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.”


  1. This was very informational and to the point. I just forwarded it to a friend that was laid off from a job she had for 7yrs and is trying to get back into the work force. Thanks for the post.

    • Job Search Trainer says:

      Thanks Jennifer….I hope it will spark some ideas in your friend! Sometimes it is hard to get going after a job loss, but the perfect job is waiting for her!


  2. It’s often said that your cover letter may be what gets you in the door – more than your resume. So, be personal and give it your BEST shot. There is only one chance to make that good impression BEFORE they decide whether or not they’ll interview you. Go for it with gusto.

  3. Job Search Trainer says:

    Perfectly said Debra. You’d be amazed at how many people don’t examine this piece of their materials critically!