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How to write a cover letter in 5 minutes, says Harvard career expert: ‘It’s professional Mad Libs’

By | Gili Malinsky |

Cover letters can be tedious. They’re less formulaic than a resume, more freeform like an essay and for those who struggle with writing in general, can feel like a homework assignment to drag yourself through. But they’re critical for showing an employer why you’re right for the role.

“A cover letter is like a written introduction of yourself,” says Gorick Ng, a Harvard career advisor and author of “The Unspoken Rules.” It helps you address some of the questions interviewers will potentially ask you down the line such as, “Why this role? Why this company?” he says. It’s like putting a human face to a resume.

And though this document can seem daunting, Ng himself has a developed a hack that cuts his writing time down significantly. He creates a basic cover letter template including all of the key talking points, then leaves out components like the HR representative he’d address and the specific company he’s applying for. Going forward, he simply plugs in the relevant information and saves each cover letter as a new document.

“It’s professional Mad Libs,” he says, adding that, “It takes me, what? Five, max 10 minutes to do a new cover letter” each time.

Follow this template

To replicate Ng’s hack, start by writing your cover letter template, including the following four paragraphs:

  • First, write “your introduction of who you are, what you’re applying for, when you can start,” he says. Leave out any specific details you’ll be filling in going forward, such as company name and position.
  • “Second paragraph is why this industry, why this company, why this position,” he says. If you’re applying for jobs in different industries, you may need several cover letter templates. But for cover letters sent to employers within the same industry, you can keep your industry explanation the same and leave room to personalize “why this company/position” for each different role.

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