WorkWise Q&A: How do I improve my cover letter?

culp@workwise.netOctober 28, 2012 


Q: Dear Dr. Culp, My cover letter is bland. I don’t know how to fix it, because I’ve read books about them and I’ve filled mine with accomplishments. Some of them I even lifted off my resume and they look good there.


A: Dear Unsure, If your cover letter lacks zip, you’re writing all about yourself and leaving the employer out. Writing about yourself turns employers off. Think about it. Are you interested when the average person goes on and on about himself? Give the employer a bit of recognition.

Include at least one piece of information about the company and the person you’re emailing, if relevant. That could come from media coverage, an information interview, a LinkedIn connection. Stand out by using the company website as a last resort, because it’s available to every other job seeker.

Don’t hammer the employer by repeating phrases from your resume. Develop alternate wording to emphasize critical concepts more subtly.

Finally, compare the number of times you refer to yourself – “I,” “myself,” “me” – versus references to “the company,” “you,” “the organization,” “employees.” If you use the latter more, you’ll be paving the way for conversation rather than a soliloquy.



Q: Dr. Dr. Culp, I’ve read that hiring will be better during the holidays this year, but I expect competition to be fierce. Everyone else will be filling out applications. What can I do to make mine stand out?


A: Dear Searching, Rather than focusing on what everyone else will be doing, do what they won’t be – getting referrals and going directly to employers. That way you represent yourself as a person rather than a piece of paper or electronic file.

Call contacts to see if they can spend 15 minutes giving you advice about how and where to look. If a company doesn’t need people now, it might later. Meanwhile, get referrals. That’s Plan A.

My inspiration for Plan B comes from an interview with a woman in New York City. She decorated tables, trees and mantles; developed party decorations; wrapped presents; and shopped for gifts. She made as much in two hours as you’d make an entire day in retail. People kept sending her to friends.

Plan C requires you to follow the secret of successful applications. Limit them to places where you can say something substantive about the company, not just yourself.


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