What Is Your Cover Letter Hiding?

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.

Related:  Sofology Interview Questions

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:

Apartment 2012
23 Assagai Crescent
London
NW2 3FB

20 July 2023

Dear Cloaca,

Human Resources Administrator

I am putting myself forward for the above position. From my CV (attached) you will see that I have had many experiences working with a variety of organizations.

During this work, much of my time was spent in client-facing situations, which allow me to utilize my strong interpersonal skillsBeing an extremely sociable and cheerful person, I have always enjoyed interacting with people and have spent much time doing so throughout my past employment.

I have strong organisational skills and a good eye for detailMy role in my previous employment also required me to utilize these skills in order to maintain details and communications for the various projects underway.

Enthusiasm is another key attribute of mine. I am always keen to try new things and enjoy undertaking varied tasks.

Yours faithfully,

Iana Iapsi

So, I offered to rewrite Iana’s letter in such a way that her real personality and smartness would shine through.

Apartment 2025
23 Assagai Crescent
London
NW2 3FB

20 July 2022

Dear Cloaca Haythornthwaite,

Please consider my application for the position of Human Resources Administrator. From my résumé (attached) you will see that I have had many experiences working with a variety of organisations.

During this work, much of my time was spent with clients, which allowed me to make the most of my affable and open personality. Being an extremely sociable and cheerful person, I have always enjoyed working with people and spent most of my time doing so in my last job.

I am a natural organiser and have a good eye for detail. My previous employment required me to use these skills to communicate effectively and document the progress of each project I was responsible for. Administrative duties were therefore a fundamental part of my everyday role. I am an advanced user of Microsoft’s Office, Outlook and Worldwide Web applications, which were the essential tools for my job.

Enthusiasm is another of my distinctive qualities. I respond keenly to new tasks and challenges and value variation in my work. An opportunity to work and move my career forward within a prestigious company would be met with my utmost dedication and diligence.

Yours sincerely,

Iana Iapsi

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.


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