How to Write a Cover Letter (When You Can't Write to Save Your Life)

By LiveCareer

Writing a cover letter is a daunting task for most job seekers, but it can be downright terrifying if you're the sort who struggles to write in general. How do you express yourself well enough to impress hiring managers and land an interview when the written word isn't exactly your forte?

It's anxiety provoking for sure, but in truth there's no need to panic. A cover letter should never be more than one page (the shorter, the better, in fact), so it doesn't actually require all that much writing. And there are many ways to get around a lack of skills in this arena. Here are eight tips and pointers that'll make the writing journey that much smoother.

Browse through online examples

There are several reputable websites out there that feature stellar cover letter samples you can use for inspiration. You certainly shouldn't copy anything you find online, but if you spend time studying examples, you should start to get a feel for structure and language, and for what works and what doesn't.

Make use of a cover letter template

Cover letter templates are the inexperienced writer's savior. LiveCareer's library of templates takes the hard work out of crafting a winning letter by offering step-by-step guidance on how to compile each section and on what to include in each paragraph. There are plenty of different layouts to choose from, and the platform even provides industry- and job-title-specific keyword and phrasing suggestions. This way you don't have to do too much of the crafting yourself. You just follow the prompts, add your own spin, download the finished product in Microsoft Word or PDF format and submit.

Get the skeleton right (and the rest should be easy)

The good news is while it's important to submit a fresh cover letter with each application, you only really need to do the tough writing work once. Focus on getting all the fundamentals down (using a template, as recommended above), and then when it comes time to customize your letter for an open position, you can recycle much of the original content while making tweaks here and there to talk to the particulars of the job. Not as difficult as it seems, right?

Fall back on keywords

If you're not sure how to describe your skills and qualifications when writing a cover letter, take your cue from the phrases used in the job description. You don't want to regurgitate the whole posting, but it can serve as a good guide on how to word certain parts of your letter. If the advert calls for "excellent organizational skills," for instance, you can mimic this language to capture your relevant strengths. Incorporating industry-, company- and position-specific keywords in your cover letter will also up your chances of beating applicant tracking systems (ATS).

Pretend you're writing an email

If you're a green writer, anxiety about your writing abilities will likely push you into a state of paralysis. To write anything at all, you need to relax a little. The Muse recommends taking some of the pressure off by convincing yourself that you're just writing a simple email -- not an important letter that could make or break your chances of finding employment. A mindset shift should help get those words flowing.

Try a different format

Chances are, as a less-than-adept wordsmith, you find it most challenging to craft a compelling narrative. If you know you're going to botch the traditional four-or-five-paragraph layout, try a different format that's easier to master. You could use a simple bulleted list (alongside opening and closing paragraphs) to profile your key strengths. Or, if applying to a creative startup, you could even use video to tell your story (minimal writing required). Just make sure that the format you choose aligns with the company's culture and avoids repeating your resume.

Include a testimonial

If you have difficulty expressing yourself using the written word, let someone else's writing do the work for you (at least in part). Weave a glowing testimonial from a former colleague or manager into your letter to capture what you're capable of in the words of a respected peer. Do so sparingly, though -- you don't want to turn your cover letter into a third-person reference letter.

Call upon grammar and spell check tools

Once you're done writing a cover letter, run it through a grammar and spell check tool to detect errors and typos. Advanced software will even suggest synonyms for overused words and ways to improve readability. It's recommended that you ask a friend or family member with a good grasp of English to scan your creation and suggest edits too.

If you'd like additional guidance on all things cover letter, let LiveCareer help. Use our Cover Letter Formats page for guidance on how to format yours, or put our Cover Letter Builder to work, and get top-to-bottom writing assistance with the construction of your cover letter. We can also help you build a resume.