You know enough to regularly update you resume—so if you find a job posting you’re interested in, you’re halfway through the application process. The other half, of course, is your cover letter. If you have some time and are just rusty, you can make a game plan to write a draft, then take a break, and come back to it with fresh eyes.
But if you see the deadline to apply is just 30 minutes away, you don’t have any time to spare. Here’s how to write a cover letter that will bolster your application—in just half an hour. (And if you need to revamp your resume or prep for interview in the same amount time, look here and here.)
Minutes 1 Through 10: Write Down Your Main Points
Maybe it’s just me, but I often struggle the most on the opening line of a cover letter. I know I shouldn’t lead with “My name is…,” and I want something that’ll grab the hiring manager’s attention. But my quest for the perfect beginning can lead me to spend 15 minutes (or more) typing and deleting the same line over and over. (And at that rate, my 30-minute cover letter would be all of two sentences.)
So, skip the intro if need be, and just start writing about why you’re a great fit for the open position. Don’t stress about the very best way to phrase your current responsibilities. Just write down your main points.
Need a prompt? Answer these questions: What do you find most exciting (or interesting) about the position? What relevant experience do you have? What would you bring to the role (and/or company) that’s unique to you?
Definitely make sure to have your resume and the job description open or printed out next to you. That way you can glance over at both and make sure you’re highlighting the right experience.
Minutes 10 Through 20: Add in Examples
OK, so you’ve written out all of reasons why you’re perfect for the job. Now it’s time to make sure you’re on the same page as the hiring manager. How so? Go back to that job description.
Re-read what the position calls for. Did you mention the experience and skills they’ll be screening for? To connect the dots in a way that’s clear—but wouldn’t be confused with a laundry list—add in an example or two.
If the job calls for people skills, swap out the line that reads, “I have excellent people skills” with a line that explains how in previous roles you’ve managed relationships with board members, which taught you about working with opinionated stakeholders. Does the position call for someone with sales experience? An anecdote about how you’ve been in sales since you set up your first lemonade stand when you were seven years old is memorable.
Minutes 20 Through 30: Polish
Now that all of your content is there, it’s time to remember that your cover letter is the hiring manager’s first impression of what kind of communicator you are. So, you want it to read well and have proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
It’s time to put your editor’s hat on and start from the top. The first time through, just skim the letter. Make sure that all of your sentences are complete, that the letter is organized in paragraphs, and that it seems, you know, readable.
Next, work on whatever has been nagging at you. Still need to write that first paragraph? Maybe now that you have your letter written, you have the idea to start with the lemonade stand story. Or maybe you realize your second paragraph that cuts straight to the chase totally works. (If you’re still stuck, check these examples out.)
Finally, always spend the last three minutes running spellcheck, double-checking that you spelled the names of the hiring manager and company correctly, and screening for glaring errors.
It’s true: All of those times you said you hated spending an entire Sunday afternoon on one cover letter, you never imagined you’d only have 30 minutes to write one. But now that you’ve figured out how to do it quickly, you’re ready for the application due ASAP—and you’ll know for the future that you can write one in as little as half an hour.
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Sara McCord most often writes about making a better professional impression. She's been published on Mashable (where she was a regular career contributor), as well as Forbes, Newsweek, TIME, Inc., and Business Insider. A Staff Writer/Editor for The Muse, Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. See more of her writing on her website or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author