Last week, I was sent a covering letter by someone who wanted me to check it before she posted it. She wanted me to judge whether or not it was likely to win her an interview. Now, I’ll tell you straight away, I think the letter is awful. Sure, it contains all the buzzwords and sentiments you’d expect to use in the information age workplace. There are psychological terms and snippets of office jargon blended together with words and phrases you’d find in a marketing textbook. Unfortunately, this letter says nothing about the candidate, someone I know to be a valuable and incredibly proficient, friendly person. Any evidence of these qualities and her unique ability to do the job has been buried under a heap of rushed, tired nonsense. Only idiosyncratic grammatical and typographical errors remain as hints that a human being rather than a blank, beige box produced this letter.
On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with this letter. It’s a perfectly acceptable piece of business communication. There was a time when some of the highlighted phrases were fresh and brave and new. Maybe, for a few months in the late 1980s, it might have won you a job. But it’s now 2001 and every other letter suffers from the same bland sentiment, lazily articulated claims and fundamental detachment from reality. This strange deficiency in written English has infected many other areas of business communication – the same old, tired bullshit is being peddled in marketing material, proposals and reports across the world by hundreds of people who tip-tap away at their keyboards with their eyes open and minds closed.
I’ll take on the highlighted phrases in turn, and try to demonstrate how it’s possible to get across the same information, but with greater style and meaning.
Read it for yourself and use the links to view what’s wrong:
So, I offered to rewrite Iana’s letter in such a way that her real personality and smartness would shine through.
I’m not telling you how to write your covering letter. How could I? Who you are, your experience and your personality need to be matched with the requirements of the job you’re applying for. Only you have enough knowledge to formulate the ideal covering letter in each case. What I want to stress is that you will stand a far greater chance of being taken seriously if your covering letter and CV tell the recipient that you are a capable, wide-awake, interesting person. The best way to do this? Avoid knee-jerk phrases, meaningless jargon and clumsy grammar. Most of all, write about yourself, not the imaginary offspring that would be conceived by the unholy union between a Human Resource manager and the psychologist from Big Brother.