8 phrases that are killing your cover letters
Few people like writing cover letters. As a result, they tend to fall back on cliches and fluff that doesn't strengthen their applications, but in many cases, weakens them. See how many of these eight phrases you recognize from your own cover letters – and if you spot any, nix them immediately!
1. "Dear Sirs." If you're still opening business letters with this salutation, assume you're offending and turning off at least half your recipients. It's 2015 – you shouldn't be discounting the idea that a woman is making hiring decisions. (And if you still think that "sirs" is the generic plural for both men and women, it's time to rethink that.) Frankly, even "dear sir or madam" is outdated enough at this point that it comes across as stuffy. It's fine to simply go with "dear hiring manager" if you don't know the hiring manager's name.
2. "I'm writing to apply for the analyst position you have open." What's wrong with this? Nothing – unless you forgot to replace the position title from some other application you sent off. A startling number of job applicants send cover letters addressed to the wrong person, naming the wrong company or expressing interest in a position that doesn't even exist at the place they're applying, because they forget to customize the details of the letter for the job they're applying for.
3. "I'm uniquely qualified to do this job." For some reason, this phrase has become popular with job seekers, and it's a weird one. The thing is, unless you're intimately familiar with all the other applicants for the job, you have no way of knowing whether you're uniquely qualified or the best qualified. (And in my experience, the people who use this line rarely have unusual qualifications.)
4. "I work well independently and as part of a team." This is another phrase that's become oddly popular in cover letters. But making this assertion is like announcing that you show up on time and shower regularly; it's expected, not something you need to specially call out and brag about. If working in groups or independently is particularly important for the job you're applying for, you can illustrate that by providing concrete examples of times you've excelled at doing that – but simply proclaiming the ability doesn't strengthen your letter and ends up watering it down. Speaking of simply proclaiming things ...
5. "I'm a hard-working, detail-oriented, proactive self-starter with great communication skills." First, these are all cliched buzzwords. But perhaps even more importantly, it gets you exactly nowhere to simply proclaim that you are these things. If you want to convince a hiring manager that you're detail-oriented or take initiative, the way to do that is by talking about accomplishments that use those skills and demonstrate those traits. Don't just announce that you are _________; show it, by describing what you've achieved that illustrates it.
6. "I don't believe a cover letter and résumé can really tell you what I have to offer, so I hope to meet in person." Employers generally do believe a cover letter and résumé can tell them what they need to know at this stage in order to decide whether it's worth talking further. Deriding the process they've chosen to use isn't likely to endear you to them.
7. "I'm seeking a salary of $X." Unless you're specifically instructed to include your salary expectations in your cover letter, no mention of salary belongs there. Some candidates announce their salary requirements in their cover letters without anyone ever asking, and they often end up wildly underpricing themselves compared to what the employer is planning to pay. There's no reason to undercut yourself (or potentially guess too high) when no one has even asked you to name a number.
8. "I'll call your office next week to schedule an interview." This is overly pushy and aggressive and will turn off many hiring managers. You've already done your part – you've expressed interest by applying for the job. Now it's in the employer's court to review your application along with the others they've received and decide if they're interested in talking further.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.
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