Monthly Archives: October 2014

The agony and triumph of writing a cover letter

All right, I’d better fact-check my name. “T-a-y-l-o-r.” Better check it one more time. Golden.

Now, time to capture the essence of personality, professional experience and skills in one page. I’m a writing major — I can do it!

Wait, should I start with one of those business-y, “Please accept my application,” intros or something snarkier?

Maybe, I’ll tell the employer a comical story of transformation. Like the time I was relegated to the outfield in first-grade T-ball. Look how far I’ve come — from the ultimate athletic rejection (at age 7, anyway) to covering sports for a living! Nah, that tale reveals little beyond my superior ability to weave a dandelion crown.

Line one complete. Oh, no, I started with “I.” Will the employer think I’m a narcissistic? A sociopath? A self-righteous ninny? Well, I guess I am the one applying for the job, right?

Why can’t I just write, “Hey, future employer. I can write about a lot of things, including (but not limited to) heroin abuse, non-profit organizations, rare dinosaurs from Gondwana and sports”?

I’ve resorted to Googling one of those trite cover letter “action keyword” lists. You know, that neat, alphabetized catalog that contains, “Look at me! I am a big kid!” words like “enforced,” “inspired” and “maximized.”

Their sickeningly sweet tone is too much for me. I time-travel back to the cover letter intro in high school, where my teacher circled the opening word of each sentence in thick, red pen. Is four I’s the limit — or is it five? I wonder to myself, now on my third mug of black tea.

Two sentences in. “You are a cover-letter warrior!” I exclaim. Pep talks are a staple of such a task.

After few more cups of tea and a snack break (one of those, “I wrote a solid sentence, therefore I’ve earned granola bar, 15 minutes of Facebook-creeping and an all-expense-paid trip to the Caribbean”), I finally have three paragraphs.

“Ah, this paragraph is much longer than the others!” Will that make me look inconsistent and flaky? Or will it show I’m the kind of optimistic risk-taker/free-thinkier they want in the office?

Time to sign my name. Pink Sharpie is probably a little too avant-garde. I’d better go find a black pen.

If my handwriting is too neat, they’ll probably think I’m some uptight jerk, but if it’s too messy, they’ll think I’m careless and rash.

Taylor O. Soule. Better check my name one more time.

Finally, that looming command, the one that tried to log me out 17 times while I contemplated the “I” pronoun maximum: “submit.”

* * *

Though I’ll continue to agonize over that letter for the coming days, weeks and probably, months, there’s something effortlessly raw and rewarding about capturing the self as it exists in one moment.

The agony, deliberation and psychological distress of writing a cover letter are hardly evident on the page, I imagine, cloaked in assertive “I’s” and those love/hate-worthy “action keywords.” But somewhere amid the protocol, the advice of past teachers and the professional discourse, I’d like to think a glimmer of me — the sports writer whose first athletic endeavor involved dandelion jewelry — emerges.