22nd July, 2016
Cover letters are challenging, to say the least. How do you use them to your best advantage? How business-like or personality-filled should they be? Do people even read the stupid things in the first place?
Yes, they read them, especially if you get them in the hands of the right people and draw them in with a compelling opening that’s on point and reflective of your personality. Torture them with robotic sounding blabber, on the other hand? Then you can count on the reviewer taking, at best, a passing glance.
What are some of the worst offenders? Here are five:
1. “Dear Sirs”
Greetings. Welcome to 2016. Many, many hiring managers are not, in fact, sirs. When your salutation reads like this, you not only look like you’re drawing from a template from some 1979 business book, you also risk alienating the decision maker in the first two words of your cover letter. (And do note: “To Whom it May Concern” is nearly as awful.)
Try hard to figure out who the hiring manager is (or the recruiter or talent acquisition person on staff). Direct the letter to him or her. If you simply can’t figure this out, go with “Dear Hiring Team” as a more generic, less Mad-Men-era alternative.
2. “I Am Very Uniquely Qualified”
Let me lay it right out there: There’s no such thing as being “very uniquely” for anything. The word “unique,” in and of itself, is an absolute. It suggests that you are the one single person on the planet with a particular skill set. So if you proclaim that you are “very uniquely qualified” for a job, not only is it implausible, it’s also impossible. You can’t be “very one of a kind.” You either are, or you are not. And in most job searches? You may be super qualified, but it’s arrogant to assume you’re the one and only ideally qualified candidate.
Spell out how and why you feel that your particular blend of skills and experience would enable you to deliver impact and value, in that role. Better yet, provide specific examples of how and when you’ve done these things as direct evidence of your qualifications.
3. “I Am Detail-Orientated”
At least a couple times a month, I receive a cover letter from someone proudly proclaiming that he or she is “detail-orientated.” Quick announcement: Orientated? Not a word. Use it on your cover letter and the reviewer may instantly discount your attention to detail period. Not to mention, everyone uses it, and it’s basically just a fluff statement.
In instance like this, show instead of tell. If you’re gunning for a job that requires meticulous attention to details, share a specific example from your work history that exemplifies your capability to kill it.
4. “[Your Name] Excels in…”
This is my catch-all example that shall stand for “anything written in the third person.” Would you ever write a letter to your friend or grandmother that read something like, “Dear Grandma–Jenny Foss is a results-oriented leader who excels in helping people build and execute job search strategies”? Heeccck, no. First, your grandma probably doesn’t really “get” what you do for a living, period. Second, you’ll sound like a big weirdo, and a robot.
There’s no instead here, because no, just don’t. Your name is on the top of the document, so pretty much everyone’s going to assume that you are, in fact, the author. Write about yourself in a conversational tone, in the first person. It’s a letter, not your corporate bio.
5. “References Available Upon Request”
I promise you this: If and when a recruiter or hiring team is ready to start checking your references, she’s going to just flat-out ask for them. You simply don’t have to spell the words out, because it’s a given. It’s part of the process. And while “references available upon request” may not kill interest entirely (assuming everything else is on point and compelling), it makes your cover letter look cookie cutter and old school.
As you begin interviewing, touch base with your short list of potential references to make sure they’re on board with speaking on behalf of you when the time is right. Compile your list, with contact info. That way, you’ll be ready to respond at lightning speed when a potential employer says it’s time.
Constructing a great cover letter can take some practice to get it right. They’re tricky little suckers, indeed. But if you give yourself permission to drop kick the terse robotic nonsense, you’ll be in a much better position to write something genuine and interesting–and, even better, hint to the reviewer that you’re someone well worth bringing in for a chat.