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How to Write a Cover Letter: Advice from Someone Who Looks at Millions of Cover Letters a Day

The one thing everyone wants to know when they find out I work at the Stranger is how to get a job at the Stranger. Weird-smelling people at parties want jobs at the Stranger, people in bands who think they'd be good movie reviewers want jobs at the Stranger, people who don't get to look at porn at work want jobs at the Stranger (where looking at porn is literally part of the job — we produce an amateur porn festival), people in jail want jobs at the Stranger (or at least a weekly column until they get out?), and unpaid interns definitely want jobs at the Stranger. Oh god, do the interns want jobs! After all, "intern" is short for "give me a job."

And while it's true that sometimes an internship turns into a job — the Stranger stars Lindy West and Paul Constant and Cienna Madrid were all interns at the Stranger before becoming staff writers — that will only happen in a right-place-at-the-right-time sorta situation. You have no control over whether you're going to be in the right place at the right time. But you do have control over the cover letter you send to get the internship in the first place.

We get 40,564 emails per minute from people who want to be interns, and 40,553 of them are deleted before we've finished reading them. You would think that people who have college degrees in things like writing would be able to write, but you would be wrong. If you really want a job in writing, you should just start writing — and publishing. Get a blog and make it good. Make it so good that an editor who reads it will be so jealous you're not writing for them that they'll hire you. Once you already have your own writing underway, sure, apply for an internship at the place you want to work. But make sure your cover letter doesn't make whomever ends up reading it want to die of embarrassment.

How do you do that? More specifically, how do you write a cover letter for a job in the field of writing? Here's some advice from the book:

How to Write a Cover Letter

You're overthinking this. You just write it like a normal person. Keep it short. Shorter. No clichés, no wasting time, no overwriting. Try not to be funny — trying to be funny is the worst in a cover letter. Keep it just: Here's who you are, here's why you're writing. Then reread it. Did you reread it? It's full of typos. REREAD IT!

The Stranger received a cover letter by e-mail from someone who wanted to write a sports column. The subject line: "The Starnger Needs a sport's Writer." That person is not going to get a response. Likewise, cool it on the superlatives about how thrilled you are at the possibility of maybe getting an interview, because you're just going to sound like a freak. You'll end up like the poor woman who once sent a cover letter we've been reading aloud in the office ever since — a letter we framed and hung on a wall.

It begins, "Your newspaper is brilliant, professional, progressive, enlightening, edgy, and so bitingly human that I could swear it bleeds." Aw, that's nice — she reads the paper and she likes it. Good to know. "All in all it offers the well blended and well aged voice that a modern audience craves. It is a staple in my Seattle apartment and I have been known to send sections of it back East to friends and devotees with great frequency." Okay, so she reads it a lot and likes it a lot. "The Stranger has seamlessly tapped into the pulse of Seattle and has thus developed Seattle's fingerprints and nuances." Like, a lot a lot. "It is everything an alternative city newspaper should be." Uh huh. "That is why I am at the cusp of my excitement to be your intern."

Those quotes are just from the first paragraph.

There are five paragraphs.

She goes on to state that working at a college publication "allowed me to fertilize the skill set necessary to create fluidity when pinned to the wall, poise when encountering formidable challenge, and consistency when working amongst chaos." She adds, "My work ethic and devotion to professional development are irremovable aspects of my personality." A few sentences later, she writes, "If these notations speak to anything I would hope they speak to the severity of my desire."

Then, later: "In addition to my vivacity, dedication, and competence, my personal symphony of written voice and exhaustless creativity should be highlighted. I offer them to you because I envision our relationship as being extremely mutually rewarding. I would be honored to invest in your riveting and entertaining journal. Please contact me at your earliest convenience..."

No one ever did. Sometimes we wonder whatever happened to her, although we don't wonder very much.

÷ ÷ ÷

Christopher Frizzelle is the editor of the Stranger. He joined the staff in 2003 after getting fired from Seattle Weekly for trying to get a job at the Stranger. He has written about the effect of 9/11 on his military family, famous liars, hunting for magic mushrooms in Oregon, Miranda July's fiction, the music of The Shins, and creepy old buildings, among other topics.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. How to Be a Person: The Stranger's... Sale Trade Paper $8.98

Christopher Frizzelle is the author of How to Be a Person: The Stranger's Guide to College, Sex, Intoxicants, Tacos, and Life Itself

One Response to "How to Write a Cover Letter: Advice from Someone Who Looks at Millions of Cover Letters a Day"

    Ann Arbor cover letter and resume writing September 23rd, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Nice post! Yes, having a impressive cover letter will help us to have a better career that suits to our skills. Format the letter correctly and Address a specific person is one of the important points in writing a cover letter.

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