”

The cover letter can act as a vehicle to get past the filtering in the job search. Two writers, one in clothing and the other in the horror business—sometimes hard to tell the difference—they each write about the need for the introduction to your content – the cover letter. Stephen King and Sophia Amoruso sell from different disciplines.

Stephen King is best known for writing bestselling fear-based novels. But he also wrote On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft where he also notes the value of the cover letter.

…the most important thing for a young writer who’s just beginning to submit his or her fiction [is a] “Good presentation.”

When you send your story out, there ought to be a very brief cover-letter on top of the script, telling the editor where you’ve published other stories and just a line or two on what this one’s about…

You should submit on a good grade of white bond paper—none of that slippery erasable stuff. Your copy should be double-spaced, and on the first page you should put your address in the upper lefthand corner…

You don’t get any kind of hearing at all unless you go in looking like a professional…

You can’t make them like your story…but you can at least make it easy for them to try to like it.

#GIRLBOSS, the compelling book by Sophia Amoruso, has a passage on, The Job Search and “The Necessary Evil: Cover Letters…”

#GirlBoss by  Sophia Amoruso

#GirlBoss by
Sophia Amoruso

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” —Leonardo da Vinci

I love cover letters. Yes, they’re painful to write— and trust me, often painful to read— but a cover letter is your first opportunity to make an impression on your future boss.

As an employer, when I go through hundreds of applications from people who all have very similar-sounding education and experience, cover letters are the only glimpse I have into a person’s personality.

Cover letters separate the #GIRLBOSSes from the girls. That said, few people seem to know how to make a cover letter sing. It’s incredible how low the bar is, so you’re in luck! I’m about to help you navigate the weird, unnatural world of putting your best foot forward in a few paragraphs.

Cover Letter Mistake #1: The cover letter is all about what you want. Nasty Gal gets so many cover letters that detail a “passion for fashion” and then proceed to talk about how this job will help the applicant pursue her interests, gain more experience, and explore new avenues.

If a cover letter starts out like this, I usually end up reading the first couple of sentences before hitting the delete button. Why? Because I don’t care about what a job will do for you and your personal development.

I know that sounds harsh, but I don’t know you, so the fact that you want to work for my company does not automatically mean that I have an interest in helping you grow your career. I have a business that is growing by the day, so I want to know what you can do for me. It’s as simple as that.

Cover Letter Mistake #2: Your cover letter basically says that nothing you’ve ever done is even remotely applicable to the job you’re applying for.

When we posted a job for a copywriter a while back, I remember reading an application from someone who had graduated with an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, one of the most prestigious writing programs in the country.

This is what stood out the most to me about her résumé, but it wasn’t even mentioned in her cover letter. A cover letter can connect the dots between where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re trying to go. Unless you spell out what that is in your cover letter, your potential employer may never know.

If you’re light on extracurricular activities coming out of college because you had to work forty hours a week to pay for it, then by all means make sure that it’s obvious.

Someone who shows evidence of financial responsibility and work ethic can be just as impressive, if not more so, than someone who was president of the Bowling Society or secretary of the Wine Tasting Club. Even if you’re applying to work at a bowling alley that serves only wine. (Okay, maybe not then.)

Cover Letter Mistake #3: You give so- called constructive criticism— without being asked.

When I’m interviewing people, I’ll often ask what they think Nasty Gal could be doing better, and I am genuinely interested to hear what they have to say. But detailing the ways that you think a company needs to improve in a cover letter is like meeting someone for the first time and telling her that you think she’d be so much cuter if she lost just five pounds. It’s distasteful. You would be surprised to learn how often people think that dedicating their entire cover letter to detailing Nasty Gal’s flaws is a good idea. It’s not. I always want to write these people back and say, “Opinions are like [@ssholes]; everybody’s got one.”

But I don’t, because I’m a #GIRLBOSS so I keep it professional-ish.

When I’m interviewing people, I’ll often ask what they think Nasty Gal could be doing that you want to work for my company does not automatically mean that I have an interest in helping you grow your career.

Cover Letter Mistake #4: Either you didn’t take the time to read it, or you just really, really can’t write.

In Jason Fried’s book Rework, he writes that one of the smartest investments a business can make is in hiring great writers, and I completely agree. No matter what you are hired to do, you will be infinitely better off if you are able to clearly communicate your ideas. We can’t all be Shakespeare, but spend some time on your cover letter and have someone else look it over to make sure it reads well.

If it looks like you don’t care about your cover letter and rushed through it, then I’m going to assume that you will be just as careless in your work. On that note, another piece of advice: Spell-check exists for a reason; use it, but don’t rely on it. If you don’t know the difference between “there ,” “their,” and “they’re,” you’re in bad shape.

We’re lucky enough in the United States to get by with only having to know one language, so nail the one we’ve got! If I have to read another e-mail that begins with “I’ve followed Naty Gal since the eBay days,” I will throw myself out the window. As we are only on the third floor, that means that I will have to deal with a really gnarly sprained ankle and it will be all your nonthinking, non-spell-checking fault. Amoruso, Sophia (2014-05-06). #GIRLBOSS (pp. 152-155). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

As Jack Welsh would say, the cover letter gets you out of the pile of other candidates.

For more information see CUA.

Following is a cover letter that matches experience with the hiring manager’s needs — and tells a story.

Letterhead on high quality paper:

February 16, 20xx

Mr. Mxx

Chief of Staff

Congressman Sxx

Dear Mr. Mxx:

I am writing to express my interest in working for Congressman Sxx. I was born and raised in Northeast Ohio and I am now a senior political science major at The Catholic University of America. While at CUA, I have had four congressional internships, have been a member of the student government, and a varsity athlete and captain of the swim team.

I also had the opportunity to work in the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida as a part of the Disney College Program. Through these experiences I have learned leadership communication and time management skills.

My experience with Disney might illustrate my passion for influencing an organization’s policies. When I began attending CUA, I knew I wanted to apply at Disney. Coming from a family that is a part of the Disney Vacation Club, it was a goal of mine to work for the company that has been such an enormous part of my childhood.

At the time I enrolled, CUA did not grant credit for the program. This of course left me with a dilemma, whether to forgo applying for the program or choose to take a gap semester. Neither of these options were ideal. However, this did not stop me from applying for the program. I was accepted, but then realized students might be eligible for college course credit.

I set out to get credit for the Disney Program. As a member of the Student Association General Assembly (SAGA), I drafted a resolution urging the school to change its policy on the program. I scheduled a meeting with administrators to explain why the program was an asset and credit should be granted. I circulated a petition which was signed by over 500 students who supported the initiative. And finally, I drafted a proposal for the procedure on how credit should be granted. It is because of these efforts that I, with a small team, was able to persuade to school to change its requirements.

The policy was changed.  I became the first student to earn credit for the program.

I believe that my skills might be a fit with the needs of Congressman Sxx’s district office. I hope to compete for a position.


Matt Wagner

And be sure to follow Your Business Professor on Twitter @JackYoest



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