When I was a Fellowship Program Manager, I saw my share of bad cover letters. There was the one where the student told me how much she wanted to work at Greenpeace (I had no connection to Greenpeace). There were the super generic letters, the ones that professed undying love and loyalty, and the ones that went on about how this role fit perfectly into someone’s five-year plan—with no mention of if that person could, you know, do the job.
While common mistakes can sink an application, when a letter showed inexperience more than anything else, I tried to put myself in the candidate’s shoes. It took me years to hit my groove, and my first attempt was full of rookie mistakes.
In the spirit of full disclosure, here are three lessons you can learn from my first, awful attempt at a cover letter—that I still keep in mind to crush it today.
1. The First and Last Paragraphs Aren’t Formalities, They’re Real Estate
I opened my letter with some variation on, “I am writing to apply for the position of [title] at [company name]. I possess relevant administrative experience and I am eager to contribute to [organization], which makes me an excellent candidate for this position.” To close out, I’d write: “My references are available upon request. Please let me know if I may provide any additional information.”
Now, for a short quiz:
- True or false: All of those lines would be true for any given applicant. (Answer: True.)
- True of false: The cover letter is the place to say the exact same thing as everyone else, because you don’t need to stand out, and you can go on for as long you’d like. (Answer: False.)