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Applying for jobs is scary.  Whether you just want a casual job at the mall or are trying to score your first real person job, the fear of rejection is real, and it is always just lurking in the back of your mind.  Applying for jobs will never not be terrifying, especially when you still smell like a college student (I’ve heard real grown-ups can smell cheap vodka on your breath for about a decade if you get close enough).  All you can do is make sure you have a solid, professional looking resume and send your applications in on time.  But wait, there is one more element that could make or break you.  A possible equalizer for those of us struggling to make our resumes fill up a whole page.  The cover letter.  I’m capitalizing that in the middle of a sentence because cover letters are a big deal.  You have just a few hundred words to compensate for your deficiencies and prove you are the right (wo)man for the job.

Cover letters may seem scary, especially if life already has you stressed out, but if you take some deep breaths and approach the situation delicately, you should be okay.  If you are currently on the cover letter struggle bus, check out these tips to help inspire your writing process.

1. Follow the Directions

If a job application specifies any specific instructions as to what should be included in your cover letter, include those items.  If questions are posed to you, make sure you answer those questions.  Those guidelines aren’t there to make your life difficult, they exist to making the lives of the hiring managers easier.  They want to make sure you have the skills they are looking for, and hiring people you are good at following directions usually won’t hurt a company either.

2. Proofread! (And then proofread again)

There is nothing more embarrassing than submitting a cover letter only to realize a few days later that you had a really stupid and blatantly obvious typo right in the middle of your letter.  You can basically kiss that job goodbye.  Before you submit anything, read it over carefully.  And if you really want to make sure everything is correct, have someone else proofread it too.

3. Focus on your strengths

Your cover letter is not the place to apologize for not having participated in any extra curricular activities during college or for only having 1 internship.  Focus on what skills you do have, and what experiences may have been helpful for making you qualified for this job.  People want to hire confident and capable applicants, don’t give them any reason to doubt your qualifications.

4. Don’t Accessorize

Unless the position you are applying for requires you to submit extra materials, like a writing sample, don’t submit extra materials.  Like pictures.  Don’t send anyone pictures of yourself.  This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often it happens.

Do you have any cover letter tips?