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In Search of a Job: How to Write a Great Cover Letter

Applicants underestimate the value that a great cover letter has. It can set them apart from the rest. Obviously you’re a diamond in the rough because you’re a BreadBox reader and you want to learn more about being a leader. So how do you communicate your new skills to your future employer?

You need to make sure employers understand how passionate you are, what you’ve invested into developing your talents and abilities, and why they should pay special attention to your resume among all the others. The cover letter is your chance to do so. These are the things bosses take note of when they have a pile of skillfully crafted resumes sitting on their desk. They’re all the same blur of buzzwords. Differentiate yourself with a well written cover letter.

I have written many cover letters and resumes over the years. I would spend hours researching what makes a good cover letter, and if a cover letter was even necessary; how to format it so that it’s formal, but not so formal that it’s stuffy. Then I would put together a proper letter to accompany my resume that discussed my past education and experiences, what I’m doing now and how much of an asset I would be to them. BORING! Seriously. Would you want to read that? Why would anybody else want to read that? We’ll get to the resume in part two of this series but holy moly, the cover letter is so much more than that! Don’t turn it into a wordy extension of your resume.

Here are 3 important steps to writing a great cover letter:

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1. Choose the right job to apply for.

Maybe this seems like an odd first step, but how can you expect to write a great cover letter for a job you already don’t care about? No job is ever going to be perfect; but give yourself a chance and choose a job that excites you in the first place.

No matter where you are in life. If you’re a younger and this is your first job, maybe your parents are on your back about doing something with your life. What interests you? Do you like playing video games? Go apply to a video game store or an arcade. Are you into fashion? Go to the mall and apply to your favorite clothing store. Find something you’re interested in and get your hands into it. Maybe it won’t seem like work. Most likely, you’ll develop some skills you can take with you to the rest of your life and future careers. Maybe you’ve been at the same dead end job for years and you want a change. Same question: what excites you?

We all need to work. It’s a fact of life. We all have responsibilities and bills to pay. But there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to pay some bills by doing what we love. I’m not promising rainbows and butterflies, but at least your overall mission can align with your values and what you’re passionate about.

An author and blogger named Mark Manson talks about how many people want the reward without the struggle, the victory without the fight; but that’s just not how life is. We’ll always have a struggle, but the question Manson poses is what are you willing to struggle for? He gives the example of climbing a mountain. Sure, getting to the summit is the reward; but what is the reward without the climb? Figure out what you’re passionate about and apply to a job that aligns with that.

2. Write about the passion and values behind the reason you chose this job to apply.

This was my biggest hang up for a long time. I kept scouring cover letter templates trying to write something professional, trying to sound qualified. Here’s a little secret, if you’re trying to justify why you’re qualified in your cover letter, it will disqualify you. I was not successful in my attempts to get quality interviews with quality companies until I stopped being so uptight about my cover letter.

The minute I began to write from my heart and tell the story of my passion, I began to get calls from companies offering me positions I had always wanted. The resume is the boring list of experiences and qualifications they need as a formality in your file, use the cover letter as an opportunity to tell them who you really are.

Wondering how to get started?

First, without worrying about formatting, just begin typing or writing and talk about why you are passionate about the line of work for which you are applying. What excites you about it? Why do you value it? How does it make the world a better place? These are just a few questions I like to answer when writing a cover letter.

Second, talk about how your values fit in with the company’s values you’re applying for. Companies need to know how this will benefit them. And you already know that your values align because have carefully chosen the right job in step one.

3. Wrap it up and make it look presentable.

Now you can format it. Arrange the letter into appropriate paragraphs, put your name, address and contact information somewhere, put the company name, name of the person you’re talking with (if you know it) and their address on the upper left corner and put a nice “sincerely, [your name]” at the bottom. Boom! You have yourself a very effective and powerful cover letter. Most word processors have cover letter or even formal letter templates that you can use to plug everything into.

Your cover letter should be less about your experiences and more about your superhero origin story. How boring would it be if Spiderman was applying to be the vigilante of our town and his cover letter said, “Currently, I protect New York City from bad guys. Prior to that I was a student at Midtown High School. I’m very interested in science and got bit by a spider which makes me uniquely qualified to be a vigilante for your town.”

A much more compelling cover letter would start like this, “I believe in justice. I believe that all people should be able to walk the streets of this town without fear. My passion is creating an environment where people can live their lives without worry, suspicion, or doubt.” Discussing values and passions in a story is much more interesting to the reader and sets you apart from all the other applicants. Even if someone might be more qualified, you might have an advantage simply because of your passion.

Next in this series I will go over how to make a great resume. If you have any questions on how to write a cover letter or resume feel free to comment below or use the contact us link.