here’s another real-life sample of a great cover letter

I regularly get asked for examples of good cover letters, and I’m always nervous about sharing them because PEOPLE STEAL THEM. But a reader sent me a great one and gave me permission to share it, and I thought it was a good example of how to write a letter that talks about what differentiates you, without simply regurgitating your resume.

I’m presenting it here with the caveats I’ve learned to give when sharing these:

• The writer has generously allowed me to share this here as a favor. Please remember she’s a real person when you’re commenting.
• This writer’s voice is her voice. It will not be your voice, and that’s exactly as it should be; good cover letters sound like you.
• There is no cover letter in the world that all hiring managers will love or that would be the right fit for every employer and every industry. But I constantly receive letters from people telling me that when they moved in this direction, they started getting interviews.
• Do not steal this letter or even parts of it. It works because it’s so customized to the writer. It’s intended for inspiration only — to provide an example of what all the advice here can look like in practice.

Here’s some background from the writer before we get to the letter itself:

I am back in the workforce after almost 12 years out. I had applied to various positions in town and several at our local university (which has several perks, one of which being free tuition for immediate family) and had gotten nowhere, and I finally decided that I needed to do something with my cover letter. I read your short but inspiring post, reworked my cover letter, sent it off and two days later, I had a call! I did have a former employee of the dean in my corner, but she says she can’t take credit because of the timing of the call. At any rate, after a phone interview, a committee interview (for which I heavily prepared using your interview guide) and then an interview with the dean himself, I got the job! The salary is great, the vacation time is great and I start Wednesday! I am so excited!

Here’s the letter, with identifying details changed.

Dear Archmaester Ebrose,

Please find attached in this email my résumé and references for the position of Assistant to the Archmaester of the Citadel.

As I prepared to re-enter the workforce after a number of years at home looking after my children, I considered a complete change of career focus. But upon reflection, I realized that I thrive at being an assistant for a number of reasons. Foremost, the skills necessary for the scheduling, arranging, planning, following up, dotting “i’s” and crossing “t’s” of coordination challenges seem to come naturally to me. I use “old fashioned” organizing methods such as paper and pen, and new ones also, like the to-do list function and reminders in Outlook. Moreover, I find that being an assistant allows me the satisfaction to see/touch/feel the fruits of my labors — whether it be a tidy filing system, a well planned itinerary or a nicely composed letter. I must admit, seeing those concrete end results can sometimes make me positively giddy!

I also value the unique relationship that exists between director and assistant. For me, it is far more satisfying to be the quiet support of someone’s vision. It is much akin to when I find myself in a social situation where I do not know many people; I always look for a job to do. I am much more comfortable with a defined role, a little direction and in one on one situations.

While you will find me gleefully crossing off my to-dos, what truly attracted me to this position are some of the more stimulating opportunities, such as assisting in composing and editing college publications. I may no longer be in the habit of writing a 40-page master’s thesis in French on medieval spirituality as expressed in the architecture of the church of St Germain des Prés, but I do relish a good mental challenge!

I enjoyed my brief stint as a French professor at Lannister University a few years ago. It was exciting and invigorating to be on a college campus and among students. I would welcome the opportunity to return as your assistant.

Most sincerely,

Gilly Craster Tarly

{ 251 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. girlonfire

      Really? I laughed at that paragraph. I guess the takeaway is that using your own voice is likely to ensure a match with likeminded employers. You may have knocked her out of the running for thinking she’s pretentious; I would have been more likely to interview her because we share a sense of humor and a passion for delving into the topic at hand.

      Well done, LW

      Reply
    2. Undine

      The point of an individualized cover letter is to write something that expresses yourself and your excitement. Inevitably that risks being off-putting to some potential employers — hopefully the ones who you wouldn’t want to work with anyway. My interpretation of this line, in a letter for a job in an academic institution is “I am not just an admin. I speak academic.” It worked for her and the job she was targeting, where a blander cover letter might not have gotten her an interview.

      Reply
      1. Koko

        Bingo. It was a handy way of both hinting at her intellectual depth while also showing off a bit of her personality, which likely involves some cheeky/nerdy humor.

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        1. DecorativeCacti

          Exactly. I recently applied to a job with a similar toned letter. I hope they didn’t misread the tongue-in-cheek parts so drastically. (One of the requirements was having seen the movie Predator. I’ve never seen it so I addressed it in a silly way.)

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          1. Beaded Librarian

            I so want to know what job requires an applicant to have seen the movie Predator. That really sounds potentially awesome to me for some reason.

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            1. Bartlet for President

              On the flip side, any job that requires an applicant to have seen Predator sounds potentially terrifying to me! But, then I instantly think anyone who has a requirement like that is a startup, and I’ve read so many horror stories about startups that I run the opposite direction as a rule (I imagine some are really awesome places to work though! I just don’t trust myself to identify the good from the bad, when the bad seem to be like Lord of Flies with foosball and snacks).

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            2. DecorativeCacti

              It’s a company with a nerd audience. The posting had a few funny things like that. They also included which Harry Potter house they were looking for.

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      2. GG Two shoes

        The comment was deleted but looking at the letter, I can’t even see what it may have been reference to. Nothing seemed pretentious to me. I thought this letter was great. I love that it flowed from, “this is what I was doing, this is what I’m good at, this is why I want this particular position and PS I’ve done something like this before.”

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        1. Evan Þ

          My guess is it might’ve been more about the phrasing. There’re a couple lines in her letter which’re stated much stronger than I would’ve chosen for my own cover letter (e.g. “the skills… seem to come naturally to me.”) I shrug that off myself, because I know my own emotions are too much in the “Frame it weakly! Be humble!” direction, but there’s probably one person out there who would read that as pretentious.

          And now that I think about it, people who do choose the strong wording in their cover letters probably would get along better with someone who doesn’t read it like that.

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        2. Koko

          It was the reference to her master’s thesis in an extremely arcane and esoteric topic.

          Which, outside of academia might indeed be read as pretentious. But frankly, most academics talk in a way that non-academics sometimes find pretentious because they can’t imagine that real people talk that way, so they assume the academic is showing off or talking that way specifically to make the non-academics feel stupid. That’s actually part of the genius of including it–she’s signaling she won’t feel like the faculty are “acting like they’re better me” when they talk like, well, faculty.

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          1. Jell

            It’s also a way of addressing the question of why someone who’s done an MA could be happy doing admin work.

            She wrote a great cover letter… I hope she believes what she said. And I hope she can finagle her way to a job at the learning centre, which I have a feeling she’d find joy in more easily, asap. Because let me tell you, the satisfaction of stapling things together and fixing printers wears thin after a while.

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      3. JanetM

        When I was being considered for my current position, I made the comment, “I am bilingual in English and Geek.” I don’t think the person I was talking to quite got the humor, but I still got the job.

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        1. Laura

          I hated the letter and I’m not surprised that “London Calling” got a negative comment about it deleted. But I’m basically British and I think the US enthusiasm speaks to a real cultural difference in tone on either side of the Atlantic. Clearly it worked wonderfully in the US and I’m glad that Gilly has such a great job, which I’m sure she’ll nail. I wouldn’t suggest going near this tone for an equivalent job in the UK.

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          1. happy hannah

            I’m also in a country where the culture is closer to British reserve than US enthusiasm, at least in this type of communication. I sometimes wish for a British version of Alison to supplement the great advice we get here!

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            1. Kbo

              I’m the same as Hannah; although I really liked the letter, I know it wouldn’t fly in a much more conservative culture like mine.

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          2. xyz

            Late to this, but I’m from NZ, also more on the UK side of the enthusiasm spectrum, and although I didn’t hate it, I would also tone it down a lot for outside the US. I checked over an American friend’s application to a UK Masters programme once, and he wrote it in that sort of inspiring life story, here’s an anecdote about me teaching Keats to high schoolers (for a translation programme, not a teaching programme) way. I got the red pen out on that (and he was accepted)!

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            1. Gloucesterina

              To be fair, that type of graduate program application would not fly in my context (research university in the US Midwest) because most of our programs are focused on research and not teaching.

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          3. JessicaDay

            I’m UK based and work in the games industry, and worked in the music industry before that, and this would absolutely be the right tone to strike. I think it’s really dependent on the type of job you’re going for, not necessarily a cultural thing.

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      4. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)

        It’s the same reason I have some of my tattoos showing when I interview. I don’t want to work somewhere where I have to keep them covered all the time, just like I don’t want to work somewhere where my sense of humour doesn’t gel. Fully acknowledging that not everyone has the freedom to hold out for a great fit environment — but while I do have that freedom, I’m going to grab hold of it.

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        1. Dr Wizard, PhD

          I did the same thing by leaving my earrings in when I interviewed for a government role (I’m a man.). Nothing was ever said, and I knew it wouldn’t be an issue.

          Reply
      5. minuteye

        As someone in academia, it’s really useful to have admin staff who understand the lingo and the system. The kinds of support we need, the kinds of tasks admins might be asked to do, the ranking of priorities… these can all be different from what you might find in a typical office. “I’ve worked in this context before” would be a big plus when considering a candidate.

        Reply
  1. Poster Child

    My takeaway is that the resume tells what you’ve accomplished, the cover letter is a good opportunity to show how you’ve accomplished those things or how you work in general – attitude, approach, and outlook. Thanks for sharing this!

    Reply
    1. Happy Temp

      I have struggled to articulate the difference between a resume and a cover letter that doesn’t duplicate the resume, and the way you framed it (the resume is the “what” and a cover letter the “how”) makes so much sense! Thank you!

      Reply
  2. Midge

    I love how she framed her time out of the workforce. Alison has talked about why some of the gimmicky approaches people take, like calling your time as a stay at home mom being “CEO of the Smith Family”, just don’t work. So it’s nice to see a real world example that sounds pretty good, and actually helped land someone a job.

    Congrats, OP!

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    1. Emmie

      I liked how she framed her experience as a college professor. It’s a change to go from a professor to an admin, and she addressed that well.

      Reply
      1. stk

        Yes, the other thing this letter does brilliantly is frame that career move in a way that people in academia can understand. I think it works because it’s not at all awkward about it – there’s no apology or sense of shame here, just a really great explanation of why this particular move would be a positive choice for the writer.

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        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          I don’t think she’s changing careers from professor to admin — it sounds like her career has been primarily as an admin (“I considered a complete change of career focus. But upon reflection, I realized that I thrive at being an assistant for a number of reasons…”), with a stint as an adjunct.

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          1. stk

            I wasn’t sure how much of her previous career had been as a professor, but my understanding of academia is that it’s very much assumed that you’re trying to climb that specific ladder: being a professor, preferably with no students and a massive research grant, is basically the greatest of life’s dreams, and any other choice is almost unthinkable. This letter explains that this isn’t true for the letter writer, in a really positive way.

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        2. CM

          That’s what I also thought was so effective about this letter. The person who’s hiring her might wonder why a former professor would now want to be an admin, or whether somebody who’s been at home with the kids is ready to resume a demanding job. This letter explains not only why the writer would be good for this job, but how it fits in with her life and career trajectory.

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  3. Health Insurance Nerd

    I love this letter; as a hiring manager, I would definitely want to meet/interview the person who wrote it!

    Congrats on landing the job, OP!

    Reply
  4. Koko

    Congrats, OP! Great letter. You sound like someone who knows who you are and what you’re looking for–always a big plus.

    Reply
  5. Lola

    I would be worried this was too casual. How can you know when to be more personable like this and when to be more formal? I guess maybe I’m a more formal person in general though.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I consistently hear from readers in law that this tone is too conversational for law. But they’re an outlier. More often than not, a conversational tone works, and works better than a stiff or stilted sounding letter.

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      1. Lola

        Good to know, I have been applying to more academic jobs lately myself and I prob sound more traditional than needed

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        1. Dr. Speakeasy

          I would also be careful with this tone in academia. I had to fight hard for a scholarship candidate who used an amazing, engaging style in her letter because a couple other profs found her letter “not serious enough”. However, you also want to stay away from the very list-y passive style job candidates seem to fall into. The Professor is In has some good guidelines on academic cover letters.

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          1. Dr. Speakeasy

            I realized I meant faculty jobs. Staff/Administrative jobs are a different ballgame (as evidenced by the letter being for an academic admin job!)

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              1. Beckie

                I try to use “academia” to indicate the research and teaching side of things (including postdoctoral researchers and adjunct professors), and “higher ed” for the administrative and programmatic side of things.

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            1. LAI

              Agreed, I work in higher education administration and I think all of Alison’s advice would generally apply to most staff jobs. Faculty positions are different.

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              1. Artemesia

                If I see ‘academia’ I think faculty. Obviously ‘I speak academic’ or ‘academia’ makes sense in a cover letter for a support role, but the person would not call themselves an academic. (which they didn’t) Probably ought to talk about faculty positions when that is what is meant.

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        2. PB

          It can really vary. I’m in academia. A few years ago, I was on a search committee. A letter like this came in. I liked it, but another committee member thought it was unprofessional. Something will appeal to one person but not another, even on the same search.

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      2. Myrin

        Could this also be a cultural issue? The examples of great cover letters posted here consistently seem too casual to me but then again, I’m (like Lora) a more formal person in general. I seem to be remembering readers from the UK coming to the same conclusion before but I can’t for the life of me remember if that really was in reference to a cover letter or if I’m mixing something up.

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        1. stk

          I’m in the UK and I have had pretty success with cover letters not far off this in tone! It definitely varies between sectors – I work in an environment where even managers don’t wear suits and chat can be pretty casual, but I would be my most formal self if I were applying somewhere like the Civil Service or whatever.

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        2. caledonia

          I’m also in the UK and work as an admin at a uni and think that although this letter is great, I couldn’t use it because it feels far too casual for me and who I am as a person/employee. I might talk like this in a conversation but I wouldn’t write like it.

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          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I do not mean this to be snarky, but that’s where this at the top comes in: “This writer’s voice is her voice. It will not be your voice, and that’s exactly as it should be; good cover letters sound like you.”

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        3. Amey

          I also think it’s a bit casual for the UK although it’s maybe actually that it’s just American and the conversational styles are a bit different. My ideal would be something ever so slightly more formal but still in conversational language. For me this strikes the right balance in terms of selling herself – it’s not over the top or making any outlandish claims but she’s expressing confidence in her own skills and experience.

          My employer doesn’t actually use cover letters though – we have an application form where you list your previous jobs and education and then write a personal statement. This essentially plays the same role as the cover letters I see discussed here, but also part of the role that a resume would play. You’re expected to directly address each of the essential criteria in the job description and most of this is done in the personal statement section. So it’s a bit more detailed and I would expect specific examples. This has been the case with my previous employers as well so I think it’s a slightly different context.

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          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)

            OT, but do you have any good resources for the best way to actually format this? I never know if I should incorporate all of the criteria from the person specification into paragraphs in a letter, use bullet points, or a table. I’ve tried all three with limited success, although the times I’ve actually had an interview I used the table format within an application form (with the criterion from the person spec in the left column and my explanation of how I meet it in the right column). But that’s one of those cultural norms that I just don’t know, and somehow my husband never applies for jobs that use that kind of application so he hasn’t been much help.

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            1. JustAnotherNonProfitDirector

              I’m in the 3rd sector and have always written these sorts of personal statements as prose with bullet points where needed. I’ve found that this works well especially where you’ve got experience and evidence that ticks off multiple things.

              Also, with those application forms you don’t need to reference the required qualifications in the personal statement – they’re already in the form and can cost you precious words.

              In terms of tone I’ve recently started writing like me, not the me I think people want to hear from. Overly formal if that’s not your style doesn’t work.

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              1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)

                What about when the application form is just a word document with a space for a “supporting statement” that asks that you describe how you meet each criterion in the person specification? In this case the person specification is a separate document and the criteria is not actually listed on the form. It’s just an empty box, and there’s usually no word limit.

                I do tend to have a somewhat formal writing style so replicating that in real life isn’t really a problem, especially as I’m going for jobs that have semi-academic writing as a major component.

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            2. Amey

              I haven’t got a good resource to link to and I do think it varies! At my organisation (a university), institutional policy is that you have to meet all of the essential criteria in order to be shortlisted (I have some issues with this policy but I don’t think it’s completely unusual.) So you want to make it as clear as possible to people reading a hundred applications that you tick all of those boxes. I’ve found when I’m on panels that we all vary in the format we prefer but generally if it’s not too long, is well-written and hits all of the criteria, you’ve got a good shot at interview.

              My personal preference at this point is a short intro about why you’re applying for the job and would be good at it, then headings for each essential criterion with a sentence or two explaining why you’re good at that thing and a specific example demonstrating that. The example is really important.

              For us and the sort of jobs I hire for (student-facing professional services with some specialist knowledge required) you do want to come across as personable and professional but something too chatty will look a bit out of touch. And I’d rather hear about what you’ve done than what you’re like (with no evidence) if that makes sense.

              The personal statement is really key though, you normally can’t tick much at all of our essential criteria with your employment history. We have a quick look but expect you to pull out the relevant points in your personal statement.

              I’ll let you go to two pages, single-spaced but that would be too much more some of my colleagues. Honestly, it’s hard to get everything in in less than 1.5 pages – less than a page is likely to be too brief.

              Hope this helps a bit! Happy to pick it up in open thread if you like, and I’m sure other UK industries are quite different. I’m an American in the UK too so I sympathise!

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              1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)

                I’d love to pick this up and talk about it this weekend. It’s one of those things that I never seem to be able to find a straightforward discussion on, so whether that’s my google-fu failing or what I don’t know. Somehow all of my other friends here either have jobs that don’t use the person spec format or got their jobs through more unconventional means, and they don’t ever seem to know what I am talking about!

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            3. Lucky

              It doesn’t matter, imo, as long as it’s clear which writing applies to which point on the spec. I personally like individual paragraphs with titles – they’re easy for me to read and score.

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        4. Laura

          I posted above that this would really put me off (in the UK). They are are clearly very different cultural job marketplaces. Obviously it was a great success in the US, so fair dos.

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        5. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)

          I struggle with this too, Myrin, but I think I must have a very different style compared to Alison’s. I’ve had a hard time applying her advice to my own cover letters because I get hung up on the differences between the examples and my own language preferences.

          Perhaps it’s my academic background or my generally stilted personality, but I often find the examples of great cover letters far too informal and sometimes with phrases that make me wince. I’m not sure how much of it is a UK/US thing, though — I live in the UK but I’m American! Then again I was never comfortable with the stereotypical American enthusiasm.

          On the other hand, my letters clearly aren’t working so my instincts appear to be wrong.

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      3. saranon

        as someone in law, I would say this is WAY too conversational. Maybe the right, very low-key, in-house position would dig it but I would generally opt for formality just to be safe. Even legal tech jobs are formal in their hiring processes. One good thing about law job searches imo is that most companies/firms choose to use recruiters so you will have someone guiding you toward the right cover letter tone.

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        1. CoffeeLover

          I helped my brother with a cover letter recently and he’s in law. I changed his tone quite a bit because he was writing as if it were a college paper (ie a lot of roundabout and passive sentences with “big” words). It sounded pompous almost. I made it more to the point and direct while still being formal. Took out the big fancy words. Does that sound alright? I figured even if lawyers want formality, they must also want something that’s easy enough to read.

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          1. mrs__peel

            Yes– and judges greatly prefer when lawyers write in that straightforward style as well! (They’re impressed by a good argument, not endless “heretofors”).

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          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Definitely! Lawyers are pretty aggressive about passive voice (i.e., don’t do it, unless you’re representing the defendant and purposefully making it unclear). And effective legal writers don’t prefer “big” words, either. Brevity and clarity!

            Unfortunately a lot of lawyers never quite figure out the distinction between clarity and formality. You can be formal and easy to read, which includes cutting out pompous words. But unfortunately, I’ve found folks think that “heretofores” and whatnot are what make them lawyers. They are wrong.

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            1. The Voice of Reason

              Who are these mythical lawyers whining eschew the passive voice? In my experience most lawyers can’t write for sh!t.

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          3. saranon

            Cutting passive voice is always a good idea imo but I won’t lie, my base cover letter (that gets supplemented and personalized as per the job) is full of “big” words and probably more than a tiny bit pompous. Both of the other commentators to your post talk about judges and that is one of the difficulties of talking “law” in general terms. I never see judges. I’m just not that kind of lawyer. My version of the law rewards complicated sentences and heaping “heretofores” on top of “notwithstanding any other provisions” with a sprinkle of “where applicable” over the top for flavor.

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          4. Working Hypothesis

            Frankly, “passive sentences with “big” words” are just plain bad academic writing, quite apart from cover letters. One of my university’s most famous courses was an academic writing seminar for grad students and advanced undergraduates, which they’d developed because too many professorial candidates couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag. The first thing they taught us was to dump the passive voice out the nearest window and never use it again. The second was never to use a long Latinate word when a short Anglo-Saxon word would do.

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        2. Susanne

          Yeah, but you lawyers are out of the norm with the rest of the business world. For example – look at how your standards of dress have remained formal, whereas the rest of the corporate world morphed to business casual a long time ago. That’s evident looking at blogs dealing with business/law dress (such as Corporette).

          I say this observationally and matter-of-factly, not judgmentally.

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          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Ahahaha, our dress looks formal, but it’s actually “stepped down” in formality, as well. Folks used to appear in court in morning dress (some still do in the Supreme Court). I’m just glad we don’t do the robes/wigs thing, anymore, in the U.S.

            But yes, we are a stodgy and backwards profession.

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          2. mrs__peel

            It really depends! I’ve spent my whole career in the government and non-profit legal sectors, and every place I’ve worked has trended towards the “casual” end of business casual. I’ve only had to wear suits for my initial job interviews.

            I currently work for a government contractor (where I do all my lawyering over the phone and spend all day shut up in my office), and I’m wearing leggings and sneakers that I walked the dog in earlier today.

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      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yeah, this is definitely too conversational for most law jobs, but honestly, it could still work in some contexts. For example, when I worked for a legal nonprofit, OP’s tone probably would have endeared her to the hiring committee because we get overly formal letters (that just regurgitate someone’s resume) all the time.

        And from what I can tell, the more casual tone works with the vast majority of non-law employers as long as the letter is substantive. The worst letters I see are: (1) overly formal/stilted; (2) carelessly or inaccurately written; or (3) a casual tone wrapped around a bunch of fluff.

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        1. mrs__peel

          Another tip: don’t say that you’re applying for a non-profit job because you “don’t want to work as hard” as you did in the private sector.

          (We used to see a lot of that when I worked at a legal non-profit, believe it or not. And from experienced attorneys sometimes!)

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        2. Anon.

          I am in education, and as a HM I’d read the letter as cute, but probably would put it in the “maybe if I can’t find another one more likely” pile. I suppose we are also a bit more formal.

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      5. Windchime

        I got really good responses when I dropped the stilted, formal tone that so many people seem to think is appropriate. I think it’s goid to remember that the letter is (hopefully) being read by another human being who would appreciate a conversational letter that sounds so enthusiastic.

        Well done, Letter Writer. Thanks for allowing Alison to share your excellent vi we letter!

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      6. ChemMoose

        Totally read this comment as “readers-in-law” like readers from another site that are some how related to this site. Other than that – this tone is great for less formal offices, which can be difficult to distinguish from a job description sometimes.

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      7. FiveWheels

        This would explain why to my (British, law) eyes the letter seemed completely off… I come from an expectation of formality in both directions!

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    2. Sharon

      Also, I thought it was too long. I’m skeptical that HR or recruiters will do more than glance at each first sentence.

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      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        This is actually slightly shorter than the average cover letter I receive. Definitely not too long. If you go significantly shorter than this, you’re not really writing much of a cover letter, which is annoying when one has been requested.

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      2. Cafe au Lait

        Really? I thought it was rather short. Without employer address, date, salutation and name, the letter is roughly 3/4ers of a page. It would be a full page once you add the “formal” parts of a CL.

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      3. April Ludgate

        Wait, so are you saying cover letters shouldn’t be more than, say, four or five sentences long? That’s…odd.

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    3. Danger: Gumption Ahead

      If you are a more formal person in general, it makes sense to write more formally, since you want to express a bit of who you are in the cover letter. There are going to be employers who appreciate the formality

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    4. BRR

      My two cents is that when you read a cover letter like this, it sounds warm and makes me want to meet/interview the person (in addition to the LW explaining what makes them qualified).

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      1. Windchime

        Me too. I get the immediate sense that the letter writer is warm and enthusiastic and unless her resume was a complete mess, I would absolutely put her near the top of the stack.

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    5. Turquoisecow

      I approached my first office job thinking I needed to be super formal and proper. Both the interviewer and my eventual boss (they were not the same, which is another sign of disfunction but never mind) were rather personable and casual compared to what I expected.

      It might just be my industry, but a lot of coworkers since have expressed confusion and/or dislike for people who are too formal.

      If you get the job, you’ll have to possibly work with the same people who read your letter. You’re probably not going to be able to keep up a facade of formality every day if that’s not who you really are, and part of what the cover letter is doing is giving a glimpse of who you are, beyond the jobs outlined on a resume.

      Reply
    6. Koko

      YMMV always, but to me a conversational tone projects a certain amount of self-confidence that I find reassuring in a candidate. It makes me think you know who you are, and you’re comfortable being yourself and finding the job that fits who you are, as opposed to trying to be the person you think we want you to be. That makes it harder for me to tell whether you’re really going to be a good fit and work out long-term. If I can see that you’re at ease and being yourself I don’t have to work as hard to figure out what’s going on under the surface.

      Reply
      1. ThatGirl

        Yeah, I always write my best cover letters when I’m excited about a position and feel some personal connection to it – so I can write with warmth and personality as opposed to just spitting out “here’s why I’m qualified for this job”. For my current job, I wrote about a family tradition of baking (it’s relevant, trust me) and how that tied in with the company. The hiring manager mentioned that at the interview specifically.

        Reply
      2. M is for Mulder

        But what if I’m comfortable with myself, and I’m stilted and stuffy in my speech patterns?

        Only a little kidding. It’s been brought up.

        Reply
        1. Koko

          I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who naturally sounds that way, but unfortunately I’d have to say that I would have trouble feeling trusting or certain about such a person. I would rather work with someone who is just blunt and curt than someone who I can’t read.

          Of course none of this is a dealbreaker, and other factors rank higher in the decision. But it’s easier to feel certain I’m making the right decision when I’m pretty certain who I’m getting. If I’m uncertain who the person really is, I’m going to have more doubts about my hiring decision, and that might push me towards a similarly-qualified candidate who doesn’t give me those doubts. Sort of, do you want a 100% chance of a 90% candidate or an 80% chance of a 93% candidate? I might decide I’d rather have the sure thing even if it’s slightly below the best case scenario for the other candidate, because the potential downsides of being wrong aren’t worth the modest 3% increase.

          Reply
        2. aebhel

          I wonder the same thing. I’m generally a very reserved person, so projecting warmth and enthusiasm… doesn’t really come naturally to me. I suspect that writing in my natural voice projects ‘awkward nerd’ more than anything else–fortunately, I’m a librarian, so awkward nerds are very common in my line of work!

          Reply
          1. mrs__peel

            I worked at a university library one summer, and it was the only job I’ve ever had where *every single person* ate lunch by themselves.

            (Though, as very reserved and socially anxious weirdo, I felt right at home…)

            Reply
          2. FiveWheels

            Likewise I’m a very reserved “closed book” person, and someone projecting warmth and enthusiasm would be quite off-putting to me in an application. The best application I could read would basically say “these are the areas of law I have experience in, and my average monthly billings are X”. Know your region/industry/business culture, I guess.

            (My interview for my current job was basically an argument with a panel of three partners. The idea was of a candidate can keep cool getting bombarded like this, then they will probably keep cool in the potentially very aggressive day to day workings of the job.)

            Reply
          3. Echo

            I’d actually say you can SAY this in your cover letter! If you’re applying to a job that you know will have a lot of solo time or be isolated from other people, you can talk about how you’re reserved and quiet and what would make you excited to come to work in the morning is knowing that you will have a quiet space to go to, and lots of time to process things on your own.

            Reply
      3. JustAnotherNonProfitDirector

        All of this. I work in a sector which requires passion and connection to our mission, especially when it comes to back office staff who could get paid much better in the private sector. If I don’t hear some of that in an application it’s an immediate warning flag for me

        Reply
    7. LBK

      I actually thought this sounded on the formal side compared to some of the other examples Alison has posted, while still being the same kind of style of cover letter that tends towards sounding more like how a person would talk than how you would write a legal document.

      I don’t like stuffy cover letters that don’t sound human. If you won’t interact with me that way on the job, don’t do it in the cover letter. It just feels fake and like you’re doing it for the sake of following an arbitrary guideline; we both know that’s probably not how you talk, so why bother with the charade? But then I think I’m more laid back in hiring in general. My interviews tend to be highly conversational and I only rely on a structured set of questions when the candidate can’t keep up the conversation.

      Reply
      1. anon this time

        I always worry a bit that employers will have this reaction to my cover letters, because my communication style tends to be pretty formal in general (most people I haven’t met in person tend to assume I’m a few decades older than I am). I try not to sound stuffy, but the really casual style of most of these sample cover letters doesn’t work for me.

        Reply
  6. NatKat

    Excellent! As a fellow assistant/coordinator, I find it hard to relay why I love the aspects of this type of work. This does an great job conveying her passion. Kudos to you and best of luck in your new position, OP!

    Reply
    1. zora

      It also gives me some guideposts to think about what I do and how I do it a little differently and figure out how to explain that in writing. Not that I would steal her exact words or framing, but it’s great to have an example of the general idea instead of just going off an explanation of ‘what to do’

      Reply
  7. i2c2

    I love this part in particular:

    For me, it is far more satisfying to be the quiet support of someone’s vision. It is much akin to when I find myself in a social situation where I do not know many people; I always look for a job to do. I am much more comfortable with a defined role, a little direction and in one on one situations.

    It’s such an insightful articulation of how a role that — if I’m reading correctly — might seem like a step down given the writer’s career history is actually an ideal fit.

    Letter writer, congratulations on getting the job and thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    1. SarahKay

      I really liked that bit myself, at least partly because it so nicely articulates how I feel too. But it is just a perfect way of showing how OP had thought about the new role, her previous career experience, and why/how the two do actually reconcile.

      Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      That was my favorite part, and my second favorite was about the satisfaction of tangible achievements. Both statements were insightful/thoughtful and also extremely concise.

      Reply
  8. anon4this

    Hmm…I think I find the narrative voice in the cover letter a bit off-putting. The overall style and feeling of “giddyness” from doing basic organizational tasks reads very female to me (shouldn’t these be a bit more gender-neutrally framed?) and the double accent marks above the word “resume” doesn’t feel quite right (although maybe it is, who knows?).
    I think the tone is a bit casual for a re-entry into the world of academia, but to each their own. I could see liking this cover letter if I’d been through a billion boring ones, but for some reason, I’m not taking it as serious as I’m sure it would like to be taken. I don’t like the part specifically mentioning children, I understand it’s supposed to be an excuse for why they’ve been out of the workforce for so long, but it reinforces the (maybe false) notion the cover letter writer is female (although Gilly feels like a female’s name to me as well so maybe a moot point) and employers often can discriminate against females with children.
    I found the last couple of sentences to be the strongest part and, to me, reads more authentic than the rest of the letter.

    Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Also, mentioning her kids isn’t an excuse for being out of the workforce; it’s an explanation, and it’s perfectly sound to explain that up-front since otherwise that can be a flag for some employers.

        I think you’re misapplying some rules here (“don’t talk about your kids in a hiring process” doesn’t mean “never, ever mention them”; sometimes they’re part of a logical explanation that is helpful to be able to give).

        Reply
    1. k8

      ” the double accent marks above the word “resume” doesn’t feel quite right (although maybe it is, who knows?)”

      I’m not quite sure what you mean by “doesn’t feel quite right” but that definitely is an acceptable spelling of resume . . .

      Reply
      1. Anonymous Educator

        It’s not just acceptable. According to Wikipedia, it is the proper spelling. Without the accent marks is also acceptable:

        A résumé (/ˈrɛzʊmeɪ/, REZ-u-may or /rɛzʊˈmeɪ/; less frequently /ˈrɛzjʊmeɪ/ or /rɛzjʊˈmeɪ/; French: [ʁezyme]),[a] also spelled resume

        Reply
        1. Anonymous Educator

          And, from the dictionary, for all you people who like to hate on Wikipedia:

          ré·su·mé or re·su·me or re·su·mé (rĕz′o͝o-mā′, rĕz′o͝o-mā′)

          Reply
        2. LAI

          It’s not only correct, but since the LW apparently has a master’s degree in French, it would actually be pretty terrible if she DIDN’T use the accent marks. Résumé is a French word.

          Reply
          1. a

            Fluent in French here and I don’t spell it with the accent marks unless I’m writing in French. Since we’re writing in English, I don’t think it’s necessary to use French conventions. Just like when I ask for a croissant in an American cafe, I don’t pronounce it with the French r.

            Reply
            1. Anonymous Educator

              Since we’re writing in English, I don’t think it’s necessary to use French conventions.

              Except in English it’s also supposed to have the accent marks. People just usually don’t want to bother figuring out how to type the accent marks, so they leave them off.

              Reply
            2. FiveWheels

              Huh, I always pronounce it in the French way.

              In the UK it would always be résumé, though we don’t generally use it in respect of job history.

              Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yeah, that took me aback, also. Most of us misspell “resume” because diacritical marks are a pain in the a— if you primarily word process in English. The accents are the proper spelling; folks typically use the non-accented spelling because it’s a word processing workaround.

        Reply
        1. Anonymous Educator

          I’m definitely not judging folks who want to type resume instead of résumé, but to say the accent marks don’t feel right when that’s the standard instead of also-acceptable spelling… what the?

          It’s like saying judgment doesn’t feel right to you, and it should be judgement instead. No, judgement is the also-acceptable spelling. The standard spelling is judgment. There’s no Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

          Reply
          1. Dankar

            I wish we could all accept “judgement” as the correct, standard spelling. I find myself spelling it that way every time, and it just looks right to me. Oh well, I’ll settle for also-acceptable…

            Reply
                1. ARCopyeditor

                  Copyeditor here–“judgement” is the UK spelling and “judgment” is the US spelling. Same goes for “acknowledgement” and “acknowledgment.” For the book publishers I work with in the United States, “judgment” is officially correct.

                2. Anonymous Educator

                  Thanks, ARCopyeditor. I’m definitely looking at this from a U.S.-centric perspective. Same with whether commas and periods go inside of quotation marks or not.

                3. FiveWheels

                  ARCopy – in the UK “judgement” means opinion, whereas “judgment” means either opinion or a judge’s ruling. So enforcing a judgement would be setting the bailiffs on someone to make sure they agree with you.

          2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

            My high school mascot was a judge (don’t ask…) and so one of the signs you saw at every game was “It’s JUDGE-ment Day!” It messed me up on the spelling of that word for ages.

            Reply
        2. PM Jesper Berg

          Diacritical marks are a pain in the ass only if you’ve got a Level 101 understanding of Word. They’re not that difficult, and I’d expect anyone applying for a PA/admin role to know how to use them. That’s particularly true for someone who wrote a master’s thesis in French (and seemingly applying for a position in a French department). LW was absolutely right to use them.

          Reply
      3. Xarcady

        And given that “resume” is originally from the French and the letter writer has been a professor of French, it stands to reason that she’d use the correct spelling and accent marks. In fact, it might count against her if she didn’t, because one would assume she’d know the correct way to write the word.

        Reply
      4. M is for Mulder

        Given that I referenced hiring an editor in this morning’s article, I’m doubly amused at someone criticizing the seldom-used correct spelling of résumé. I love accidental AAM themes!

        Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I don’t think there’s a problem with reading female. Folks often caution against falling into certain gendered traps in order to hedge against (implicit or explicit) sexism in the hiring process.

      I also think the tone is appropriate for the specific role OP is applying to. It’s true that academic letters can be quite formal, but the rules that tend to apply to cover letters written for jobs on the “academic” side of a university (lab manager, PI, professor, postdoc) don’t really apply to the “non-academic” side (admins, student services, financial aid, operations, etc.).

      Reply
      1. Anonymous Educator

        I don’t think there’s a problem with reading female. Folks often caution against falling into certain gendered traps in order to hedge against (implicit or explicit) sexism in the hiring process.

        Yeah, maybe it “reads female” because a woman wrote it. Not that everything a woman writes will “read female” or that men will never write in a way that “reads female,” but there’s no reason to go out of your way to not sound the way you sound.

        Reply
        1. zora

          Yeah, and going for an admin job, being female is not likely to hurt you, it’s so common.

          Where I would be careful about reading too ‘female’ is if you are going for a high-level job or a male-dominated workplace, where you are worried about implicit bias keeping you from a job. In that case, a different tone would probably be wanted.

          Reply
          1. JustAnotherNonProfitDirector

            I’ve been working at high-level for the last 4 years, and just went through my first experience of recruiting for high-level staff.
            “Reading as female” doesn’t even cross my mind as a potential issue. It might be country, sector or age based but I find writing as myself rather than trying to remove my personality is far more engaging and likely to achieve results. I think I referred to new business directions as “chasing unicorns” in my last interview and I got that job (not that I recommend doing specifically that – or using equine analogies in recruitment at all).

            I do work in a fairly female dominated environment and recognise are some industries, and, more problematically, some companies with that kind of bias but frankly, if sounding like a woman will count me out of consideration, I don’t want to work there.

            Reply
        2. Turquoisecow

          Even if, for some reason, the OP wanted to sound gender neutral, the interviewers would figure out pretty quickly that she’s female. If her goal was to somehow subvert gender stereotypes or bias and get a traditionally male role, I could see trying to write in a masculine style, but writing as you are is generally preferred, because you can only keep up a lie.

          Or is the implication that “female” equals “not a worker,” or “not the sort of person who takes a job outside the home?”

          Reply
    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      Yikes.

      Some people are female. It’s ok for a cover letter to read as though it were written by a woman. Please consider why this causes you to not take it as seriously.

      Reply
      1. Elizabeth H.

        Yes, couldn’t agree more with yours and Jessie’s comment below. Complete gender neutrality is not the goal, the goal is for people who are female and people who are male to be taken equally seriously and treated with equal respect.

        I cannot imagine any context in which someone could or would say “The tone of the person’s writing feels somehow male, and overall I’m having a hard time taking it as seriously as I might,” which definitely indicates something.

        Reply
        1. Linden

          Yeah, but not everyone wants to make their stand on gender equality in their cover letter. I’ve also found that stereotypes tend to be worst upon first meeting, and once people have worked with me for a few months, they generally see how competent and valuable I am and treat me much better than they did initially. I worked for many years at an organization where men were typically paid much more compared to women doing the same work and only about 25% of the positions above a certain grade were occupied by women. In that case, I would not want to “read female,” even though I completely agree with your point that it shouldn’t be a problem. Although the letter above would have been great for an administrative assistant position (which were mostly occupied by women, and I noticed young women were generally preferred as assistants), I think “reading female” would have equaled “reading unprofessional” for a higher up, technical or managerial position there.

          On that note, I was wondering if it would be possible to publish a good cover letter from someone in a higher level position? It seems like most of the cover letter examples on here are for lower level positions (administrative assistant, customer service representative, etc.) and I wonder what the equivalent for a more senior role would be.

          Reply
          1. Working Hypothesis

            Maybe the answer to this isn’t to avoid “reading female,” but to change the mindsets which equate female=not to be taken seriously?

            Reply
            1. Specialk9

              Except that’s basically telling victims of mistreatment that they are simultaneously harmed by, and responsible for, the system of mistreatment. Women aren’t wrong to say that sexism exists, and that if you don’t know the person who’s hiring you may want to avoid pushing gender bias buttons. Telling a woman that sexism shouldn’t be, and so she shouldn’t try to mitigate its impact on her life, is not helpful and is just not true.

              Reply
          2. Elizabeth H.

            I could be wrong, but I think that in the typical workplace, this is a bit outside the norm:
            “men were typically paid much more compared to women doing the same work and only about 25% of the positions above a certain grade were occupied by women. In that case, I would not want to ‘read female'” and “I think ‘reading female’ would have equaled ‘reading unprofessional’ for a higher up, technical or managerial position there”

            At the place I work, there are a high number of women in positions above a certain grade. Many of them have many feminine traits (examples: wearing heels and feminine outfits and jewelry, having pictures of their kids on their desk, mentioning the existence of their kids, wearing perfume – these are some qualities I would describe as skewing feminine, but totally neutral in terms of being professional or unprofessional) and I don’t see evidence that this correlates at all with being taken less seriously or respected as a director of whatever. Perhaps the place I work in is unusually egalitarian (higher education) but I think it is unusual these days to have such pronounced sexism that people would really treat you less well initially simply because of your gender, and have to wait several months to see how competent and valuable you are in order to treat you better (!!!)

            My point is that there’s a different between feminine traits and unprofessional traits, and my impression is that in most modern, functional US workplaces, femininity is not associated with unprofessionality, such that it doesn’t entail “taking a stand” to not suppress signs of being female in your self-presentation.

            Reply
            1. Linden

              Yeah, I make no claims that my former workplace is typical, functional, or American. But based on the questions that come into this site, it seems that many readers’ workplaces don’t fit those criteria.

              Reply
    4. Koko

      Anon4this, s a heads up, using “female” as a noun is viewed by a lot of women as dehumanizing as it reflects more the way we talk about animals than the way we typically refer to people.

      Reply
    5. Jessie the First (or second)

      “I don’t like the part specifically mentioning children, I understand it’s supposed to be an excuse for why they’ve been out of the workforce for so long, but it reinforces the (maybe false) notion the cover letter writer is female ”

      the problem you have with mentioning kids is that *reinforces that the applicant is likely a woman*?

      Why on earth is it a problem if the applicant is a woman? Are all applicants supposed to pretend to be men? Why? Men are not the default of the human race. Why would it be a problem to in some way have the hiring manager be aware that the applicant is a woman?

      (And seriously, if one has been out of the workforce for 12 years, that must be addressed; an applicant has to explain why. Staying at home with kids is a normal, not-red-flaggy thing to have done with one’s time.)

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        I get this objection, it’s one of the many (and infuriatingly contradicting) ways society tears women down. Women who stay home with kids aren’t serious about their careers, AND women who work are terrible neglectful moms (and oh yeah better have a perfect house, homemade baby food/elaborate cakes, and craft). But if the end goal is to help the cover letter lady get a job, taking into account pervasive gender bias is necessary. Reminding women that in general, mentioning kids isn’t a wise idea on the first pass, as a rule of thumb, is just practicality. In this case, she needs to explain the long gap, and other alternatives are things like jail, drugs, laziness… So yes it’s fine here. But there’s a good reason for the initial reaction of ‘whoa, staying home with kids in a cover letter??’.

        Reply
      2. aebhel

        This. I mean, if LW is a woman, they’re going to figure that out pretty quickly (assuming that it’s not already obvious from the name in the application).

        Also, yeah, 12 years out of the workforce has to be explained somehow. Staying home to care for young children is a lot less red-flaggy than some other explanations I could imagine. LW isn’t framing her experience as a SAHP as job experience, merely stating what she’s been doing during that time.

        Reply
    6. Susanne

      The feeling of “giddyness” from doing organizational tasks is authentically the letter-writer’s. It just so happens she’s female. She might also be left-handed, or African-American, or use a wheelchair, or be from another country, or all kinds of things. Whatever. It has nothing to do with the fact that she as a person – not she as a Representative of All Females – really likes those things, and is self-aware enough to know that.

      Reply
      1. Lois Frankel Fan

        The feeling of “giddyness” from doing organizational tasks is authentically the letter-writer’s. It just so happens she’s female.

        THat’s like saying “displaying kitten photos on the desk is authentically the letter-writer’s. It just so happens she’s female.” It’s something women shouldn’t do if they want to corner office.

        Reply
    7. LNLN

      The letter writer judged her audience perfectly. She got the interview and got the job. It seems a little silly to criticize the letter at this point. It worked for the letter writer!

      Reply
    8. Broadcastlady

      Honestly, I am not a fan. Something about the word “giddy” turns me off. I think it may be the common expression (in my region) “giddy as a school girl.” That’s all I can picture, a squealing little girl, and then giddy comes off as negative in my mind. Overly excitable and not composed would be my first thoughts. Note, I’m a woman. Mid-30s.

      Reply
    9. Bess

      I’d love to see how you would explain “the letter sounded too female, so I don’t take it seriously and we shouldn’t interview this applicant” to a hiring manager.

      Reply
    10. SS

      Your assumption that enjoying administrative work + caring for children = woman is pretty outdated. The fact that you’re therefore unable to take the writer as seriously is troubling to say the least. I think you’d do well to spend a little time thinking about what beliefs you hold that might have led you to this conclusion.

      Reply
    1. hayling

      When I’ve written cover letters, it’s been really helpful for me to read other good ones for inspiration. My husband is a great writer and I have some of his. I actually saved one that a great employee wrote years ago — I called her for an interview immediately after reading it!

      Reply
  9. BePositive

    I personally wouldn’t write a letter as her as I don’t speak this way. Boy however I enjoyed it as it gave me insight of who she is and made me want to consider a canadiate as well. Of course the interview must have been great and solidified her position!

    Congratulations!

    Reply
  10. Katy

    I have a lot of mixed feelings about this, as I’m also a mom and that he influenced my career path in ways that I struggle to communicate during my job search process. But her enthusiasm is evident and she sounds like someone I would definitely want to work with!

    Reply
  11. plynn

    The great thing about this letter is that it deftly handles the “problem” of her advanced education – that’s often a red flag for assistant positions because it looks like you don’t really want to be an assistant, you just need a job and won’t stay for long. Here, she vividly describes all the things she loves about being an assistant – not tolerates or endures, but loves, and then talks about her education in a way that makes it clear that she’s passionate about it, but doesn’t expect it to part of her daily work.

    Reply
    1. Specialk9

      Exactly. It’s kind of brilliant. She transformed red flags into reasons to hire her. I’m just really thinking, wow, yeah, you rock!

      Also, I’ve been rewriting my own cover letter mentally. Mine is so staid and formal!

      Reply
  12. zora

    OMG, what a lovely letter!!! Also, she seems super charming and the nerding-out about French architecture makes me want to be her friend! Such great inspiration, thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      YES! Oh man, I got to that part and thought that I would feel an instant kinship — reminds me of writing in Spanish about spirituality in Iberian literature.

      Reply
  13. Cait

    Thank you for sharing this Alison and OP!

    I don’t know the OP but I felt a sense of warmth and familiarity by reading her letter and she sounds like someone I would want to interact with on a daily basis and be my face to outsiders.

    Best of luck in your new role OP!

    Reply
  14. Anastasia Beaverhausen

    Wow, no wonder you got hired, OP! This is a GREAT letter. Best of luck in your new position, they are lucky to have you!

    Reply
  15. Front of the House Manager

    PERFECT TIMING.
    I’m sitting at my kitchen table, writing the dreaded cover letter. (I’m embarrassed to say that I was once an amazing writer, but I think that I’m so fried from the past 4+ years at my stressful, dysfunctional job that it’s hard to write down good things about myself and why I would kick ass at a job.) I had another sample up on my laptop, when I refreshed and saw you posted a new sample. A+

    Reply
    1. Cruciatus

      Some of the best advice I got from Ask A Manager is to write a cover letter like you’re telling a friend why you’d be good at the job. This really helped me get the focus of my letter faster while also injecting some of my personality into it, since I’d obviously be less formal talking to a friend. It’s really shortened the length of time I agonize over everything. Once I started doing that I started getting more interview requests. Good luck!

      Reply
    2. JustAnotherNonProfitDirector

      I’ve been that brain-fried, burned out, can’t think of a single reason why you’re good at something person, and I write for a living! Focussing on why you want *this* job, rather than any job that will get you out of your current hole, can be really tough.

      Thinking about telling someone you know well why you’d be great at it is great advice. Actually doing it is even better – call or IM someone you trust, tell them why you want the job, why you’d be good at it and then write it down.

      Good luck, from a recent escapee.

      Reply
  16. Dani

    Great letter! It actually made me want to read on – with most cover letters, I have to force myself from the second paragraph on. I like the less formal tone that makes it feel almost like I’m in a conversation with the writer and lets her personality shine through. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  17. Anonymous Educator

    I regularly get asked for examples of good cover letters, and I’m always nervous about sharing them because PEOPLE STEAL THEM.

    As a former English teacher, I feel your pain here. My kids kept asking for model essays, and I held off for a long time. Then I showed them a couple of models, which some kids immediately plagiarized (as if I wouldn’t notice?).

    Reply
    1. Lissa

      plagiarizing an essay from one ….. you gave them? Wow – it’s not that I want people who cheat to better at it but seriously!

      Reply
    2. Drama Llama

      I learned a lot from reading model essays when I was in school. It’s difficult to know what is a good essay until you read multiple examples of them. If you don’t allow kids to read model essays I think you’re doing them a real disservice – particularly overseas students who are unfamiliar with essay writing or struggling students who don’t understand what makes a good essay (in terms of essay structure, tone, the ‘flow’ of your writing, organising your arguments cohesively, etc). Like art, there’s only so much theory you can teach about how to write.

      If the issue is plagiarism I would deal with it separately. My teacher made it clear to our class she knew the model essays well, if anybody stole them she would know immediately, plus she was strict about enforcing punishment for plagiarism. But don’t withhold a valuable learning material from everyone because of a small number of silly pupils who cheat.

      Reply
  18. AnotherAlison

    No matter the style, the important part of the cover letter (to me) was that it conveyed why she wanted to the job and why she would be a good fit.

    I don’t ever get cover letters for candidates. I don’t know if they don’t send them, or if HR doesn’t pass them on. (I’m just one of 4-5 people in our department interviewing them, typically). A good amount of the time, I’m interviewing someone and wondering why they want this job, and how they think their experience translates to the position. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, I’m still wondering that after the interview because they don’t have a good story for the first part, and don’t seem to understand the second part.

    Reply
    1. Wren

      Well, you have to admit that many of them want the job because they require calories and shelter and a job is necessary to pay for those things.

      Reply
      1. AnotherAlison

        Of course! The trick we all have to do is to figure out something else to say when that really is the only reason. I’ve interviewed several people whose unspoken (but very transparent) reason for looking at this job was being on a sinking ship, a recent layoff, getting blocked from promotions, not wanting yet another overseas role at Current Place. Those are all valid reasons, but none of them help me understand why you would be great for us.

        Reply
      2. Working Hypothesis

        Well, that is why they want A job. Why, out of all the available jobs, they have chosen to pursue THIS job, is a somewhat different question. Even in tight times, nobody applies to every job in every field that is available in their region… there has to be something that makes them pick and choose, even if it’s only “I am interested in a niche field and applying to every single job remotely connected to that field which is open within a thirty-mile radius.” So the cover letter’s usually meant to address, “Why do I want to obtain my calories and shelter by exchanging my labor at *this* particular task, for *these* particular people, instead of a different task for different people?”

        Reply
  19. Fabulous

    This is definitely an awesome example! I’m also thankful it’s an example of putting one’s cover letter in the body of the email. :)

    This letter makes me reminiscent of the time I used the phrase “I’m a stickler for grammar and spelling” in one of my cover letters, where I got a call back within 3 hours of submitting my application. My phone interviewer even said that phrase is what specifically made them call me!

    Reply
  20. Xarcady

    The tone of the letter strikes me as perfect for a position where you’d be interacting with all sorts of people–students, faculty, the media, donors, alumnae, the general public, politicians from the neighboring area, etc. The writer sounds like someone who could adapt to whatever communication challenges come her way.

    Reply
  21. CoffeeLover

    It’s funny that some people find this one really informal. I know this can he industry/region specific, but I found this one to be a lot more formal than the ones Alison has posted before! I was actually think this was a good example of a somewhat more formal letter (while still retaining some personality.

    Reply
  22. Adlib

    This is so great! Love it. Almost makes me wish I were job-searching just so I could try my hand at doing one for myself!

    Reply
  23. Rusty Shackelford

    For a second I thought Assistant to the Archmaester of the Citadel was the actual job title, like she was applying to a religious school or something, and I was like, coolest job title ever.

    Anyway. To me, the most important thing about this letter is that it explains why a former professor is interested in this position, and assures me that she’s not just trying to get her foot in the door. And she obviously had her audience in mind – the language may not appeal to me, but I can see why it would appeal to the Archmaester of the Citadel.

    Reply
    1. SpiderLadyCEO

      That would be such a great title to have on your resumé – Executive Assistant, 3 years, C-Suite Assistance, two years, Assistant to the Archmaester of the Citadel…

      Reply
    2. MoodyMoody

      I’m not a Game of Thrones fan, so I didn’t recognize the Citadel as a place in Westeros. I honestly thought of the military academy in Charleston!

      Reply
  24. Pam

    I love how she talks about experience in academia, and liking students. It a different world, and shows that she knows what she will be doing.

    Reply
  25. k.k

    I really like how much it captures her personality, I feel like I know exactly how she acts/sounds in person. That’s a plus for any position, but especially when hiring for a person you’ll be working so close with. A bad personality fit between an assistant and their director can be a disaster.

    Reply
  26. Shadow

    It’s fine if you’re looking for an assistant with a casual demeanor that wants to stay in her lane. I too would wonder if she can turn on “formal” or would be turned off if asked to do stuff outside of her role

    Reply
    1. e

      I actually think her paragraph on getting exciting about writing projects/other more stimulating tasks addresses this pretty well!

      Reply
      1. Gloucesterina

        She is trained in architectural history; academics are not exactly known for projecting a casual warmth in their professional writings, so my assumption would be that switching modes/formal registers would be easy for her!

        Reply
  27. SpiderLadyCEO

    Wait – can we put our cover letters directly in the email?? I have always attached my cover letter and put in the body of my email a brief introduction.

    If I were to put my cover letter in the body of my email, would I need to attach that cover letter in my application packet as well? If it’s the body of my email, will the company know that is my cover letter?

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      You can do it either way. It’s up to you. It will not matter.

      Frankly, I prefer attachments because they’re easier to forward, but people do it both ways and it won’t matter.

      But don’t do both — pick one or the other.

      Reply
    1. SpiderLadyCEO

      So then would you prefer it if we did a brief intro in the body, and then attached the packet, or cover letter in the body, then repeat the cover letter in the packet? I do try to put everything in one PDF packet, but I don’t want them to get annoyed with multiple copies of my cover letter!!

      Reply
        1. SpiderLadyCEO

          Oh, thank you so much! I was worried about that. I normally just write a “writing to apply to x, blah blah blah attached, thank you” in the body and then attach the packet with all requested application materials as a PDF.

          Glad to know that is OK!

          Reply
      1. Shadow

        If we’re getting super nit picky I don’t like cut and pasted cover letters in emails. And I prefer if the attachments are called [name].pdf. But it really doesnt matter as long as you don’t send attachments called resume.pdf/doc or the worst resumedraft.pdf/doc. Those really grate on me.

        Reply
  28. Cristina in England

    I love how the OP described her skills. Her tone is confident and sells the fact that many of the skills she has been using raising her children are completely transferable and relevant to an assistant job. I also love the way she confidently explains why she is applying for lower-level jobs than she has previously held (lower level to academics), which, if she used to teach at the university level, would be many managers’ first question.

    Reply
  29. EA in CA

    As the person who manages the recruitment for all Admin positions at our company (and avid AAM reader), I usually see 1-2 cover letters where the content taken from examples posted here. Either the whole cover letter or snippets are stolen from this site. I find it hilarious.

    Reply
  30. Beckie

    I haven’t seen many cover letters for admin assistant positions, but I like that this one specifically references the relationship between admin and director. That is such a critical part of the role — and of an individual’s fit for the assistant role.

    Reply
  31. DeeShyOne

    Excellent letter! What a way to demonstrate a bit of your personality and letting the prospective employer start wondering how you’d fit with the existing team.

    After having multiple cover letters I’ve written for myself, ripped apart and diluted to zero personality because of “helpful” different pairs of eyes, I think I’ll just go forth with confidence in myself and my ability. A couple of times my interviewers said my personality didn’t match the cover letter received. (and I didn’t secure those jobs)

    There was no “like” button, so I had to leave a comment.

    Reply
    1. Lynne

      Go forth! :) I get way better results showing some personality. Not everyone’s going to like you, and that’s fair enough, but *nobody* likes a boring personality-less piece of prose. You can’t please everyone; don’t even try.

      And engaging, well-written cover letters are rare enough that most hiring managers are going to be predisposed to like yours, out of the pile of blah they have to wade through. I totally see this as my secret weapon in the job market.

      Reply
  32. Anon to me

    Thanks for sharing. I always find these samples interesting because I am always more formal and it a good reminder that a causal tone can be appropriate. I am hoping that at some point in the future someone who mid and/or senior management might be willing to share to see if the more conversational tone works as well.

    Reply
  33. Venus Supreme

    I think this is an excellent example of a cover letter from someone re-entering the workforce. It’s addressed matter-of-factly without any apologies or justifications, and keeps the conversation moving forward, to what LW wants in the available role.

    I also appreciate how different this cover letter reads from the cover letter I personally use, which is totally OK because I’m sure my life and LW’s life don’t really overlap. It’s cool to read other people’s cover letters!

    Reply
    1. Venus Supreme

      I also like a little dash of personality in the cover letter. I landed my first-ever job offer with a paragraph included in the cover letter about me being called the ‘seagull whisperer’ at my old job… It was for an animal advocacy job. Know your audience!

      Reply
  34. Naruto

    This is a great letter. Given the OP’s background, I would have questions like “why now?” and “why this role?” — and this letter addresses them all.

    Reply
  35. Hiring Mgr

    Somewhat unrelated, but I chuckled that she specifically mentioned using Outlook reminders as an example of new organizing techniques :) I guess that’s how they roll in academia?

    Reply
  36. Anon anon anon

    I think it’s a great letter for the type of job and audience. I also like that it’s an example of how to address a resume gap. She’s matter of fact about it and briefly sums it up at the beginning of the letter. I get a lot of anxiety about how to discuss my resume’s shortcomings in a cover letter. So this is helpful.

    Allison and regular readers, are there any career change cover letters posted? Examples of how to apply for something that isn’t a linear fit with what you did before?

    Reply
  37. choppd

    I would like to express my appreciation to Alison for her thoughtfulness, smarts, generosity, and humanity. And to the participants in Ask a Manager. Y’all are also smart, thoughtful, and civilized! SO UNLIKE what is surfacing in the U.S. Y’all give me respite. Just had to say!

    And thank you, OP, for a great example for how to compose a unique cover letter. Glad you got the job!

    Reply
  38. Princess Cimorene

    I really really appreciate when you share these Alison, because it helps to remind me that an overly-stuff or robotic tone to cover letters that you are taught growing up just aren’t it. This one, and others you’ve shared feel real. And knowing that these are the types of letters that stand out, are encouraging. It feels so much easier to write in your own voice than to try to sound like some robotic professional who speaks in buzz-words. I’m not in the job market, and I sometimes wonder when I go back if I’ll be prepared, but things like this keep me encouraged.

    Reply
  39. Lauren

    I’d be really interested in hearing the non-US readers impression of this cover letter. Obviously this whole post is preceded with the advice of tailoring to your /own/ voice, but I’m somewhat surprised that so many people loved it whereas I’d be very hesitate to to send something so informal sounding in a job application, even if it uses phrasing I’d probably use in casual conversation. (E.g. I’d never use a forward slash in a cover letter the way it as used here.)

    It’s a bit like comparing the way you’d dress on a weekend (or even to work usually) to what you’d wear to an interview – it’s a stylised version and while not ‘false’ it’s definitely not a case of ‘be yourself!’ in the simplistic sense.

    Not critiscing this letter in any way (obviously, since it was so effective) but just wondering whether it’d be unwise for someone outside the US to be using this type of voice.

    Reply
  40. Katie

    When I was working in Staffing a guy sent in a cover letter that was verbatim one of the good examples on ‘Ask a manager’. I ended up forwarding the link to the ‘Ask a manager’ post and a think about plagiarism.

    Reply
  41. Ask a Manager Post author

    All comments on this post are now going through moderation in order to enforce the rules at the top of the post, so there will be a delay before additional comments post.

    Reply
  42. Lynne

    What a fantastic letter! I’m currently looking for an administrative assistant, and would interview this woman in a heartbeat!

    Reply
  43. Robin Sparkles

    I love this – I write in a similar fashion as you. I will further support Allison’s response to this that every time I wrote a cover letter that was more personal (or casual, fun, whatever adjective commenters are using) – I always got the interview. I think it adds a layer of confidence and shows the recruiters that you have a personality that shines through. And the reason I could write those cover letters is because I actually was legitimately interested in the job and truly felt I was a good fit (vs. desperately needing the job -nothing wrong with that but it was much more difficult to write the cover letter because I didn’t believe in what I was trying to write).

    Reply
  44. postscript

    LW, if it doesn’t work out at this job, we would love to interview you at my nonprofit! People who love details and getting them right and truly enjoy supporting others make for the best assistants ever and tend to grow in responsibilities and value to the organization over time. Best of luck to you and wish we had you here!

    Reply
  45. CoveredInBees

    Thank you for sharing this! I would want to interview this person. Also, as someone looking to re-enter professional life in a different role than before, this is helpful in figuring out my own framing.

    Reply

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