Op Ed Cover Letter

Don’t stick to a template

You could easily Google “cover letter template” to get some ideas on how to write it. Don’t.

“You need to think about your audience,” said Kristen Fitzpatrick, the managing director of career and professional development at Harvard Business School. “Who’s reading it? How do you capture their attention enough so they move you from one pile to another?”

This is your time to show your communication skills and your personality. You must make the case that the other 99 percent of applicants don’t have what you have. Following a template, or otherwise putting little effort into making your letter stand out, suggests you’re just another applicant.

Don’t rehash your résumé

Focus on the organization you’re writing to and the job description of the open position. If you nail your cover letter, the hiring manager will end up reading your résumé anyway, so don’t waste precious space duplicating it by going down the list of where you’ve worked.

“It’s to complement your résumé, not repeat it,” Mr. O’Neill said. “Cover letters where you’re just rewriting the content of your résumé aren’t effective.”

Instead, you could list some specific examples of projects you’ve worked on, and explain what you learned from them and how that knowledge would apply to the open position. Or you could offer some new ideas, showing from the start that you understand the company’s goals and would bring creativity.

(Related: Getting past the first cut with a résumé that grabs digital eyes)

Don’t state the obvious

Read your letter again, and zap any clichés or platitudes that don’t say something meaningful about you, the position or the company.

As an example: Don’t say you’re a “hard worker.” Everyone says that, and it would be easy to lie about if you weren’t, making it a meaningless sentiment to include. It merely takes up space that could be better spent on something that actually sets you apart from the other candidates.

“It’s not even worth saying,” Ms. Fitzpatrick said. “You’ll show you’re a hard worker by going above and beyond in writing a letter.”

Do your research

This requires going past the first page of Google results.

You could go to a library to sift through professional databases that might have more information, or get coffee with someone who works at the company you’re applying to. Show a familiarity with recent projects, acquisitions and public statements. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but a few sentences to show you’ve put time into it could go a long way.

If you’re not preparing for something as crucial as a cover letter, why would they trust you would prepare for an important meeting?

Focus on what you can offer them

A lot of applicants spend too much time talking about why they love the company, Ms. Fitzpatrick said.

“How many letters does Apple read that say, ‘I couldn’t live without my iPhone’? Probably a lot,” she said. “So you want to show you are unique and you’ve done your research.”

You do want to make it clear that you respect the company and explain why you’re interested, but the focus should be on what you can do for them.

“You want to avoid too many ‘I’ statements — ‘I know this,’ ‘I did this,’ ‘I can do X, Y or Z’ — because that’s too much about what you’re going to get out of this opportunity,” Mr. O’Neill said.

The company isn’t posting a job for charity, or to improve your life; they’re trying to fill a position they consider essential. Convince them that you’re the one who would most help them, not that you’d benefit most from it.

Want more? You might also like:

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Continue reading the main story

Think op-eds and Letters to the Editor are old-fashioned? Think again. They're actually an excellent way to reach out to your community and Congressional leadership to show what issues really matter to you and the constituents. 

Here, find templates for an Op-Ed and for a Letter to the Editor, provided by the Children's Leadership Council, that will give you a good start to writing your own.

Op-Ed Template

Template text generously provided by the Children's Leadership Council.

If political leaders in Washington take revenues off the table as they haggle over how to fix the nation’s debt and budget crises, children and families are the ones who will suffer. Although the one thing all parties agree on is that our children didn’t cause the problem, many of the options under consideration would make kids one of the biggest victims of the budget stalemate.

This year as in years past, severe cuts have been proposed to health care, education and nutrition programs like Head Start, school lunch programs, special education, children’s hunger relief and child care assistance for low income parents.

These federal cuts are amplified at the local level, as nearly every state grapples with its own deficit. In Illinois, for example, which faces a deficit of nearly $45 billion as of March 2014, more than 22,000 seats for children have been cut from preschools in the past three years. The  state budget inflicts pain mostly on children and families in need.

The cuts represent the same kind of short-sighted thinking that got us into this mess.  Over time these cuts will cost far more than they might save by requiring far more intensive health care, social services and even criminal justice interventions down the line.

They would also create a poorer, sicker and less educated population that makes our country weaker and less competitive. 

Cuts like these would only exacerbate the already weak condition of America’s children. Our nation has fallen to number 31 out of 178 countries on Save the Children’s 2014 State of the World’s Mothers report, which measures infant mortality, health care, poverty rates, and educational opportunity, among other factors. Fifteen years ago, we ranked in the top five. That's not progress.

The United States lags other developed countries in academic achievement.  According to the 2014 annual CIA ranking, 55 nations report better infant mortality rates than we do.  In the richest country in the world, nearly one-quarter of American children face periods when they don’t have enough food.

But it isn’t inevitable that these tragedies will get even worse.  Resolving the debt and budget crises must include reasonable revenue measures and spending reductions that protect essential services for children and families.  It will require prioritizing our children’s welfare over continuing tax breaks for the wealthy.

It is simply unconscionable that Congress is considering retaining tax breaks for corporations when the future of America’s children hangs in the balance.

[We recommend you include a  sentence here about a good current tax proposal on the table, if any.]

The nation’s budget is a reflection of our values.  Even if we put aside the emotions like compassion and empathy that are the essence of our humanity, enlightened self-interest dictates that we should invest in children to strengthen America. 

Letter to the Editor template

To the Editor:

As the debate continues over whether the United States should solve its debt and budget crises with revenue enhancements, spending cuts or a combination of the two, our leaders should stop to ask themselves a simple question:  Which approach makes (STATE) and America stronger?

Once again, we face severe cuts to programs that protect children and families. This represents the same short-sighted thinking that got us into this mess.  Just as politicians couldn’t resist the temptation to borrow a little more rather than make hard decisions about our budget problems, these cuts would cost far more over time than they save in the short run by requiring more intensive health care, social service and even criminal justice interventions down the line.

They would also create a poorer, sicker and less educated population that makes our country weaker and less competitive.

There is a better option: enlightened self-interest.  By reaching an agreement that includes reasonable revenue measures and spending reductions that protect essential services for children and families, our leaders can put the country’s fiscal house in order and preserve the future.  Resisting the temptation to slash health care, education and nutrition programs that allow countless children to grow up to be productive citizens would enhance both American democracy and our nation’s competitiveness.     


Want to learn more about Letters to the Editor? Get powerful tips on writing and placing Letters to the Editor here. 

You can also find more about improving communications and advocating effectively on SparkAction's Communications page.

Get templates focused on early childhood nutrition.

SparkAction and The Children’s Leadership Council collaborated on these templates to help you in your work.

The Children's Leadership Council is a coalition of child advocates representing over 50 leading national policy and advocacy organizations who are working everyday to improve the health, education and well-being of children and youth in order to prepare them for school, work, and life. The CLC organizations have members in every state in the nation. The Forum for Youth Investment and SparkAction are proud members of the CLC.


This post was originally published in September 2012, and was most recently reviewed and updated in June 2014.

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