8 phrases that are killing your cover letters

How to Avoid Writing an Awful Cover Letter

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 Frankly, even "dear sir or madam" is outdated enough at this point that it comes across as stuffy.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.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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8 phrases that are killing your cover letters

1. Email signature.

Your email signature is possibly one of the most important branding tools you're not taking advantage of. It’s your chance to let everyone know what your expertise is, how to contact you and where to learn more about you online. Employees are often required to add the company logo, tag line and contact information to email signatures. As job seekers, an email signature is a subtle way to remind people what you do.

Quick tips: The most important information to include is your name, phone number, email address, desired occupation and link to your LinkedIn profile. An easy solution is to use an app like WiseStamp to create and insert your signature.

(Photo: Getty)

2. Active and robust LinkedIn presence. 

LinkedIn has become a go-to source for companies of all sizes to seek out talent. While your profile will be similar to your résumé, it is not exactly the same. LinkedIn is a social network where people share information. Besides having a profile rich in content and media, you should also share newsworthy articles to help build your online reputation and stay connected with your network.

Quick tips: You must have a headshot, a headline that describes what you do and a summary where you tell your story. But don’t stop there. Embed a presentation that summarizes your experience or includes testimonials. Have you downloaded the SlideShare app for LinkedIn? What about the LinkedIn Connected or Pulse apps? ​These tools give you a better mobile LinkedIn experience.

(Photo: Getty)

3. An easily accessible, on-the-go résumé

There will be occasions when someone wants you to send your résumé ASAP or when you arrive at an interview and your résumé is MIA. Save your résumés so you can easily access them and share them from your mobile device.

Quick tip: Being able to access important documents from anywhere is critical not only in your job search, but at work, too. Learn how to save and share documents using Dropbox or Google Drive, which provide free storage and are easily accessible from any device.

(Photo: Getty)

4. Business cards. 

This may seem old-fashioned, but business cards make life easier. When you meet someone new or reconnect with an old friend, just hand him or her your card at the end of the conversation.

Quick tip: Your business card need only include the information you want to share: your name, occupation (or desired occupation), phone number, email address and links to any social media profiles, like your LinkedIn URL. If you want to use something more high-tech, try one of the apps that allows you to share your card from your phone, like CardDrop. Or pick up a business card with FullContact’s Card Reader.

(Photo: Getty)

5. Your perfected pitch.

You only have one chance to make a great first impression. Don’t blow it. You’ll need it when you meet people and they ask what you do. You’ll also need one customized for every interview you take. Your pitch conveys what problem you can solve for an employer. Use words and language to ensure your unique style and personality come through. And avoid résumé-speak or jargon that isn’t universally understood.

Quick tip: Keep your pitch under a minute, and practice so it sounds natural. If you need some guidance, check out the myPitch app created by Karalyn Brown of InterviewIQ.

(Photo: Getty)

6. Target list of potential employers.

Rather than searching job boards all day, looking for the perfect job and getting lost in the black hole of applications, why not approach people inside companies you would like to work for? This route is more work up front, but it will help you stand out and rise to the top of the referral pile if you make the cut.

Quick tip: There are tons of apps for finding posted jobs, but what you really need is additional help networking. Don’t miss Alison Doyle’s new app called Career Tool Belt. It's loaded with job hunting tips, including the 30 Days to your Dream Job series to guide you day by day.

(Photo: Getty)

7. A dose of motivation.

Job searching tends to lead to frustration. Rejection is an unfortunate part of the process. Invest time doing things that rejuvenate your energy and keep you feeling hopeful, such as exercising, volunteering or learning a new skill. Keep moving forward and create to-do lists and follow-up actions every day.

Quick tip: Whether you use a calendar system or an organizational app like Any.do, mapping out your weekly activities helps maintain momentum and puts you in the driver’s seat.

(Photo: Getty)


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