5 Smart Ways to Overcome Your Fear of the Cover Letter

Man sitting at desk reading cover letter

Writing a cover letter is, for most people, one of the most dreaded parts of the entire job search. People usually have fairly strong feelings around writing -- they either love it or they hate it with a passion so strong that even the thought of putting “pen to paper” sends them into a panic.

If you happen to fall into the latter category, it’s still important not to let your fear or insecurity around writing get the better of you here and cause you to neglect this crucial component to the job application. Unlike a resume which tends to be “just the facts, ma’am,” the cover letter is a great opportunity to provide context around your experiences, call out the most important highlights or your strongest points, give the employer a sense of your personality, character and soft skills, and in general to brand yourself as the most qualified, compelling applicant for the role.

And, the best cover letters aren’t generic or vague but tailored to the specific job you’re applying to. So, it’s worth it to spend a little extra time and effort overcoming your fears around writing the cover letter and thinking about the most important ways to tell the story of your career to your next employer.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the blank page staring you in the face, start with this easy formula to take the guesswork and anxiety out of writing:

Step 1: Start with the easy stuff

First off, figure out exactly who you’re writing to and do a little digging to find an actual person’s name. Try to avoid simply opening with “To whom it may concern,” which feels impersonal and a little overly formal. Plus, by writing to one person, you may end up feeling less like you’re writing a “document” but more so that you’re communicating directly to one person. This may make you feel a little less intimidated when you think of it more like a 1:1 communication with another person.

Step 2: Write an intro paragraph that is specific, pleasant, and memorable.

The first paragraph of your cover letter need only be a few sentences. Here, you should say the job you’re applying for and the name of the organization. You can also include a location if it would help to prevent mix-ups in the instance that the employer has multiple job openings at different locations. This is also a good place to add a short sentence expressing either your interest in the organization/role/department or a high-level statement about the value you feel you’ll bring to them.

Step 3: Draw a clear connection between your experiences and the role

Your resume gives an employer all of the facts about your educational background or your work history, but it doesn’t necessarily put those facts into context or highlight the most important elements of your experiences or skills. It also doesn’t directly spell out to them why you’re the perfect person for the position. That’s the work of the cover letter.

Before you get started, take another long look at the job posting and highlight some of the key responsibilities or requirements that the employer is looking for. In your first full paragraph or two, call out your most relevant, impressive experiences and explain how they align with what the employer is looking for and have prepared you to excel in the role to which you’re applying. Now isn’t the tie to be vague or humble, but instead to make a strong, compelling connection between your own competencies and talents and what the employer is looking for.

(If you’re in the midst of a major career change and having trouble formulating a cover letter that speaks to this transition, take a look at these tips.)

Step 4: Anecdotes and real-life examples add color and personality to your cover letter

Select one of your most relevant accomplishments to discuss a little more in depth, and use this to demonstrate your strengths and qualifications. You could choose a scenario where you’ve solved a particular problem, led a team or project, overcame a challenging situation, or achieved positive results. Tell the story of what happened and what role you played. Follow this up by reiterating why this type of experience has prepared you for the role to which you are applying and makes you the best candidate for the position.

Step 5: Wrap it up

Your final paragraph, much like the first, should be short and to the point, yet polite and ending on a good note. Thank the hiring manager for considering your application materials, provide a basic statement around how they can contact you, and wrap it up by saying you’re looking forward to hearing from them about next steps.

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