How to Write a Kick Ass Cover Letter

I recently wrote an unpublished draft called “The Feels of Moving” where I unloaded all my excitement about moving to a new city. I was so excited about all the new opportunities, both personal and professional, that would be so close and so seemingly in reach. And, of course, the new Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants I’d get to try, the new cocktail lounges, Tindering in a new city! So much newness!

Four days later I’m staring at my computer screen, discouraged after spending over four hours sending applications via Indeed, ZipRecruiter and, my personal least favourite, the loathsome LinkedIn. Tweaking each cover letter to each particular employer, picking just the right words to define my skills, painstakingly looking for somewhere, anywhere I could discuss the transformative experiences I underwent while backpacking across Europe alone for three months. But nowhere. Instead, I filled those cover letters and that resume with my (lack of) professional experience, my formal degree, and the name of my thesis. Along with the volunteer experience I’m not even sure anyone cares about anymore.

I’ve been sending applications for two weeks. And I’ve been asked for two interviews, which I can’t attend since I won’t be in town for another two days.

At this moment I’m utterly frustrated.

So, inspired by the lack of e-mails inviting me for an interview I’m writing a post on how to write cover letters that will lead to interviews. If I’m not getting callbacks there must be a reason. If the cookie cutter, traditional effort isn’t working I’m trying something different.

So, I’m trying to write unique cover letters that speak to my personality rather than highlight my lack of professional experience. Cover letters that diverge from the cookie cutter templates you get by googling “cover letter template”, and cover letters in which individual and unique experiences fit themselves like a jigsaw puzzle into what the employer is looking for.

Since I seem to have exhausted applying via Indeed and ZipRecruiter, I’ve taken to sending e-mail asking about available employment opportunities with Canadian publishing houses. By seeking out particular publishing houses I’d like to work at I’m hoping recruiting managers will sense my individual initiative.

Design

The beginning of a cover letter has always been the most difficult for me. I always went with the cookie-cutter:

“Dear Hiring Manager, I am writing to apply for the position of XXX with XXX.”

I know hundreds, if not thousands, of other cover letters must begin with the same introduction but I wasn’t really sure where to start.

So I did my research and came upon a lovely article at The Muse with 31 clever and creative introductions: https://www.themuse.com/advice/31-attentiongrabbing-cover-letter-examples
Personally, tapping into my creative side isn’t natural or easy (I blame years in the public education system for weakening my creativity), but these examples helped me write a creative and genuine introduction.

For my own introduction I chose to go with:

“Literature has always been my preferred form of escapism. Over the years, I’ve refined that passion to delve into the lives of literary figures into a career goal, and I believe Company’s Name is the ideal place to begin a career in editing and publishing.”

After that I discussed education. Four and a half years spent at university later I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History with International Relations and Political Science with honours distinction. While at uni I thought such a long specialization would immediately land me a job, if not at least interviews. That, however, is not the case as I’m realizing.

However, I decided to make a joke about how my degree doesn’t directly relate to what I want to pursue as a career. And so I write on:

“Although I earned my Bachelor of Arts in History with International Relations and Political Science (with honours distinction), the pages of fiction novels have always been where I feel most comfortable. Since graduating I spent three months backpacking across Europe alone, galavanting across sixteen cities in eleven countries and sharpening my focus to break into the publishing industry. While traversing Europe my paper Understanding Contemporary Arctic Politics was published in the Southern California International Review (Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 2017), and two pieces on traveling were published by Thought Catalog (http://tcat.tc/2ypP04B and https://thoughtcatalog.com/nemee-bedar/2017/09/5-invaluable-tips-for-traveling-on-a-budget/.”

After discussing my education I write about the exact position I’m hoping to apply for, which is pretty easy since I’m just hoping that publishing houses will like my cover letter and offer me literally any position. An opening for a administrative assistant? I’ll take it. Janitorial work? At this point it’s a yes for me. Here’s what it looks like:

“I’m seeking employment as an editorial assistant—an all-encompassing term that, for me, translates to opportunities for valuable learning and professional development, and rotating responsibilities and commitments. My experience as a tutor for the History Department at the University of British Columbia (2 years) and as an editor for the undergraduate journals Atlas and JIA: Journal of International Affairs will be invaluable to my work at Company’s Name. Further, my professional experience as a bartender has cultivated my excellent communication skills and strong ability to work well under pressure.
My individual initiative is best expressed through my online portfolio and platform LUSH Space (http://lush-space.com). I designed this website as an platform to build my portfolio and refine my writing skills. I have recently overhauled the website and am restructuring, but thus far I have used the space predominantly to review advanced reading copies of books. I will be writing reviews for books published by Penguin Random House, Harlequin, University of Georgia Press, and Publishers Group Canada.”

I end briefly by thanking the recruiter for their time and reiterating my phone number and e-mail.

Other than the introduction the hardest things are condensing all my various experiences into a short 500 words. I also always get nervous that my lack of experience is blatantly apparent to the recruiter. But I can’t change the experiences I have so far. Seeking out new opportunities to learn about the industry and refine my own skills is all I can do. And network. Oh the glorious engagement of networking.

Design

And so I send off more applications and pray to whatever God there may or may not be to call me back for an interview somewhere. I move to a new city tomorrow, and although I’ll find barwork quickly, I’m hoping I can get my foot in the door and break into a career in the publishing industry. Let’s see if these new cover letters will help get me noticed.

How do you usually structure cover letters? How do you get through the anxiety of rejection and what keeps you motivated when applying to new jobs? I need all the encouragement I can get so share your experiences below 🙂

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