For some, the job interview is the most dreaded part of an application process, but to get to that step, potential employees often must face another fear: writing a cover letter.

“If they know they’re afraid, they’re actually in a pretty good spot,” says Tim White of search firm Kaye/Bassman International. “Not knowing you’re afraid leads to procrastination. When the fear is strong enough, the job seeker usually puts off writing the cover letter altogether.”


Facing your fear is a key step to slaying those cover letter demons.

The basic elements of cover letters haven’t changed: who you are, why you are writing, what you have to offer and taking the next step.

In the first paragraph mention the job you’re applying for and why you are applying for it. “Saying you need a job to pay the rent and put groceries on the table isn’t a good reason,” White says. “However, identifying particular characteristics about the organization, its needs, and how you fill those needs is a good reason.”

In the middle paragraph or two, match your skills, interests and experience to what you know about the organization. Define what contributions you can make to the company or what qualities you could bring to the workplace.

White suggests using your imagination and being creative in this section. “A skill or interest outside of the work environment could be important to mention if it relates to the employer or the job,” he says.


Another issue to address in this section is potential objections an employer might have to the candidate, says Katharine Brooks, director of Liberal Arts Career Services at the University of Texas.

“Think about why an employer might not want you—are you too far away geographically, for instance? Then you want to link yourself to that new community—perhaps you plan to move there shortly; maybe you have relatives there.”

In the last paragraph, request an interview and indicate when you can be available.

“Say that you will contact him or her in a few days to arrange a time that is convenient. This puts you in the position of demonstrating responsibility, desire and initiative,” White suggests.

Give up the fight?

Even given conventional and modern approaches to cover letter writing, some job seekers may still find themselves shaking in their boots. Why bother writing a cover letter? Doesn’t the resume say it all?

Brooks says cover letters can be particularly helpful in several instances.

“If you’re switching to a new career field or new job title and your previous work isn’t directly related, the cover letter gives you an opportunity to connect the dots,” Brooks says. ”You can explain why your experience in one role has prepared you to handle this new role. You can make connections an employer might not otherwise make. It’s very important that you draw the picture for the employer. Don’t expect the employer to intuitively understand how your five years in one industry qualifies you for a different one. You will need to explain.”

Another case in which the cover letter can amplify qualifications and experiences is for those who have recently graduated.

“Cover letters allow you to provide the information that backs up stated qualities,” Brooks says. ”For instance, everyone says they’re ‘hard-working.’ In a cover letter you can explain what you mean by that, as in ‘One of my greatest strengths is my ability to manage many projects and tasks at once, as evidenced by …’”

Buy "Calling All Grads" Kindle eBook. Job tips for college gradsThis article was excerpted from the new eBook “Calling All Grads! Turn a Degree into a Job,” edited by careers writer and editor Marco Buscaglia and published by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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