Writing Unique Cover Letters to Stand Out in the Job Search

It’s application time for spring internships, and if you are anything like me, you give a sigh of discouragement when the job listing requires that all interesting applicants submit a resume and cover letter.  The resume is the easy part.  It’s a document you have saved for the sole purpose of easily attaching it to emails just like this, but the cover letter is the daunting task. 

I am not suggesting that writing a cover letter is difficult, it’s not.  There are a plethora of templates out there for all of our convenience.  After writing three almost identical cookie cutter cover letters, I am saying that that is embarassing.  There is somethign very redundant about following the template.  The applicant is advised to share a great deal of information that the employer is about to get in short form once they open your resume.  What is the point?  Still, I find myself embarassed because I did it anyway.  I followed the template and produced three of the most boring pieces of writing I have ever been responsible for.

Below are key elements of a cover letter template that Drexel University provides to its students (myself included). 

  • Put your interest in the position into words and let the reader know where you heard about the position.  Unless you have an “in” at the company, this step is completely un necessary.  Not to mention, you are supposed to grab the reader’s attention in any introduction paragraph, and this is far cry from interesting.
  • Show you researched the company by telling them what you know about them and what skills you have that can be beneficial.   I do agree that it is important to market yourself as a good fit for the company, but I would go farther here.  For PR people, research specific clients of the company and share any experience or knowledge you have with similar companies.  For example, if a company has a great deal of travel clients, it is relevant to state that you are proficient in a second language or that you frequently travel outside of the country, etc.
  • Discuss past work experiences.  This part of the cover letter is very apparent on your resume.  It is often misleading, but this is not the time to provide an internship description.  If you feel you must do that, I would suggest directing the reader to your resume for that information to ensure that they see it if interested.  A better, less redundant option, would be to talk about any relevant experience you gained at your internship. 
  • Thank the reader for their consideration and indicate that you would like to meet with them at a later date.  This is a very important step, but in addition, there should be something to make you memorable.  This is the last thing an employer will read before deciding to view your resume.  Show some creativity

I think these cover letters are fine, but not for candidates in the PR field.  Employers are using these cover letters as a gate to your resume.  If they don’t like what they read, I sincerely doubt that they will read any further.  We should see the cover letter as an opportunity rather than a task.  It is an apportunity to show the employer what you are going to tell them in your resume.  In such a field, I am certain that many of our resumes suggest that we have strong writing skills or are in some way creative.  If this is true, we should be able to flex our creative muscles in our cover letters so we can use it as a supplement to the resume.

Blogger Lisa Atufunwa shares tips on how to open your cover letter successfully on Come Recommended’s blog.  The three tips to spice up your cover letter are:

  1. Have a narrative hook.  Use the personal element to show your interest in the company.  This can include a short story of how you heard of the company or why you are interested, but should also show you have knowledge of the company.
  2. Skip the template opening. 
  3. Use power phrases.  Tie words that are commonly used in the company or the PR industry with your characteristics or skills.  Employers will not be able to ignore that you are a perfect fit for their organization.

Use these tips and your own creative ideas to beat the boredom of writing the standard “insert job title and company here” cover letters.


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