A Love Letter to Cover Letters: Advice From a Professional Career Educator
As a Career Educator at Aquinas College, I meet many students in one-on-one appointments who share a deep fear and resentment of the dreaded cover letter. “I’ve never written one,” they say, “and I don’t know where to start.
“No worries!” I joyfully explain. “Think of it as… a love letter!” Given that February is the month of hearts and chocolate and, of course, Saint Valentine, I thought it only appropriate to share these tips with all of you. Just think of me as a Career Cupid!
A rose by any other name…
You would never address a love letter with “To Whom It May Concern,” right? And while Beethoven’s letter to his “Immortal Beloved” lends itself to a certain romantic mystique, it is recommended for a cover letter that you use the person’s actual name. Similarly, if you can find the name of the hiring manager or human resources director, use that instead of a generic greeting. And please, err on the side of using ‘Ms.’ rather than ‘Mrs.’—and never ‘Miss.’ It should also be noted that true love letters, or cover letters, are never texted. This is the time for that high-end stationary your well-meaning aunt bought you for Christmas.
Form letters make crummy love letters.
I’m pretty sure your intended would be turned off if you started a love letter with, “I am writing to you today because I am very interested in becoming romantically involved with someone like you. I believe I have the qualities you are looking for in a soulmate.”
Wait, someone like me? Or definitely just me? Did you copy this letter and send it out to fifty other people? A cover letter is the same, friends! Trust me, I have been on the receiving end of a form cover letter. The impersonal tone made me shudder, and into the ‘no’ pile it went. Warm up your letter and include specific details: the actual position, department, and correct company name that you’re applying for are the minimum.
I’m pretty great, actually.
In a love letter, we talk about why we are a good catch, of course, but we also want to mirror what that person is looking for in a mate. If we know they want to move back to their hometown after college, we would never go on and on about our global travels and desires to relocate across the country someday. (Also, you may want to consider that long-distance relationships are not easy!) In our cover letter version, use the job description as your writing prompt. Is clear communication first on the list of requirements? Concisely tell that story about how you had created a set of emails, devised a social media campaign, and spoke at several meetings about the student body’s desire to change an outdated policy on campus.
But you, you are the sun!
Okay, enough about you! In a love letter, wouldn’t you talk about the other person also? What sweet, wonderful things you have noticed about them? Why you can’t stand to be apart? Yes!
In a cover letter, you want to impress upon the reader that you have done your research. You have taken the bare-minimum step of researching their values and mission on the internet, and you also mention how you share these values and would support this mission! This hearkens back to my point about the form letters; if you truly take your time with a cover letter, there would be no mistaking that it was meant for the recipient, and the recipient alone. Make the reader feel special, that there is no other internship or full-time job you desire.
Yours truly and most sincerely.
Love letters, in some cases, might have a request or proposal. At the very least, they would include some sort of “next step” and convey a level of excitement to see the recipient again and very soon. Be sure your cover letter similarly has a “call to action,” and convey enthusiasm regarding scheduling a phone or Zoom interview. Be sure to include your contact information, and for the love of all that is good and holy, change your voicemail and check it regularly. How dreadful for your future employer to be swooning over you and your expertly worded letter only to find that your voicemail box isn’t set up or accepting messages!
Happy St. Valentine’s Day and best of luck in writing your cover letters… and love letters, if you are so inspired. Just be sure not to get any chocolate on that professional stationary!