Covering Cover Letters

Cover letters are so damn difficult to write. Here's a meta one.

(Note: This article was originally published on my old site on January 2nd, 2014.)


Thank you, as always, for stopping by The Midside, the place where I hold a critical lens up to life and the world. Whatever’s happening to me personally or in the culture at large becomes fodder for analysis. Today the topic straddles both those realms–cover letters.

Generally, I’m able to write well in any form. Cover letters are the exception to that rule. I loathe them. That feeling isn’t an exaggeration. Every time I sit down to write one, my mind goes blank like Cody Banks trying to talk to a girl. Despite possessing a Masters degree and experience in a multitude of jobs, I can’t think of one thing relevant to the specific position to which I’m submitting an application. Instead of the usual swirl of words and ideas that are in my head mid-composition, my stomach is filled with anxiety and dread. Nothing I’ve done seems impressive. If I emphasize my history, won’t I be transparently embellishing or, worse, lying? What employer would want an employee like that?

The most ridiculous part is that when I taught Business Writing at Clemson University the syllabus included a section on cover letters. I know the form. The issue isn’t technical. It’s content. As I think back upon the different majors of the students I taught, I wonder if skill type is the issue. If you’re an accountant or engineer, can’t you just list your credentials and the jobs/projects you’ve worked on? Writing is a skill that everyone seems to thinks they have when very few actually do–but how do you prove you’re one of the able people in four short paragraphs? Then there’s the meta-concern of a cover letter essentially being a work sample for a writer. If you’re an accountant or engineer, a poorly written cover letter doesn’t necessarily disqualify you. If you’re a writer it does, immediately, perhaps even with one sentence or word.

As we enter this new year, I hope you’ll consider me as one of your favorite writers. I have some exciting plans that I’d love for you to see and be a part of. You know where to find my Twitter, Facebook, and The Midside. If you’d like to let me know about any areas I can improve on or expand to or you just want to give me a compliment, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Kind respects,
Justin M. Lesniewski