College taught me the wrong way to write a cover letter

College students/recent grads beware: after writing many cover letters in the format I learned in college, I’m realizing that employers want quite the opposite when they are sifting through cover letters of prospective employees.

In magazine feature writing at OU, I learned that a cover letter should squish as much information as humanly possible into a one-page Microsoft Word document. “You have this one page to convince the employer why you’re best for the job,” my professor said. “So you need to utilize all the space you have.” WRONG.

My professor also preached an intro that catches the employer’s eye. We were taught that intro should be unique and interesting. WRONG.

Instead of a long, detailed, action-packed cover letter, I am finding that most employers actually want short, concise, and to the point. Keep the cover letter to half a page instead of trying to cram your life story into an entire page. I like to make the margins half an inch so it can look wide and short rather than long and thin.

I changed my first sentence from an attempt to be clever to the simple “As a copy editor/writer with more than four years of experience …” so that the employer immediately gets a hint at my qualifications. I listed every skill I have instead of talking about each individual job because I attach a resume that lists this exact same information. So I say, “I have experience with copy editing, news reporting, training employees, etc.”

A cover letter is a first impression, and it can illustrate the skills you have — as a journalism student/graduate, a concise and to-the-point cover letter itself is a testament to your ability to edit, write, and be clear. College taught me a lot, but it taught me a pretty backward way to write a cover letter.


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One Response to “College taught me the wrong way to write a cover letter”

  1. Tristan Navera Says:

    My academic adviser also suggested I pack six or seven two-page clips into my resume to show I have a diverse range of work…employers were definitely NOT down for a 20-page resume.

    Colleges should have some kind of short course dedicated to resume building.

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