How To Write Your Way Into the Best Darn Jobs Ever

Back during my TCNJ days, I took this brilliant Advanced Writing class with the brilliant Burton Klein. The most important thing he taught me was that a unique and well-written cover letter could be my biggest asset. Since then, I’ve found myself called into interviews by people who were more intrigued by my cover letter than my credentials, and have had pitches given a second glance by mag editors who were intrigued by the tone of my pitch letter. Since then, I’ve tweaked my technique with the help of subsequent professors, but the lesson has remained the same: All resumes look alike. It’s the accompanying letter that will get you in the door.

Whether you’re applying to a staff job, pitching newspaper and magazine stories, or attempting to net new clients, the ability to write good letter is key. After the jump, all the building blocks of the perfect letter, plus all the eensy weensy details you should always double check:

Introductory Paragraph:

The cover letter is all about you, right? Heck, there’s plenty of time for that! Use these first moments wisely, and catch your audience’s eye with some shameless flattery. If you’re targeting an actual person, do a bit of research on them, and look for something admirable they’ve done that you can mention here. If you know nothing about the person reading your letter, express your admiration for the company they represent. If you can get specific, all the better. Be sincere, but also be brief.

Main Body/Meat of the Letter:

This is where you should be spending the bulk of your time. If you are writing a pitch or proposal letter, this is where the details of your idea should go. For example, writers should include a brief summary of their idea, in addition to title, sidebar, and section suggestions.  For both pitch and general cover letters, this is also the section where you tell the reader exactly why you’re the best (wo)man for the job. Mention contacts, prior experience, anything at all that makes it clear that you are the absolute best candidate for…whatever. Lay it on thick. No one else can sell you as well as you can, and this may be your only shot.

If you are able, keep it to one paragraph. Most of the people you’re trying to reach are overworked, not to mention overwhelmed. They’ll be more likely to keep reading if your letter avoids the novel-esque.

Concluding Paragraph:

Keep this short and sweet. Thank Dear Jane for their time. Include your contact information within your signature, making it easy for them to pick up the phone and call you immediately if they happen to feel so inclined.

Other Things To Watch Out For:

  • If you’re writing a letter to some subversive publication, you can obviously be a bit less formal. If your target is super-corporate, you may want to play it safe. Read the contents of your recipient’s publication or corporate website, and try your darndest to match their tone.
  • Oh lordy, now that I’ve included this, you’re all going to find a trillion typos up above. I just know it. When you’re sending out a letter re-read it a couple trillion times to make sure there are no silly typos. Sometimes it helps to have someone else glance over it. Sometimes it helps to print it out and take a second look away from the computer screen. I like to read things aloud. That way, I catch typos, and am also able to tweak phrases that don’t exactly roll off the tongue. It may seem silly to be dismissed because of a silly apostrophe misplacement, but with the amount of letters some people receive, they could be looking for any reason at all to toss yours.
  • This refers to both company and individual names. Always double check before sending! Nothing is more insulting to the recipient of your letter than such a blatant sign that you couldn’t take the time to properly learn their name. Is your letter addressed to “Ladies and Gentlemen”? Taking the time to pinpoint the exact person you should be addressing your letter to is also a great sign of initiative.

Related: What Can You Do For Me?, Guest Posting: Pitch Like It’s the Glossiest Glossy Mag Out There, Work 2.0: The Deterioration of Professional Decorum


  1. Great post, back when I worked as a freelance video editor, my cover letters were always mentioned in my interview. They rarely looked at my resume, they didn’t need to. I had successfully showed them who I was, what I was about, and what I could do in two short paragraphs and did it conversationally. “Dear Sir or Madame” is the death of any cover letter.

    Now I’m a full-time freelance writer (freelancedom unite!) and use the same principles. I’m tempted to go back to the money of video editing, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Thanks Susan! My cover letter is my favorite secret weapon. Actually going in for an interview/ face-to-face meeting? That’s a whole different story.


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