How to get your dream job: Overcoming the cover letter


I wasn’t going to discuss cover letters because I don’t enjoy writing them.

However, last week, I attended my fourth interview in two weeks and my potential employer told me something I had never been told before: “I’m impressed by your cover letter.”

I was surprised and flattered. “I hate writing those,” I said. I wondered what my cover letter had that others didn’t. “Was it…detailed?” I guessed.

“You tell a personal story,” she corrected. She referred to the introductory paragraph, in which I reminded her that I’d met her at a publishing event several months before. I wrote that I’d heard her boss is extremely nice and was teaching my friend (whom I’d met while interning for another magazine—see how I slipped that in there, showing her that I had not only worked with magazines before, but made contacts).

I ended my introduction paragraph with a personal story about how much I love the outdoors and related it to her magazine.

Introductory paragraph

If you know the person you’re writing to, now is the time to remind them of how you met them (you attended one of their lectures, you’ve seen their work).

The next sentence (or first sentence, if you haven’t met the person you’re writing to) should indicate the position you’re applying for.

“It’s difficult to figure out what people want if they have a variety of experiences,” says a student in the human resources program at Sheridan College. You can also add how you heard about this job (an ad online, a poster at school). It’s especially helpful to throw in someone’s name here—someone who is in the industry and recommended you for the position.

You should also explain your availability. Conclude the paragraph with a statement that shows you know the company well and have a personal interest in their work or subject.

Another example: When I applied to work at a daycare, I began my cover letter by writing that while waiting outside for my ride in high school, I remembered seeing the little kids from the daycare go on walks with the staff, and how I’d hoped to one day work at that daycare with those children. This story showed my employer that I wasn’t after a job because it was a job, but because I loved the children and cared about the work. It showed dedication, feeling, and it made the letter personal.

Remember that the person reading your cover letter is susceptible to the same weaknesses as you, and interested in the same things that you are: he or she enjoys a good story and gets tired of reading a pile of cover letters. Once you’ve attracted your reader’s attention with your personal story, and clearly indicated the job you’re searching for, you can jump into the selling part.

Body paragraphs

This is where you can elaborate on the work you’ve covered on your resumé. You want to discuss only those experiences which relate to this job—not to magazine editing jobs in general, but editing this magazine in particular.

  • If you’re applying for to a pet magazine, elaborate on your work with animals and how much you love your pets
  • If you’re applying for a web position with a wedding magazine, omit the paragraph where you talk about animals and elaborate instead on your online experience
  • Use phrases such as, “this is why I would fit with your company” or “these activities have prepared me to work with your business”
  • Show your potential employer that you have performed similar work before, that you have the skills, and that they can benefit from what you can offer

The woman who interviewed me manages the websites of several outdoor magazines. She told me she had received many cover letters and reading them had worn her out, I could tell.

Finding a good cover letter makes the person hiring you feel interested and grateful for something that breaks the monotony. She told me she’d read entire pages of cover letters, only to read the last paragraph and think, “You’ve told me nothing!” Your cover letter should not exceed one page and it should be as clear and concise as possible.

The conclusion

Your reader has heard all he or she needs to know, so make it short. Tell the employer you look forward to hearing back from them. Welcome them to contact you via email or phone, and thank them for your consideration. Hopefully you’ll soon be thanking them for the job!

Check out the other articles in the How to get your dream job series, including Write a strong resumé and Love the interview.

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks
About the author

Marisa Baratta loves writing, especially about topics pertaining to environmental change, animal issues, human rights and health. She loves helping others and wants to make a positive difference in the world. She is always working on publishing her books, which seek to inspire and incite laughter. She has been published in the National Post, t.o. night newspaper and on several online magazines. She completed a BA with a specialization in English and a bilingual certificate before studying Book and Magazine Publishing at Centennial College. She lives with her family and two cats (can you spot one of them in the picture?).