Resumes & Cover Letters

4 Sure-Fire Ways to a Killer Cover Letter

Use a bit of empathy—and creativity—to get the ball rolling

When you’re in media, everything you write, post or create is like an audition.

Your Tweets prove you know how to work Twitter. Your website shows you’re not tone-deaf when it comes to branding. And when you write a winning cover letter, you’re not just giving your target company a demo of your skills and expertise—you’re engaging in an interview before your formal interview.

So to help you craft that perfect cover letter, here are four tools for success.

1. See Things from the Reader’s Perspective

Imagine the life of whoever will be reading your cover letter. Picture them logging into their company email, where cover letters from hundreds of hopeful job candidates await.

With recruiters’ and hiring managers’ limited time and approaching deadlines, it’s no wonder these professionals start looking for reasons to reject candidates upfront rather than taking a chance on a poorly written cover letter. Anything can turn them off: wordiness, cheesy childhood stories, long and overworked sentences, generic templates.

One of the best ways to capture their attention is to make it clear, upfront, how you can benefit them. “Frame your letter in such a way that it presents your experiences while focusing on the company’s goals,” says Heather R. Huhman, blogger and columnist for Entrepreneur and Glassdoor, “not your goals as a job seeker.”

If you make it obvious you’re ready to solve a problem for them, you’ll get a call.

2. Ditch the Formulas

Many cover letters are rote and start to blend together for employers. “The majority of cover letters are overly formulaic,” says Huhman. “They open with ‘Dear Sir or Madam,’ followed by an introduction, the applicant’s interest, and a summary of their skills.”

A better approach is to let your personality come through. “Tell a story,” says Huhman. “This brings the focus on you instead of on your experiences. Remember that companies hire people, not a list of skills.”

3. Use the Right Tone

Read this: “In response to your job post on LinkedIn, I am requesting that you consider me for your assistant to the editorial assistant position at Badass Fitness Media Group. I believe I am a good candidate for this job due to my passion for both journalism and fitness, my experience during my internship at Blah Newspaper, and my 4.0 GPA in my writing classes at Prestigious University.”

Now, this: “I start every morning with three things: pushups, herbal tea and the latest post on the Badass Fitness Media blogroll. I love how your writers combine anecdote with hard-hitting science to dish out fitness content that both informs and entertains. I’d be thrilled to bring my own blogging experience at to your team.”

While the first example sounds like what you’d read in a cover letter template downloaded off the internet, the second sounds like a real person interested in a real job. Pay close attention that your tone matches that of the company you’re applying to.

4. Be Creative

People stick to generic cover letter templates because they’re afraid of appearing unprofessional, saying the wrong thing or (sometimes) because they’re too weary of the whole process to craft something of their own. The thing is, if you and most other job seekers are taking this approach, why on earth is yours going to stand out?

Creativity in a cover letter “shows an employer your skill level,” says Huhman, “but also how you would approach a project while working for them.”

If you’d like your cover letter to stand out even more, consider getting the help of a pro. Mediabistro’s Career Services offer everything from a quick cover letter edit to several sessions of career counseling to tackle your cover letter, networking skills, career transition and more.

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