What not to do

It’s (Not) All About You

Saw a cover letter recently that made me cringe, so, of course, deconstructing it on this blog is the way to go.

So the writer cannot be located/identified, I’m only going to pull out snippets from said letter, and of course all identifying details have been changed or removed.

The letter began with a short intro. The writer described his life history and what he’s been working on lately, and finished with the sentence: “Lately I’ve been thinking about beginning a new chapter.”

Second paragraph:

Honestly, I’m hoping to land a job where I can work eight hours a day, go home, live a simple life, and afford some medical insurance. I don’t want to have to own a car, for I’d love to be able to walk to work, walk to get most anything I would need at supermarkets, walk to the gym, and walk to some coffee shops.

If you’re an employer reading this, guaranteed you’re thinking, “Big F(reaking) Deal.” The employer doesn’t really care whether you want to own a car or not. He doesn’t care what you want from the job. He doesn’t care whether you will walk to the supermarket. He cares what you will do for the company.

The third paragraph was much of the same: I need to do this, I want this. Out of a five-paragraph cover letter, only three sentences are halfheartedly dedicated to the author’s qualifications:

I could adapt well to a variety of work environments. I have always been ready to learn something new. I’ve always provided loyalty and excellent attendance for my employers.

That’s it. Nothing else.

The irony is that the author’s resume is quite varied and shows, indeed, an aptitude for picking things up quickly. According to the resume, this person has worked in 11 industries(!!), has management experience, and is not afraid to get his hands dirty.

So how could we improve this letter? Big first step: it’s not all about you. This writer clearly has the professional credentials to succeed. He should put those front and center and explain how they’ll help the business with its professional goals.

Big second, related step: this cover letter is being blasted out to any and every employer, and the writer is essentially saying, “I’ll take anything.” Even if that’s true, you’ll get far more bites if you customize the letter to the specific situation. (In other words, if you don’t have a specific company in mind in your letter, how will you know which of your credentials to mention?)

Here’s an example, not from this particular letter/situation.

Say you’re applying for a social media community manager job. That sort of job requires you to learn new things fast and juggle a lot of unrelated projects. If you have experience in 11 industries(!) and juggled two part-time jobs at the same time, for example, you might say:

“I’ve held jobs in 11 industries over the course of my career, and each time I’ve switched gears, I’ve had to pick up the basics quickly. Thanks to that experience, I’ve become good at on-the-job learning and figuring out how to teach myself what I don’t know I don’t know.”

Except you’d say it better, because it’s yours. Make sense?

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