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Monday, October 25, 2010

does a cover letter have to sound like an informercial?

A reader writes:

I really appreciate your blog and your candor, and I have used your advice many times during my job search. In fact, the interview chapter from your e-book made a huge difference on my last interview and I really felt like I was on equal footing with my interviewer. It resulted in winning a contract for a project that went well and will hopefully lead to more work in the future.

My question is about cover letters. I have poured over your “example of a good cover letter” post, as well as the section on cover letters in the e-book, and it has again made such a difference in the way I see the issue from the reader’s side. However, the opening line of a cover letter is so challenging for me to write because I want to make an impact and say something more than the position title and the place I found it posted, but I don’t want to sound like an infomercial.

I’ve read some advice that suggests asking a question that the reader would answer "Yes" to, but examples of these sound like a used car salesman to me, and that is just not my personality. I’m applying for creative positions in a marketing and advertising, so I want to write an opener that would be interesting and make them actually want to continue on to my resume. What kind of cover letter openers appeal to you?

Ugh, I know exactly the sort of cover letter openers that you're talking about -- "Are you looking for a detail-oriented self-starter with a background in engineering?" and so forth -- and I hate them!

They sound overly salesy, and no hiring manager wants to feel she's being aggressively sold to.

Frankly, I think standard openers are perfectly fine. You don't need to have a gimmick, after all; just make sure the rest of the letter is compelling. "I'm writing to apply for your field organizer job" is straightforward and gets the job done.  

Or "I'm really excited to apply your field organizer job" would be a little more interesting (although be prepared to show that you really are excited and why).

Or even re-writing that salesy opener to something like this: "Reading over your ad, I suspect you're looking for someone detail-oriented and organized, and that's why I'm responding." For this one, make sure the ad didn't specifically list the qualities you cite here, or this won't work -- it's a good opener if it shows you read the ad and deduced some things on your own, but not if you're just regurgitating what they wrote. Although if you want to do the latter, you could change it to, "Your field organizer ad called for someone detail-oriented and organized, and I'm continually lauded for those qualities." (Again, be smart and genuine about this. If you write, "Your ad called for someone with an English degree and I'm continually lauded for mine," that won't pass a straight-face test. People are rarely lauded for their degrees by anyone other than their parents.)

But really, straightforward and basic is completely fine. The real action of the cover letter is going to be in what follows the opener.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for addressing my question!

I’m so glad to hear that those salesman-like lines are not the way to go. It just feels wrong. Interesting though that the straightforward intro sentence is still ok.

I was reminded by reading the e-book again that I have a good story about why I want to work at the company, so for the first line, I can genuinely say “I’m excited to apply for this position...” and then list my reasons, which will cite some knowledge of the company vision and make the letter more personal and genuine and that is definitely more my style.

Anonymous said...

I too love the "I'm excited...". Not only is that true most of the time but also gives me the opportunity to show how the company/position fit my skills and interests.

Anonymous said...

I received a cover letter once that stated that the person was "salivating" at the opportunity to apply for the position. I wouldn't recommend that as the adjective of choice.

Ask a Manager said...

That's hilarious. "I'm drooling as I type this."

Anonymous said...

You know, OP, I have no actual career advice dispensing experience (and I'm highly indebted to AAM for landing my current gig), but I can't deny the impact of personally connecting with the company in a cover letter. I started my cover letter for my entry-level position with a (very short! sentence long!) anecdote about my father and I, and I received a call back from my current supervisor within 24 hours to schedule three interviews. Her first words out of her mouth were, "I loved your cover letter. I saw myself." I think you can gauge a lot from the job posting about whether such a move would be welcomed or laughed about in the company kitchen, but I'd like to think any employer I'd enjoy working for would want to hear something genuine from a job applicant.

Giggling by myself at "salivating."