Cover Letter Band-Aids: Fix all those boo-boos!

bandaid helpCover letters should be easy to write. You want to write it like you might say it. While email and texting has helped our writing become more casual and easy to read, for some reason cover letters make job seekers revert to awkward and unwilling letter writers.

Here’s some tips and band-aids to avoid common cover letter mistakes:

Before: “Salary should be commensurate with experience.
After: “Salary can certainly be negotiable based on the exact responsibilities of the position and we both agree I am a great fit.”

Before: “Allow me to introduce myself” or “Dear Sir/Madam” or “Cordially Yours.
After: Replace with a name, or “Dear Hiring Professional.” End with “Sincerely” or “Thank You.

3)    “ME, ME, ME”
Before: “Seeking upwardly mobile, challenging position utilizing my skills in…
Remember, the cover letter is supposed to be about what you can for them, not what they can do for you.

After: “If your department needs a seasoned customer service manager who can create and deliver training to new representatives…”

4)    TOO GENERICband aids envelope
Before: “I am submitting my resume and application for the job you advertised in the local newspaper…”
After: “A recent Wall Street Journal states that you are entering the global market. At my previous company I led similar efforts and successfully built sales in Europe and South America…”

Before: “I look forward to speaking with you about a position at your company.” This often-used phrase gives all the power to the reader, and strips you of an ability to follow up. Keep control while showing enthusiasm and persistence.
After: “I would like to talk with you and see if I can help your company with its marketing efforts. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll give you a call next week.”

Remember, a human will (hopefully) read your cover letter at some point, so make it a pleasurable experience for them!

How to answer the dreaded salary history question request when applying for a job

nervous frightened aYou are sending a cover letter and resume to apply for a job. The job description requests your salary history. Do you give it?

First rule: never ever give out salary data in a letter!!!

Let’s analyze what happens if you do comply and give your history. One of two things will occur. The response will be either:

  1) “Wow, what a steal! I can get them for an additional nickel an hour (maybe) than they make now, and save all the additional money I was willing to pay!”

  2) “Too expensive. Throw this one out. “

Either way, you lose.  Either you don’t get the job, or you begin your salary at much less than you are worth.

Answering the question in a cover letter with numbers allows you to be “screened out” by a Human Resources temp who might earn the minimum wage, and likely has minimal understanding about the job you seek. Or worse, a computer screening program which deletes your application upon receipt. It never gets to the actual hiring professional–the one with the budget and the responsibility.

In the corporate world, through the interview process employers often change job descriptions and salary to match the hired person’s capabilities. So if the hiring manager really likes your capabilities, the job will often be matched to your skill level, and hence, a higher salary!

Human Resources professionals want you to believe that they salary they award you should be “pegged” to your current or most recent salary. BALONEY! Your future salary is not at all related to what you think you “need” or have gotten in the past, but rather what the company will have to pay the best person they can find to fill that job description (often referred to as “market rate”).

Obviously, the employer wants to get the most qualified person they can for a job…at the least cost. It’s all a big game!! And most of us were never taught the rules.


There’s a salary range in writing already–you just don’t know what it is


All jobs have an initial “range” the employer would like to pay for that job, let’s say $10-15/hour. Obviously they would like to get you for $10 (and their boss would love them if they were successful). But, for the right person they might re-classify the job for $14-18, especially if the candidate has more/different skills than they requested. So, if you’ve been making $9/hour and tell them this, you’ll get $10/hour. Period. And they think you’ll be happy. moneyroll1

So, we want to avoid any mention of salary history—it has no meaning to what the market might pay for the new job you want. I’ve worked with government workers, and they have historically low pay. So should they be penalized for that? Why couldn’t they do a marketing job in the public sector for $20,000 and then command $30,000 for that in the private sector? If you listen to the HR rhetoric, you’ll fall into the thinking that you can never make big salary jumps!

Susan Britton Whitcomb, author of “Resume Magic” conducted a “resume preferences” survey of human resource managers from companies listed in the book, The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America.” One of the questions was :

“If salary history is requested in a job announcement and an applicant does NOT include it but is otherwise qualified, would the applicant would still be called for an interview?”

Survey said: 85% agreed that without salary information candidates would still be called. 15% said they would disqualify candidates if they did not provide the requested information. You decide.


But don’t totally ignore the requirement


So, how should you answer this touchy topic in letters and interviews? I think it is smart to at least address the topic in a letter if it is requested, or else have them think you don’t pay attention to detail.

Here are some ideas:

  • My salary expectations based on the exact responsibilities and demands for the position, so it is hard to discern a market rate based on a basic description. I look forward to exploring how I can contribute financially to the company.
  • From what I can tell, you are a progressive, competitive company and I am certain we can easily reach agreement on compensation if we both agree I am the right fit for the position and can prove my worth.
  • My salary history has shown consistent progression throughout the years, and my research indicates it is in-line with the current market range for this kind of position.
  • (and/or) I would be happy to discuss market value salary levels for this kind of position with you once we figure out how I can help your company grow/change/increase sales etc.


NOTE: Salary negation is always a HOT topic, so stay tuned and I’ll have a lot more posts with fresh ideas and perspective on the topic!

Let your cover letter do the talking

megaphone_thumbWell, once I get into the interview I’ll be able to explain it more…”

I hear this a lot from job seekers as they are crafting their resumes and cover letters. The belief that while the document they are sending  to an employer is not “quite right,” the job candidate will be able to fix it later during the interview process. In person. Up close and personal. Verbally. Out loud. On their feet. Face-to-face.

The vision in the job searcher’s mind is a video where they sit in an office, earnestly expanding or clarifying a project they worked on, or what they are most proud of, or even what makes them special. Somehow, there is the wish that those pesky job search documents will just go away, or a red editing pen will magically appear and self-correct the papers to include any missing components.

You only get one chance

Stop it. There simply aren’t second chances if the job search documents fail. The errors, ommissions, poor grammar, incomplete thoughts, missing skills, awkward wording–whatever gives you grief and stress in your resume and cover letter–all seriously handicap your chance at “later.”

Something awful has happened to our business writing: it’s gotten stale, generic, awkward, tedious, trite and pendantic. We don’t say what we mean, and we don’t mean what we say. Every cover letter is stale, written like every other. Do you like gettting form letters? Me neither.

Be a breath of fresh air

One of the skills that will best serve your job search is the ability to “role reverse”:  stop looking at things from your point of view and pretend to look at it from the employer’s viewpoint. Imagine reading an hour’s worth of some of the awful cover letters are out there.  Now imagine picking up a letter that FEELS like a conversation. It feels like the person has just sat in your office and said, “Hi! You are looking for a new hire, and I need a new job. I can see what you need, and I have a bunch of those skills plus a few more that might help.”

Work hard to translate this feeling to your letter: it’s as though  you breeze in, appropriately caffeintated, humming your favroite pick-me-up song, and certain that you are the solution to their problems. Much better than “To Whom This May Concern,” isn’t it?

Cut the junk

What is “junk” in a cover letter? Anything that doesn’t help the reader understand more about you: your personality, traits, work styles, skills and how you can make their organization better.

People don’t write letters anymore to great-aunts and cousins in other states. Yet, while the art of letter handwriting has become tarnished and our formal letter-crafting skills have diminshed, there is a bright side. Emailing, blogging, facebooking, tweeting and texting have once again made us comfortable in writing to express ourselves. Casual  and succint writing is back in style and that is good news for your cover letter! What would you say if you had to write three 160-character tweets as a cover letter?

Make them want details

The cover letter is a balancing act. It isn’t a “teaser” where you don’t reveal the good stuff and make them wonder. They won’t work that hard to figure it out. It needs more meat than a teaser or trailer, but not nearly as much as the resume contains. A cover letter sentence is a good sentence if the reader’s response is, “I need to hear more about that.” It contains relevant specifics, summarized in a way that the employer can translate that to a current or impending need they have in the organization.

The Uber-Writers at Copyblogger have great advice, James Chartrand says, “If you can’t say it simply in just a few words, then you’ve lost readers. Write short, write lean, and write clearly, so you don’t have to waste words explaining what you’ve just written.”