here’s an example of a great cover letter … with before and after versions

A reader recently sent me an example of a great cover letter that I want to share — and it even comes with a before version too, so you can see exactly how she improved it.

First, though, here are the caveats I’ve learned to give when sharing these:

  • The writer has allowed me to share this as a favor to me and to readers. 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 part of the point.
  • There is no single 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 receive letters every week from people telling me that moving in this sort of direction dramatically increased the number of interviews they were getting.
  • 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 show what the advice here can look like in practice.

And some context from the writer:

Since I first wrote you, I’ve had 13 interviews for 4 different jobs and 2 offers! I used your advice for literally every step of the process: resume, cover letter, interviewing, and negotiating. And now I have an offer with an extremely cool company to do extremely cool things! I couldn’t have designed a better fit if I’d tried, it’s a career I’ve been thinking about exploring for years, and the salary (which I negotiated using your advice!) is triple my last job! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I wanted to show you my pre-AAM and post-AAM cover letter attempts. Letter #1 was written in a day and was my first attempt after years off the market, but I’m a little embarrassed at how arrogant it was (“I clearly exceed your requirements and thus deserve the job!”). There were nine letters and three months between these, and #2 was my final one. For the record, #1 rejected me immediately; for #2, I got through all interviews and received such a positive rejection that I almost thought it was an offer until halfway through the email.

Here are the before and after versions, with identifying details changed for anonymity (we’ve turned her into both a space traveler and a time traveler).

Before Version

Here’s the before version. It reads like 95% of the cover letters out there, meaning that it mostly summarizes the candidate’s resume. 

I am writing to apply for the position of Behavior Change and Change Management Lead at the Climate Campaign for Mars. I have extensive experience conducting hypothesis-driven psychological research and strong quantitative research and analysis skills, and have presented my doctoral and postdoctoral research to both lay and scholarly audiences with great success.

I completed a PhD at the University of Jupiter, where I researched the ability to perceive gravity fields in both Martian and Jupiterian pilots, leveraging international collaborations across the University’s Martian and Jupiterian campuses to conduct relevant and high-impact cross-cultural research.  Since my research was of high practical importance to planetary safety, I worked with several government organizations to conduct gravity perception workshops and demonstrations.  As a result of raising awareness, nine Martian universities have since collaborated to improve planetary safety and promote a gravity perception training program.

After completing my PhD, I trained as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Saturn, where I acquired expertise in highly technical neuroimaging methods and honed my analytical skills.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of learning a new research field, I realized that my work felt less meaningful without some kind of practical impact.  I believe that the climate crisis requires urgent action from everyone; but as a psychologist, I also understand the difficulty of inducing behavioral change, and I am eager to apply my research skills to make a difference in the world.

With my ten years of conducting and disseminating research, I believe I more than meet the required qualifications for the role, and I am excited to take my research in a new direction that is both personally meaningful and helps build a sustainable future.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

After Version

Here’s the after version, which fleshes out the candidate by providing details that aren’t on her resume and gives us a real sense of what she’s like to work with and shows genuine enthusiasm. This isn’t a generic letter; it’s a letter about her.

Dear hiring team,

I was thrilled to see the Research Scientist position at the Time Travel Laboratory (TTL). I ran the first few research studies of my PhD on a Portal 560 and always loved how accessible it made time travel, so I’m excited to have the opportunity to share that experience!

I wasn’t the first person to use the P560 in my graduate school department but I probably was the first to read the entire manual, which made me “the P560 person” from then on: other students would constantly approach me for P560 advice or troubleshooting, and I was often asked to provide demonstrations whenever the department held tours. The former was one of my favorite parts of the PhD, since it usually sparked great discussions: I have fond memories of sketching out the portal specs with many a fellow student to work through their research design, and being fascinated that no two studies were ever the same. I derived a great sense of satisfaction from helping others solve their problems and understand what they could do with time travel, and I look forward to engaging with TTL customers similarly.

My research experience spans a variety of methods: I’ve designed, executed, and analyzed 15+ studies using portals, ray guns, and hoverboards, and used automated analysis software such as SPSS for statistics and Wallace for tesseracts. I’ve also written code for custom analyses: my first coding project when I taught myself Python was to replicate TTL’s own tesser analysis and see if the results matched up (they did). Education has always been a passion of mine; I’ve mentored several students throughout my academic career who went on to graduate school, and I thoroughly enjoyed engaging with clients as a consultant, especially during training workshops. I’ve become an informal go-to for knowledge sharing in most jobs I’ve had, to the extent that I documented some of my most frequently requested projects into how-to manuals.

While I’ve enjoyed my time in academia, my work has always felt less meaningful without some kind of practical impact. When my postdoctoral advisor transitioned out of academia, I took the opportunity to explore directions that I was passionate about, and also spent time volunteering in education. I want to use my expertise to make a meaningful impact, and I’m excited to support people using TTL products in awesome ways.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to discussing how I can contribute to Education Services at TTL.

{ 150 comments… read them below }

    1. the mango*

      It’s less than a full page. It’s a super standard length in all of ~3 fields I’ve worked in.

    2. KatKatKatKat*

      Maybe it seems long because of the format of the AAM website, but it’s a two-sentence intro, three substantive paragraphs, and a conclusory two-sentence paragraph. Completely normal length – not too long at all.

      1. the cat's pajamas*

        It seems long to me, too. Is there a recommended general length? I keep hearing about how hiring managers spend say 30 seconds looking at a resume, now it’s 15 or 6, are they going to really read a longer letter?

        I tend to aim for 3 paragraphs max and am a more concise writer. This particular oneis on the longer side, but even other online examples I’ve seen all seem longer than my usual. If I try to make them longer it feels like I’m just trying to pad it out and sounds fake to me for how I write in my particular voice.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I’ve been successful with a letter that went onto a second page. Just depends on how much you need to address. Someone making a career transition like this person is going to need a longer letter than someone making a purely lateral move.

        2. MassMatt*

          IMO There are two main variables on how much time I spend reading a cover letter. One is how complex the role is (not just how high on the hierarchy). The other is how interesting the letter is (not just interesting quirky but interesting as in “this person has skills I need or want”).

          Something like this is interesting and would get my attention, and maybe a second look at the resume.

          Your typical “Dear Sir or Madam” and repeating resume points–yes, maybe more like 30 seconds.

    3. Chilipepper Attitude*

      The first two sentences make you want to read the rest. It is engaging! It clearly shows how she thinks and operates! If it is too long for you, feel free to toss it in the “no” pile and that’s ok, a better employer will, and did, hire her!

      1. the cat's pajamas*

        I still think it’s good, I’m just curious about length as job seekers get lots of conflicting advice, plus it’s always nice to see other examples.

    4. Peanut Hamper*

      It’s less about length and more about the story it tells. The applicant is telling a story about how she has prepared for a role like this and fits the qualifications they’re asking for. If she is telling a good story, a slightly longer letter is just fine, as long as it is one page or less.

    5. Najek Yuma*

      This cover letter is 414 words. I went back and word-counted the cover letter I used for my current job… and it was 400 words.

      So I think it’s fine. As a hiring manager, I would have no issue reading this type of cover letter assuming their resume indicated they were at least a feasible candidate for the position. In fact, I normally read cover letters for even infeasible candidates, because when I hire it’s really rare to get cover letters at all!

    6. NYC Taxi*

      It would be too long in my industry where for the most part no one cares about a cover letter. My bigger issue with the letter is that I don’t want to go down memory lane about what you did in grad school where everything is geared towards you being supported to success; That can be one sentence in your cover letter, but then I want to hear about experience in the work world.

      1. Bookmark*

        Like your point about the length being somewhat industry specific, the references to grad school are also industry specific. This is clearly someone who’s been working in academia (note the reference to post-doc plus PhD program, which is really more like a job than school for a lot of it– LOL at being supported for success…) moving into an academic-adjacent research-type field. Academia experience is extremely relevant in this context.

        1. amoeba*

          Yup. My postdoc is definitely very relevant work experience (it’s really not school – you’re just employed as a scientist in an academic lab!), and so is my PhD. But then I’m in R&D in the sciences. I’m sure it’s different in other fields, but in mine that research is very highly relevant (to the point that a list of academic publications in usually a required part of applications, and you’re asked to do a presentation on your academic research for a lot of interviews).

      2. Antilles*

        The entire letter is about academic research and she’s applying to work in a research lab. In that context, describing her grad school research is EXTREMELY relevant because it ties right into the story that she’s telling and the job she’s applying for.

        In my industry (and it sounds like yours), no, it wouldn’t be appropriate to go into so much detail about graduate research. If I wrote a cover letter focusing on my graduate research from the late 2000’s, the reader would roll their eyes – both because that’s 15 years ago and also because the job I’m applying for doesn’t do that kind of research. So instead, my cover letter should focus on the big engineering project I’m heading up right now and my role in the huge nine-figure highway renovation project a couple years ago and etc. But equally, that sort of cover letter might not be too useful in applying for OP’s research assistant role.

        As Alison posted, the point of this cover letter isn’t to provide something you straight copy, it’s to illustrate the value of providing a cover letter tailored to the role in question rather than simply a rote regurgitation of your resume.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Besides, any graduation of St. Mary’s or Thirsk is bound to be considered if there are any time travel considerations with the company’s product!

      3. Rainy*

        I read “…in grad school where everything is geared towards you being supported to success…” and laughed until I cried. I guess that’s some people’s experience of grad school, but I am absolutely dying of curiosity to know what you got your grad degree in where that’s the case!

        That is 100% not the case in my field. Grad school is sink or swim, and you could die in the stacks and no one would notice until your corpse started to smell. And then they’d be mad at you because you hadn’t arranged for someone to teach your classes.

        1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

          Same. I have 25 years of work experience to compare it to, and my current grad school classes are… not that. The licensure I earned in a previous grad school program literally had a class in the first semester to weed people out of the program.

          1. Rainy*

            Yeah, I read the original comment to my husband, who was in a fine arts field (I was Hum), and he also laughed immoderately. He never went for the MFA after seeing what MFA students went through.

            I suppose maybe MBAs are “supported to success” due to the tuition costs and expectation of ROI, but I can’t think of any academic programs that did much in the way of supporting grad students.

  1. Pippa K*

    I’m interested to see this contrast! That first cover letter is perfectly good in the academic context – if anything, it’s a little short for a cover letter for a tenure-track application, but the tone and content are really normal and not at all off putting (based on my experience, anyway, and I’ve literally seen a couple hundred by this point). The second letter is obviously *not* for an academic position and it’s clear how the changes make it more effective and engaging for this purpose. Such a good practical example of tailoring to the situation!

    And congratulations, OP! Well done.

    1. NotBatman*

      Yes! The academic application materials and the non-academic materials are so wildly different from each other, it’s good to have this as an example to go by.

      1. chriseay*

        So true! I’ve written and read many successful cover letters over the last 10+ years that have read very similarly to the first one. It’s hard for me to imagine writing a letter like the second and will have to be something I think about both when I’m writing letters in the future and the next time I’m on a hiring committee.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Interesting – based on the fake job titles, it seems the first one was for a non-academic position and the second for a research scientist.

      1. Letter Writer (LW/OP)*

        Yes, they were both non-academic positions! Letter #1 was written not very long after leaving academia, so unsurprising that it looks like a pretty standard academic application. ;-)

    3. Sloanicota*

      This made me really think because the first letter definitely sounds a lot like mine, and I always thought “a bit flat, but professional” was good, and now I’m trying to figure out how the heck to sound a bit more warm and personal. But also as a woman I resent having to sound relatable and friendly all the time sigh (obviously has nothing to do with OP who wrote a good letter and deserves good things).

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        I don’t think it is about being relatable and friendly. I think it is about showing who you are and what you can do in a way that is less clear from your resume. You don’t have to have her tone. But you can make it sound more like you.

      2. Lunar Caustic*

        The “after” version is an excellent cover letter and I don’t want to take anything away from that–but I also think that Alison has a personal preference for more personal-sounding cover letters and that the more relaxed tone would not fly in all industries (like mine). I’ve done my share of hiring and an impersonal but grammatically correct and clear cover letter from a qualified individual automatically goes on my list for a second look. So hopefully it’s more like “know your audience” and less “perform femininity to my specifications, plebe”?

        1. NeedRain47*

          My cover letters are more like the second one in content, but less so in tone. You can say why you, personally, are right for the job without being casual, and it works. I’ve gotten at least an initial interview for every job I’ve applied for in the past five years. That did not happen when my cover letters were basically resume in sentence format instead of bullet points.

        2. TX_trucker*

          I think good stories are captivating in every industry. But not everyone knows how to tell a good story. In the transportation field most of the cover letters I review are boring and factual (miles driven, vehicle endorsements, etc). We are neither a “personable” industry or a feminine one. But I ocassionally get a cover letter like the second one that talks about their passion for driving or turning wrenches. Those letters always make it to at least the maybe pile. Given a choice between similarly qualified mechanics and drivers, I always hire the ones who love the industry.

          1. sookie st james*

            I think this is the key – even in a field that has nothing to do with writing or sending emails/letters, a cover letter can make you memorable to the hiring manager. It’s a tiny jolt of personality, and people who struggle with writing can still learn tricks to make their cover letters convey something deep than job history bullet-points.

            If your cover letter doesn’t contain anything qualitatively different from the resume then it’s not serving it’s intended purpose.

            Not in love with the use of ‘feminine’ as terminology to describe this but I do think I understand what you’re getting at.
            The original definition of ’emotional labour’ applied to (mostly female-dominated) jobs where performing appropriate emotions and behaviour is an integral part of the role (flight attendants, wait staff, etc) and I think it would be true to say that many jobs require some degree of ‘performance’, starting with the hiring process. You put on your professional mask and, where appropriate/needed, express personability or excitement (even if it’s feigned) in order to get yourself hired over the next person.

      3. J*

        I had the same reaction – the first example is very similar to my own cover letter, and while I by no means think that mine is a particularly great example of a cover letter, I’ve had a pretty good hit rate at getting interviews and jobs from it. I wonder if it’s a difference in the market (I’m UK based and working internationally but not in the US).

      4. hellohello*

        Warmth can be good in a cover letter, but I thing the primary reason the second cover letter works better than the first (for a non-academic position) is that it doesn’t just reiterate a resume, it presents specific reasons and examples of why the person is good at and a good fit for the work they are applying for. So instead of saying “I have experience with P560”, they said “I enjoyed learning P560 and dove into it with great enthusiasm, to the point I because the go-to person to answer questions about the process and help trouble shoot problems.” It’s less important that the letter sounds friendlier, and more important that it shows, not tells, that the applicant knows their stuff and is excited to do this specific work.

        1. NeedRain47*

          also, if writing skills are relevant to the job, I’m gonna think the second person is a better writer.

        2. DataSci*

          Interesting! I absolutely did not pick up on that difference, because for me it was swamped by the much more obvious tone difference. I’m relieved that “chatty and warm” isn’t actually what’s being highlighted. Specificity I can do.

        3. AABBCC123*

          But is that what the cover letter is for? I thought the resume was for showing your experience, and the cover letter was to explain things that weren’t on the resume?

          1. hellohello*

            I’ve always read Alisons advice as, use the resume to list out all relevant skills, experiences, etc., and use the cover letter to dive more deeply into a small handful of examples of how those skills and experiences make you a good candidate for the job. So you’d every relevant certification you have on your resume, and in the cover letter talk about a specific time when you, for example, took initiative to get one of those specific certifications and then used it to run a successful program for your department. You wouldn’t have room to include that level of detail in your resume, nor would you be able to provide it for every single thing on your resume, but the cover letter is a chance to go in depth on a few especially relevant facts about you.

          2. TX_Trucker*

            I agree with the comment from hellohello. For example, if my job posting requires experience with the Cummins engine, I expect to see that on a resume. In the cover letter, I would like to see something about the why/how of their experience with that particular engine, especially as it relates to efficiency, cost-savings, etc. I don’t need a cover letter to tell me something completely unrelated to the resume … just an expansion of something that is relevant to the position.

      5. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        When I’m coaching friends on writing cover letters, I tend to ask questions like, “What did you love doing at [job]? How is that relevant to this role? How can you tell a story about how you, personally, are a great fit for this job?”

        My story used to be about how I liked the challenge of giving good tech support — figuring out what the client/customer/whatever needed, and and how to tailor that answer to the person, if it was explaining rather than just fixing. Or sometimes about a situation where the person asks for X and we don’t offer X, but by digging in I could figure out that actually they were trying to do Y, and Z can accomplish Y and is actually a better solution than X would’ve been anyway, and we can do Z.

        More recently, my story has been a long the lines of, “I’m the person who will jump in and learn your weird, gnarly, arcane system/software that only one person really understands, and figure out how to make it more accessible to the rest of the team, and maybe improve the process while I’m at it.” I use more professional language than that, though.

    4. No Longer Looking*

      That’s fascinating! Not coming from an academic background I found the first letter very dense and hard to read, certainly not with any speed. I’d probably have glazed over on it midway through paragraph two, skimmed quickly for keywords, and moved on.

  2. Bella*

    Obviously the second is more engaging, but I also get the sense these are for two very different positions? In particular I think referencing leaving academia specifically to work on climate change directly is a useful thing to say for roles that involve that rather than more generally alluding to working on issues with practical impact. In my experience, orgs working on that like to know they’re hiring people with that passion. But of course it’s only relevant if that’s what the job is.

  3. Hi, I’m Troy McClure*

    It’s a lovely letter. I will say, though, it feels like the expectation for producing a beautiful cover letter like that, every time, maybe hundreds of times, when the majority will only get a glance (at best), feels so over-the-top these days. Definitely a “dance, peasant, dance” vibe to it.

    1. Hi, I’m Troy McClure*

      To be clear, though – the letter is great – but looking at it and thinking of all the applications the average person fills out just seems overwhelming.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        I think the part that make this letter work (the obvious enthusiasm) is something that is not always going to be easy to muster. Sometimes a job application is just a job application and you’re applying because the options are otherwise limited, not because you’re really excited about that particular opportunity.

        But when you do find a good match between your skills and a job that sounds interesting or exciting to you, it’s worth doing this extra bit on the cover letter.

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          When I have the luxury of choice, I use this as a screen for myself — if I can’t write muster the enthusiasm that makes a good letter then it’s not a job I should spend time applying to. (For me, getting together resumes and cover letters is an incredibly difficult chore and my field cares a lot about a good story.)

        2. Sloanicota*

          Yeah, it’s a bit of a balancing act, because there’s relatively few jobs you’re going to be this plugged into, and I do think it’s probably more efficient to focus on them – but at the same time if you need work it can also be a bit of a numbers game and you may not have this level of connection to everything you’re applying to.

        3. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

          Suggest thinking about this more broadly. While an applicant may or may not be enthusiastic about a specific position, hopefully there are things about the position that they are enthusiastic about. E.g., “I enjoy the challenge of getting a spreadsheet to do exactly what I want it to do.”

          You are showing the various ways in which you would be a good fit, and it might not be as simple as “From the time I was in kindergarten I always dreamed of being a llama groomer.”

      2. Hlao-roo*

        Definitely industry-dependent, but putting in the effort to write a beautiful cover letter (and applying for jobs you are reasonably well-qualified for) will greatly cut down on the number of applications you’ll need to send out. Again, there may be industries that don’t put much stock in cover letters and a significant portion of hiring managers don’t read them, or industries that are so inundated with job-seekers that even with an amazing cover letter your chances of getting a job offer are near-zero. But in other industries, it could be a difference between sending out 100 applications with meh cover letters vs sending out 10 applications with well-crafted cover letters during a job search.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I wonder if it’s partly that lack of desperation that makes this type of candidate stand out, kind of like “trying too hard” on a date. You will come off as more relaxed and confident, two things our culture highly values.

      3. NeedRain47*

        Quality over quantity, and you don’t have to fill out that many.
        Also, maybe it doesn’t look like it, but once you’ve written a few you get faster and its less effort. use the same phrasing with different examples, cut and paste etc., and it doesn’t take anywhere near as long as it does the first couple.

      4. MassMatt*

        Personalizing letters for different jobs is a hassle, yes, though I found it helped to have some templates and phrases/stories I could re-use without re-writing the whole thing from scratch.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          Yeah, there comes a point where it’s close to impossible to write something entirely fresh if you’re applying for a lot of similar jobs and your examples are the same. I still tweak so that I can emphasize different parts or outcomes of the story depending on the individual job, but will often start by cutting and pasting a paragraph I’ve used before.

    2. Lola*

      I completely agree. Trying to come up with that level of engagement and enthusiasm when you may be applying for perhaps many jobs is a job unto itself, and so often the letter just goes into the wind, never to be spoken of again.

      1. Annie*

        I do think part of the trick of writing this type of cover letter is becoming accustomed to, and developing the skill of, describing in general what about your background and your professional identity makes you a good fit for the type of role you’re applying for. The specific examples might vary from application to application, but you can develop some shorthand by, e.g., knowing that you’re a great fit for roles that require an academic background in X but now being very comfortable leveraging that background to help non-experts learn and grow.

      2. redflagday701*

        I think the trick is to reserve your all-out, bespoke cover letters for the positions you’re really and truly interested in. But it’s not ideal that strong writers benefit from the weight our typographically biased culture places on writing, even when writing talent isn’t required to perform the job in question well.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I think this all the time about articulate people in general. There are so many other forms of intelligence but it’s not going to be recognized if you’re not also well spoken (or written, as you say) and somewhat engaging. We kind of do a disservice to people whose brains may be fabulous but not wired that way.

          1. redflagday701*

            I have no idea if it’s true, but I always think about something I read awhile back: that dyslexia is only an impairment, rather than evidence of a different mode of thinking, in a culture that prioritizes linear communication the way ours does.

        2. NeedRain47*

          It evens out about interview time. I’m an excellent writer. I absolutely suck at spontaneously responding to anything.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      In modern times, we tend to view assigning people a role (e.g. “You shall be a back-end coder, Falling, as your father before you”) as a sign of a dystopia. (Even though a society with fixed roles where you know exactly what is expected of you from birth to death is one humans often enjoy.) As we introduce more choice into the situation–I can decide I want to time travel llamas to Mars, companies can decide that they want to look for anyone with time-traveling Martian llama qualifications–then some form of sorting is going to enter into it on both sides, as I get to evaluate different jobs and they get to evaluate different candidates.

      If you focus in on jobs where you will be the only qualified applicant, or one of a few, your materials can be adequate. If you focus on jobs that a lot of people are excited about, conveying that excitement yourself is a way to stand out from all the other people who want this job.

    4. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      I get the feeling that highly specialized cover letters are for positions where job seekers aren’t applying for tens or hundreds of jobs. Since working in an office and having basic admin assistant type jobs, I’ve applied to 150+ jobs each time I’ve job hunted and while they all didn’t include cover letters, the ones that did, I wrote a generic “form” cover letter for whichever type of specific job I was applying for (admin assistant, receptionist, dispatcher, etc) and then tailored it slightly based on the job posting. I would obviously include the name of the company, the position, and then tweak the statements in the letter to flow better based on what the organization was looking for (if they emphasized customer service, I played up those roles I’ve had in the past; if they were looking more for data entry, I skewed heavy on those). I also threw in anything personal about the company, if I knew it either personally or by the website, etc.

      I generally have had people impressed that I bothered with a cover letter and have had people compliment me on the writing, but really, it’s crafting one good letter and then in my case, tweaking it to best fit what I needed then. If I were applying to jobs that were niche or were highly limited in the applicants that were qualified for it, I’d take more time to craft a different letter for each position.

      1. Middle of HR*

        I work in HR. There are specific areas that I have strong experience in, so I tend to apply for jobs which want that experience. My cover letter has been pretty much the same in terms of body paragraphs talking about my approach to areas X and Y. But I’ll replace Y with A or B if those are more relevant. My closing is also standard. I use my intro to talk about the company, so that means I’m customizing only two to fine sentences in the whole thing. And I get a lot of interviews!

      2. Mid*

        I’m genuinely curious: why would you apply to “150+ jobs each time [you’ve] job hunted” as opposed to fewer positions that you actually care about?

        I’m not like a super high level specialist in a niche job where people are begging for my candidacy or anything. I work in the legal field in a support role, and while I’m specializing now, even when I was fresh out of school and looking for anything with a paycheck, I couldn’t imagine applying to 150+ jobs at once. There aren’t enough offices in my city to apply to that many.

    5. Samwise*

      You don’t have to start anew every time.

      You could re-use virtually all of this letter with tweaks to fit the specifics of the job posting. If you’re looking at similar positions, then not much work to revise it. In fact, after tweaking to fit 3 or 4 different positions, I bet you would have a set of 7 to 10 paragraphs with different specifics to use or leave out — choose the two or three most pertinent, make sure you have the correct employer name, done.

      It’s a terrific letter, it has a *voice* — which not everyone can do, but everyone can emulate the spirit of this letter, which is to show specific details about the LW’s experience, what they are good at, what they enjoy.

      Even if you are not a great writer, you can get closer to this kind of voice, or a voice appropriate to you. It will mean a LOT of revising. And you might need help. It will take time. But then you will have it and can use and re-use it.

      1. RagingADHD*

        Exactly. People at different companies aren’t comparing cover letters. It doesn’t have to be totally unique.

        The hundreds of employers may be different, but *you* are the same person, with the same experiences. And presumably you are applying to roles that have some kind of overlap. So you tell the same basic story with slightly different details that make it relevant to the specific job description.

        And then as you go along, you build up a portfolio of letters to choose from, so it gets even easier.

    6. Peanut Hamper*

      If you are applying to hundreds of jobs, you are not doing a targeted job search. And be honest, how much do you really care about any of those jobs that you’re applying for? Not much, if at all.

      This is about finding openings that you are enthusiastic and doing what it takes to put yourself above and beyond all the other candidates.

        1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

          Or are passionate about a particular business/role. I’ve worked several jobs where I enjoyed it, enjoyed the company, but was happy to move on to another job and another company. I apply to lots of jobs and at the very least, check out the company and the position to see if they’re something I would be comfortable working at and doing. If something seems off or objectionable, I just don’t apply to those.

          It’s unrealistic for everyone to have a high level of enthusiasm about every job that they apply for. While I’m all for people enjoying what they do and being passionate, that’s not the reality for everyone, especially at varying times in their lives.

        2. Middle of HR*

          Which is why I tell friends who are in need a role as soon as possible to focus if making their resume shine. Many jobs don’t require a cover letter, and I’ve seen good results in applying to those without one. But in cases where there is a need for a cover letter, having a template that is Very Good can help put you over the top. If applying to everything you can, you might just need two or three letters (one for each type of role, so back when I first started out I used to have a letter for office management jobs, and one for customer service, for example). But I still did more editing for jobs I was excited about.

        3. Peanut Hamper*

          If you need the money, you take the job you can find, and then spend your time finding the job that you want.

          Just because you take a job doesn’t mean you’re stuck there forever.

        4. Emmy Noether*

          And for people who are so highly specialized that there are not a lot of job openings for them. Luckily, then the candidate pool also tends to be small, so the chances of getting any one job are much higher.

        5. Bobi*

          no offence, but if this post just isn’t for you, there’s really no reason to feel the need to comment. Sometimes you just aren’t the target audience.

          If you are in the “apply to everything without any discrimination out of desperation” phase, this isn’t the post for you. And that’s OK.

      1. Letter Writer (LW/OP)*

        I’m the LW, and this is absolutely it — I wrote this kind of letter for the positions I was excited about but my other cover letters were more like the first (although hopefully still a little more improved and personable), because I really struggled to write in that tone when I wasn’t as excited. The TTL letter didn’t feel that hard to write because I just needed to put my enthusiasm into words. :)

  4. Annie*

    The Wrinkle in Time reference made me swoon, so just wanted to let OP know it didn’t go unnoticed ;).

    I know Allison always says that these letters are just an example, warns people not to copy them, etc., but I will say that in this particular example it’s much easier to separate out the warmth, the tone, and the approach from the specific content. Maybe that’s indeed because the reference are so fictional and give readers an opportunity to open our imaginations?

    1. Jojo*

      When I hit the Wrinkle in Time reference, I was like, You’re Hired!

      LW, thank you for sharing this with us. It’s interesting to see how much your tone changed from the first to the second. Well done.

    2. Parenthesis Guy*

      Everyone knows that real tesseract engineers use Murry though. I guess Wallace is a good start.

    3. Texan In Exile*

      If this were actually on paper and the letter writer had included a piece of string – I probably would have hired her sight unseen.

      1. Amy*

        Yes! Wallace (or Murray) for tesseracts!! And I loved the 2nd letter. Wishing LW much happiness & success in her new job

    4. Walk on the Left Side*

      Came here to say same. I hit “and Wallace for tesseracts” and shed a tiny glistening tear of absolute joy. :)

  5. ecnaseener*

    I hope space travel will join chocolate teapot painting and llama grooming in the AAM lexicon. I got a kick out of the list including portals, ray guns, hoverboards, and SPSS!

        1. Letter Writer (LW/OP)*

          I am so pleased by this because my first analogy was “LiarsCake for portals”, but couldn’t resist the tesseract reference!

  6. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    I love seeing the difference, but as always with these I find myself a bit puzzled that I have never once been asked for a cover letter and only once have I even had an option to include one. At least I’ll know what to do if I ever need one, I guess.

    (That said, reading resumes, I usually bemoan the lack of cover letters)

    1. ecnaseener*

      You always have the option – make it the first page of your resume if they only have space for one file.

      1. Najek Yuma*

        This is exactly what I did when I applied for my current position – made the cover letter the first page of my resume file, because there was nowhere to upload a cover letter separately.

  7. Tuesday*

    I wonder if the importance of an excellent cover letter is partly industry-dependent. I tend to phone it in with mine, I’ll admit, but having been responsible for hiring at several different places I feel like I would never let a hiring decision or even an interview decision come down to who had a better cover letter. A terrible one with tons of typos might get you disqualified, but other than that it’s not really something I even pay attention to. But I could see that might be different if I was filling really in-demand roles with tons of applicants, which was never the case! If only four or five people even apply for a role it’s probably less important.

    Just interesting to observe. I do really like this one !

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      Yes, cover letters do seem industry dependent. I’ve been working in my field over 25 years and have never sent or received one (technology sales).

    2. Hlao-roo*

      I feel like I would never let a hiring decision or even an interview decision come down to who had a better cover letter.

      I’ve never been on the hiring side so take with a grain of salt, but my understanding was that the resume and cover letter are used to decide who to phone screen/interview, and then the interview determines who you hire.

      1. Najek Yuma*

        In my current role or my 2 jobs ago role, I don’t do the initial resume screening. So cover letters are a nice view into the candidate before I talk to them as the hiring manager, but not a deal-breaker/maker one way or another.

        In my last role, however, I was the whole hiring department for my team and would get 100+ applications for each role. A decent cover letter would definitely make a marginal candidate stand out and get them an interview, as long as their resume meant they could at least plausibly do the job. It was also great for explaining why people in Minnesota were applying to my Florida-based in-office job, or why someone with 10 years as a chef was applying to my llama grooming role.

        So great candidates are probably getting looks either way, but marginal candidates or candidates with something “weird” going on (like location or career changes) can absolutely be helped significantly by a cover letter.

    3. hbc*

      I obviously can’t say whether I’ve overlooked stellar candidates because of blah cover letters, but I’ve definitely interviewed people whose resumes were blah only because they brought out specifics and enthusiasm in the cover letter.

      I mean, first of all, I know you’re not application bombing if it clearly took you more time than filling in the blanks for company, position, and relevant experience on your Standard Cover Letter. And if I’ve got three dozen resumes that all include 2-5 years experience with P560, the person who convinces me that they did more than run the P560 once a quarter is getting a call.

    4. WoodswomanWrites*

      Yes, context matters. I work in a field where writing is a major part of my role, and my cover letters were essentially writing samples. They needed to be compelling and tailored for each position. Fortunately, I had some boilerplate that I could tweak for each job.

      1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

        Ah. I wonder how much context dependent these are. I have never written or seen a cover letter outside AMA, but I’m in a technical field that is VERy hard to recruit for, so we might get 20 applicants of whom 2 might actually be callable based on the resume… And that’s if you squint.

        1. iliketoknit*

          Yeah, I’m in a job where we’re usually inundated with applicants. Cover letters are required and the hiring committee notices when they’re not provided – if a resume is really truly amazing we might think about moving that person on to an interview, possibly, but we generally really want to know why the person wants to be at our office specifically, what they understand the job to be, and why they want that job/would be good at it. Obviously you go into all that stuff in more detail in an interview, but the cover letter can lose you the opportunity to get an interview at all, because we’re going to have to cut a lot of people right off the bat.

  8. Hiring Mgr*

    I think it’s great that you help colleagues out with their P560 issues, but be careful not to get pigeonholed as the “P560 support person” if that’s not your primary job function. Other than that awesome cover letter

    1. Jessica*

      Well, that’s definitely good general advice, but I’m not too worried about this LW. If she finds that helping others troubleshoot their P560 issues is taking too much of her time and energy and that she’s perceived by everyone as their in-house P560 support, she can always just use those skills to go back in time and correct the problem by being less helpful.

  9. Aries Remington*

    Having been on several academic librarian search committees, I would absolutely love to read the second letter as my field tends have dry-as-dust and bland cover letters. The second letter hits all the marks we typically seek — initiative, collaboration, and communication skills. The candidate is telling me up front why they want the position and what they can bring to the position. How the candidate addresses the specific essentials and functions of the job should be in the resume/CV.

  10. Nathan*

    I love this. It’s exactly what I coach mentees on all the time. The hiring manager has a stack of applications like the “before.” Anodyne. Perfectly safe. Undifferentiated. And there isn’t time to interview all of them. Maddening.

    But once there’s one or two like the “after” that sound like an actual human being who could be part of the team and making a real contribution… that’s like a light at the end of the hiring tunnel. Instant interview offer.

  11. Sloanicota*

    I think this is a great example of how sometimes people at the top of the curve can think about raising the bar on these things – so much of cover letter guidance is aimed at people who are just hoping to get to the “before” quality, but here’s an example of taking one that was basically pretty solid and improving upon it. It’s like the 300 level course – love that.

  12. Lacey*

    It’s awesome to see the before and after – and it’s such a good transformation!

    Congrats on your new job!

  13. Sassenach*

    I am not crazy about this cover letter either but …it worked for her! So, I have to put my first impression aside and dig a bit deeper. Congratulations LW!

  14. Jane*

    Ok first of all, that “after” cover letter is amazing. But second of all, does this make anyone else wonder if this time travel/space travel cover letter could be REAL in 1,000 years?! That’s what I kept thinking. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Turanga Leela*

    This is a great letter. The enthusiasm comes through, and it’s not too informal–I’m in a formal field, and I could use something close to this.

  16. Jammin' on my planner*

    Congrats to the LW on the offers. Tripling your salary is amazing! I get a lot out of these types of letters because they really demonstrate in action what your guidance means, Alison. Thank you both!

  17. ChemistryChick*

    Well done, LW! Thank you for being gracious enough to allow Alison to share this. Congrats on your offers!

  18. sookie st james*

    great letter!

    I think people (in the comments here, but also in response to advice more generally) can get stuck on the details – ‘what if I don’t have an anecdote about being the go-to person for a piece of information integral to the role?’ ‘what if I don’t have a list of 15+ space-travel software tests I’ve executed?’ or even ‘what if I’m just not a skilled writer?’.

    You don’t need to write beautiful prose for a cover letter to be good, you just need to learn how to identify what information people want to read and how to order that info to keep them engaged (and I do think that can be learned!) So if anyone’s feeling frustrated about how to apply this advice, here’s a (overly simplified) breakdown of how this could be helpful for a variety of roles:

    1) warm greeting / introduction to your application for the job (essentially a more engaging way of saying “hi I’m sookie and I’m applying for the position of AAM commenter”)

    2) point of connection: an anecdote, story, personal characteristic, or interesting experience with the position/key task within the job description/the industry that has led you to want this job or feel some connection to the company. This will probably touch on your skills or talent (e.g. OP includes examples of being the ‘point person’ for their skill that touches on some of their research and teaching experience) but it isn’t a place to start listing qualifications or everything that falls under ‘experience’.

    3) This is where you summarise your experience but in a qualitative way – ignore the bullet points on your resume, what are the most important skills you’ll need for this job? If you’re moving from one field to another and your resume looks more like a rocket engineer’s than an alien interpreter’s, this is where you can explain how your experience with rockets also taught you valuable interpretation skills and where you discovered your passion for your desired field. It fleshes out the bullet points on a resume, essentially telling the story of how you got from one place (your old jobs) to another (wanting the job you’re applying for).

    4) summary of why you want the job, are a good fit, and excited about the role at this particular company

    AAM has wonderful resources so this comment is probably entirely redundant but I thought it might be helpful to have this zoomed-out perspective in the comments for anyone who feels like this doesn’t apply to them.

    1. SimpleAutie*

      This is nice. Even though I have scoured the site it’s still (always!) helpful to have a breakdown along with examples from the exemplar that are the thing!

      Specifically point 3 helped me suddenly grok it and I’m rewriting my cover letter tonight. Thank you!

    2. bamcheeks*

      My advice for people trying to work this out is, “OK, imagine I’m your auntie or your friend asking you why you are applying for this job. Don’t give me the professional “With 5 years of experience in oat polishing, I am looking to further my” spin, tell me as if I’m someone who cares about YOU and what YOU want to do.” That can really help you get into the mindset of, “WELL, I’m excited because they have this GREAT …”

  19. triplehiccup*

    Agreed. I’ve done 2 job hunts since I started writing AAM-type cover letters; in each, I applied for one job and got it.

  20. Alan*

    Long ago, when I was early-career, someone gave me some really good advice, which was to let my personality out. When people see boilerplate, they instinctively get bored and resistant to the message. When they see personality, they have stronger feelings. They won’t always be *good* feelings, and some people just won’t like you, but no one will be bored and a much larger fraction of people will actually listen to what you’re saying and want to buy into it.

  21. Sally*

    I’m so glad in Tech it’s not required to write a cover letter to get a job (I got hired just by using LinkedIn’s Quick Apply feature and standing out in the interviews). The first one reads good to me, although the second is better, but having to write 20 individual cover letters sounds torturous to me.

    On another note though, I highly recommend ChatGPT for helping to write up good, STAR following answers to prep for behavioural questions. I entered in my version and asked it to rewrite it, it did it and made it better. Sometimes I needed to adjust or remove assumptions it made, but even it took the pain out of all my prep for interviews.

  22. Tumbleweed*

    This is probably an unpopular opinion on here but…I really don’t like this style of cover letter writing. I can’t quite put my finger on why – enthusiasm and some kind of personality and/or warmth are good to show sure, and the content is more or less fine, but the tone is so far amped up from how a real person would actually talk that it just doesn’t hit for me (and I guess if you really did talk like this all the time I’d find you insufferable to work with so I’m also not going to hire you)

    This tone has a tendency to meander and not say a lot so ramble and talk about something for a long time without particularly adding anything new or just saying nothing (like jeez this is a lot of words to express ‘i excelled with this platform during school’) which is…boring but in a different way to the first example. I think I prefer a more concise style of writing and this kind of thing strays into purple prose for me.

    Obviously all very personal preference.

    Worth noting, some of my reaction to reading these kind of cover letters on here is essentially “wow this is very American” lol – I can’t quite explain exactly what makes me have that reaction either though. So think there is some different places norms in play, this one is pretty tame but some examples of cover letters written like this would make you sound borderline insane here I think.

    1. Still*

      Of course it’s culture-dependent and this tone wouldn’t be appropriate in every context (I’m in Europe so it does read a tad over-the-top), but to me, “I excelled with this platform during school” doesn’t say much. In the letter, the LW actually gives examples that show in what way they stood out and paints a picture that makes it easy to imagine what it might be like to work with them. It might be “a lot of words” but I think it coveys much more than just “I excelled at a thing”. It’s not just what, it’s how. I think the what is for the resume, the cover letter is for the how.

    2. ral*

      I believe AAM has said many times that her cover letter advice is US-specific. Not really fair to come in and criticize a US-specific cover letter for not adhering to what you’d expect in a different culture.

      1. allathian*

        Agreed. That said, Alison’s advice’s excellent for anyone who’s been raised/educated elsewhere and who’s looking for a job in the US. There are also lots of international corporations with headquarters in the US where the expectations for things like cover letters align more with US norms. So it’s good to know about the differences, even if the advice isn’t always on point where you are.

        Obviously if I were looking for a new job in Finland, I’d check local advice on how to write a good cover letter and resume/CV.

    3. sookie st james*

      I think you’d be surprised by how the tides are shifting towards more ‘American’ styles of communication in many fields*. Granted, I’m in marketing (in a writing role specifically), so cover letters are actually a very good way for us to directly express our skills, but I have felt a lot more expectation for applicants to be *very* enthusiastic and personable in that way we Europeans/English folks can sometimes baulk at.

      My own cover letter is not how I talk in real life – it’s a little less effusive than the example above, maybe, but essentially subscribing to the same principle of conveying passion, interest, and energy.

      *I’m from the UK, living in Europe, and this is true for my social circles in both countries, across fields such as digital media, tech start ups, design, and FMCG marketing.

  23. squeakrad*

    Given I teach undergrads I would love to see an example of a cover letter before and after for a new graduate. Most of my students are using chat GPT to do a first draft and then revise it to be more specific.

  24. Bazzalikeschasingbirds*

    Made me smile. The second letter has energy, curiosity and someone who likes working in their industry and wants to do and know more.

  25. Liz*

    Thank you so much for sharing, LW! The second letter is much more engaging.

    However, I’m curious about the fact that the second letter has many references to the LW’s personal satisfaction, enjoyment, and passion. I’d think it would be better to focus on how the prospective employer would benefit?

    1. Middle of HR*

      Generally, the employer benefits from having someone do the work who actually wants to do it. The assumption is that if you’re really into X, you’ll make a strong effort and abandon it for the next shiny thing.
      But also, she’s using her feelings as a frame to talk about what she did in previous work. It wouldn’t work as well if she just said she was really into their product without the experience of helping others use it in depth.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Focusing on how they would benefit can tiptoe down the trail of “Let me tell you how I would solve your biggest problem” when almost always the applicant doesn’t know enough about the job and role to have identified that problem, or the optimal solution.

  26. squeakrad*

    Years ago one of my students created a “cheat sheet” to writing a cover letter. It boils down to a bunch of formatting suggestions and then divide the letter into two parts –

    “I love you” — why you want this particular job at this particular company.
    “you love me” –
    matching the skills you already have to what the job listing says the company needs.

    At first I thought their suggestion was way too simple but my students find this very helpful.

  27. the Viking Diva*

    This analogy may not resonate for everyone, but I like to think of the pairing of resume/CV with cover letter as the resume providing the *evidence* and the cover letter making an *argument* that draws on the evidence. “Passion” doesn’t really sell an application for me, but this letter shows me examples of work that both showcase the writer’s content expertise and connect to so-called intangibles such as collaboration, communication, self-driven learning, and organizational skills. And I can appreciate that those things are more likely to happen when people like what they do and invest some mental energy in it, whether it rises to the level of “passion” or not.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      The passion thing appears to be dependent on the context. For example, in the nonprofit world, passion is important to communicate because you want to come across as inspired by the particular organization’s mission. If you reference that you like working for nonprofits generically without emphasizing that commitment, it makes your application less compelling.

  28. Buffy Rosenberg*

    Congratulations LW and thanks for sharing these with us!

    Your tone comes across really warm and engaging. I love the examples and the way you dig into them. I can totally see how these letters would make you stand out.

    I’m in the UK and I can’t imagine writing a cover letter like this, as some people would find the tone doesn’t land, as Alison says. But I certainly wouldn’t be put off interviewing if I read this. In fact I’d probably be intrigued and want to hear more. I’m not job hunting right now but this has made me think if I do in future, maybe I should consider bringing a pop of colour like this into my tone, depending on the audience.

    1. BubbleTea*

      I’m in the UK and my last few covering letters (including one sent off today!) have all taken this sort of approach. I draw a narrative explaining how my past experience has led me to the point where I’m able to say “I’d be excellent at this job and here’s proof”. I make sure I can tick off every single point in the person spec (if not directly, then with related experience) and include details of why I’m excited about the opportunity.

  29. My resume is very dusty*

    That is an awesome cover letter (the after one:))! I must ask …did you happen to write version one with the assistance of a college career services office? It reads very much like the cover letter advice we used to give in the grad student program where I used to work. Yes, the advice was really, really bad.

  30. Great letter!*

    That is an awesome cover letter (the after one:))! I must ask …did you happen to write version one with the assistance of a college career services office? It reads very much like the cover letter advice we used to give in the grad student program where I used to work. Yes, the advice was really, really bad.

  31. Erin*

    This is great! I love seeing the progression & revisions in the letter! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  32. Justin D*

    I get why the second one is better but what if you’re not thrilled about a job and don’t have anecdotes that show off how passionate you are? I’m a good,competent worker and I like what I do and care about doing a good job, but I have a hard time with pizazz, especially when applying for a job that I just need to survive.

    1. katkat*

      I think the key here is not the perky tone or anecdotes, but the concrete examples on how LW does similar work than what she is applying to. So, in my opinion, you can have more “serious” tone and still implement some down-to-earth information/example of your work. In the first version LW just lists the same info you would put on a resume. In the next version she is consentrating into fewer tasks or portions of her work history, but talking about them more throughoutly. Additionally I have used phrases, such as: “My clients have especially thanked me for…” “As a llama groomer Im especially good at X, and here is an example of that…”

  33. Attorney at Lol*

    Fellow lawyers: Can you weigh in on how much warmth to inject into our cover letters? I enjoyed reading this one but I’ve always struggled with that, but then again I’ve always been in the government and defense sphere.

  34. katkat*

    This type of cover-letter has given me two jobs and 5 interviews in the past! This is very much how I write and present my knowledge as a physical therapist, when its very difficult to put my work into numbers. I also use this kind of “personality” or “warmth” and it has payed me well.

    It was nice to hear that this kind of style works for others too! it gave me a confidence-boost as im starting job-hunting again!

  35. AABBCC123*

    I would like to see a cover letter transformation example that is for the same position. As it is now, there could be a question of whether the writing is just different, or if the second position itself is just more “cool”/lends itself better to exciting descriptions.

  36. Candi*

    Thanks for this. I just sent off my first cover letter using this as a general example. I’m job hunting so I can land on my feet when I graduate. (Almost there! Two more weeks till end of quarter!)

  37. Princess Sparklepony*

    I’m just loving all the things she’s doing. Time travel! Hoverboards! Someone had a lot of fun hiding the real industry is my guess.

Comments are closed.