How to show and not tell in your cover letter

I’ve talked a lot recently about showing and not telling in your cover letter. I addressed it after reviewing intern applications and in yesterday’s Workshop Wednesday.

You can’t just say you’re passionate about sports or that you’d make a great addition. Well, you can, but I don’t think it puts your best foot forward, and it certainly doesn’t set you apart from the pack.

You need to show it.

Here are some examples from cover letters of interns I hired (excerpted with their permission):

After viewing the posting for the Legal Intern on, I feel that my professional and educational experiences would make me the ideal candidate for the Legal Internship.  As a law student, I have gained extensive experience working within the sports industry through researching and writing legal memoranda, working and communicating with clients and staff, and developing excel-based salary databases and depth charts.  As a Legal Intern with [company name], I was tasked with creating a player salary database for each NHL franchise, as well as maintaining team depth charts for each NHL team and its affiliates.  Furthermore, through my legal studies and work with the [company name], I have had the opportunity to understand the complexities within the NCAA Bylaws and different Collective Bargaining Agreements.  I am currently writing an essay for my Sports Law course comparing and contrasting the CBA of Major League Baseball with the CBA of the National Hockey League, with a narrowed focus upon free agency and salary arbitration.

This cover letter gave me concrete examples of projects this person had worked on that would fit in well with my work. Instead of saying he had excellent research and writing capabilities he gave me specific examples of projects he’s worked on – ones that are very much aligned with projects I have right now. That’s why he was hired. I needed someone to help me with some NHL CBA research. If he’d just told me he had experience researching and writing and using Excel, I might never have known he had specific experience with the NHL CBA. He was hired almost exclusively because he told me this.

Here’s another excerpt from a cover letter of an intern I hired. One of the things I emphasized in my job posting was the need for my interns to have Excel experience. Most simply stated they had experience, or maybe even that they’d taken a class on it, but this person took it one step further:

I have had a long history with using Microsoft Excel, most recently using if for two honors independent studies, including recalculating MLB player salaries using sabermetric statistics and tracking the numbers and percentages of women in positions with various professional and collegiate sports leagues. I also heavily used Excel while doing research for my senior capstone paper which involved logging and tracking the careers of every offensive player ever drafted in the MLB First Year Player draft from 2001-2006.

This person gave me specific examples of ways they’d used Excel to research MLB. As I’m currently writing a book on MLB, this caught my eye. What if he’d only mentioned he had experience with Excel and nothing more in his cover letter? This isn’t the type of information I would have gleaned from his resume. How would I have ever known? This paragraph was the biggest factor in my hiring him.

One last example:

In my time at [Univ.], I focused many of my final projects and presentations on sports. One of my favorite projects was for my Quantitative Methods class in which I did research on MLB attendance. The excel spreadsheet I uploaded to demonstrate my excel skill was a multiple regression analysis for this project to determine which, if any, of my  researched variables had a major effect on yearly attendance. Spending time researching mascots, census reports on city population, city male to female ratios, and stadium longevity was a dream and I’d love to get to research baseball again.

In addition to excelling in academics in my Masters program I have been recognized by my fellow students as a leader and excellent communicator. In the Spring of 2011, I was elected to the Vice President of Communications position in our school’s student government. I was responsible for helping clubs on campus advertise and sell their events to students and the community at large. I also helped to create the [Univ.] Student Newsletter and supply student interest stories once a week.

Again, she didn’t just tell me she had experience with Excel. She gave me a specific example related to MLB. She didn’t just say she enjoyed researching sports, she gave me an example of things she has researched in the past and enjoyed. She didn’t just tell me she was an excellent leader and communicator, she gave examples.

Look at yesterday’s Workshop Wednesday entry (which is not unlike dozens of cover letters I received or my internship positions) and then look at these examples. Do you see the difference?


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