Job applications

Less Is Truly More

You wanna know one of the best ways to make you look smarter in your cover letter?

Say less.

I don’t mean be all mysterious. I don’t mean leave out information. But like Mr. Strunk and Mr. White have been saying for decades, just say less.

One of the biggest mistakes people make in a cover letter is to write wordy. They say “It would be my pleasure to be considered for an open position at your company” when what they mean is “I’d like a job.” They say “Could you give me some information as to the proposed salary range for this position” when what they mean is “How much does this position pay?”* And they say “Due to the fact that I have been working as an intern at an online periodical focusing its coverage on the environment, this is a subject that is of importance to me” when they mean “My internship at an online environmental magazine has made me care more about clean energy.”

Wordiness is one of the easiest mistakes to spot in someone else’s cover letter, but one of the hardest to root out in your own, unless you’ve had lots of practice.

So try it. Try shortening one of your cover letters. Then Read this chapter of Strunk & White. Listen to Tip #10 of Roy Peter Clark’s 50 Writing Tools podcast. See what you missed the first time around.

Can you team up with an editor colleague and red-pen each other’s letters?

Good luck. And if you post before and afters here, I’ll take a look.

*Don’t ask about pay in your initial cover letter. But you may end up e-mailing back and forth with a hiring manager later and the question might come up.