I just tried to digest a short stack of cover letters, all of them beautifully written, none of them particularly powerful. Sometimes I want to eradicate those lists of action words we suggest to get you started, because they tend to lead folks to think that using different words is sufficient to differentiate you from other job seekers. That isn’t actually how it works.
Seeing yourself as different from others and knowing what that difference is and how it will benefit another is the key to using the right words. That means you have to have the confidence to be different and own the difference, knowing that the right decision-maker will recognize your value to his or her enterprise. Your cover letter is merely a request for a meeting, no more. You have to be, in the letter, someone the reader wants to meet.
Logically, then, you can’t put the meeting in the letter, right? If you give it all up on the page, why meet you? Your letter should raise questions that must be answered, like how, when, why, where?
The words you use to best describe yourself are verbs, not adjectives or adverbs. When someone tells me he or she is passionate about something, I am never sure I know what that means. The verb there is “is.” If you change it to “feels passionately,” the verb is “feels.” These are not forceful statements that say a lot about who you are, or what you are likely to offer an employer.
These are the words I like to read in a cover letter:
I love to work; I work hard and put in long hours. I focus on what is important. I care about clients and customers. I serve others; I serve clients; I serve. I help; I realize; I believe; I think. I secured, I established, I learned: I taught; I gathered: I persevered; I determined. I love, I do, I meet, I see, I act.
But my favorite is the simple and straightforward closing: “I want to work for you. I love this work and I would like to tell you how will serve your clientele to the best of my ability.” Many successful careerists will tell you that their best interviews happened when they started imagining themselves in the job, and began offering ideas and opinions, suggestions, plans, or advice. But you have to get to the interview to launch that conversation.
Forceful and memorable is almost always short and sweet, and to the point. Whether you are in the apocryphal elevator with your destiny or writing a letter in response to a job you know is right for you (not the ones you know are not right for you but you respond anyway) your point is best made as a point, not a crafted, wordy, language-y recitation of your best adjectives, but a pointed case for meeting you.
Most of us feel inadequate when we go to the job market and have to pull out (and horrors, actually operate) our tools: words, sentences, stories, paragraphs, and ideas. Are ours enough? Too much? The right ones? So we throw everything in there, just in case. The result is that all that stuff obscures the focus and our authentic, edited, down-to-the-nitty-gritty real value to this one person.
So do this:
1. Write to one person, and make it a real person who you have researched and having researched, feel as if you know.
2. Identify your three main assets as this person would view them. Describe them clearly; use verbs.
3. Be direct. Edit yourself; send words away with little or no mercy. With fewer words on the page, your chose words will do more, so choose them and give them space to work.
I write and then remove whole thoughts, whole sentences, and whole topics before I send anything. Even in my daily correspondence. Like a lot of folks, I have control issues, and when I get deep onto writing, it becomes too much about the writing and what I want to say. Letters and conversations are about exchange, and you have to make room for the other individual in each exchange.
Some people won’t bite. You won’t get into a conversation. But that is always true with cover letters, long or short. To have the chance for a face to face, you have to stand out, both with content (you have done the right things to even be considered), and with style (you get it; you know what’s important).