This morning a radio news report said there was no white or black smoke coming from the White House during the president’s meeting with congressional leader. The person who wrote the news report was trying to be cute. Black and white smoke are the signals the Vatican uses to announce voting on a new pope, which is another issue currently in the news. However, by mixing these details the news writer’s attempt to be cute resulted in confusion.
We can fall into the same trap in writing resumes and cover letters. Heavy use of jargon or specialized language often does more to confuse than enlighten. Some people also try to sound impressive and rely on multi-syllabic words that make reading difficult. For example, most words ending in -ize are nouns or adjectives pretending to be verbs. Another word trap is using the language used by former employers. Companies often develop their own language, which is meaningless to anyone who does not work at that company.
Test everything you write by asking these two questions: Would a perspective employer understand this? Would she care? These questions will keep your resume and cover letter focused on what the employer needs, which is all that matters. When it comes to words, cute does not sell. Usually, it just leads to confusion.
I read cover letters every day. What’s wrong with most of them?
1. They’re too long. If conventional wisdom says employers don’t have time to read resumes, how will they have time to ready windy cover letters?
2. They simply repeat details from the resume. The purpose of the cover letter is to introduce you and your resume. Let the resume speak for itself.
3. They talk too much about the employer and how wonderful the employer is. Employers know their company. They want to know who you are. More importantly, they want to know why they should invest time in interviewing you.
Remember the function of a cover letter: Write something that makes the employer want to read your resume – and meet you.
One of my clients asked me to review a cover letter. It was three pages long and did not address requirements of the job posting, skills and experienced that my client possessed. What was the problem? My client is changing careers, and she is talking too much about what she has done in the past, not what she wants to do in the future.
The letter focused extensively on her background in sales and training. However, the position she was pursuing requires strong communication skills and more of a focus on customer service. With a little revision, I was able to adjust the letter to show that my client has excellent writing skills and knows how to make clients happy by solving problems. She is well qualified for this position.
A career change is always difficult. However, it’s impossible if you can’t show potential employers how you are qualified to do the job. Most jobs give us transferable skills that are the key to any career change. Learn how to play up those skills and present them in a way that makes an employer call you to schedule an interview.
A good cover letter should not simply repeat what is in your resume. Use the cover letter as an opportunity to market yourself and drive the employer to your resume. More importantly, “everyone” (see yesterday’s post) says employers don’t have time to read long resumes. If that’s true, why should they read long, rambling cover letters?
My policy is to keep cover letters to half a page or less. I describe what the job seeker is offering the employer in broad terms that outline what is in the resume. Finally, I offer 2-4 qualities that reflect “soft skills” (time management, problem solving).
Here are some examples from my website (click here, here, or here).
Whenever possible you should, make the document look like a business letter which includes the employer’s name, company name, address, and a salutation (Dear CONTACT NAME). If there a name is not given in the job posting, I recommend saying, Dear Hiring Executive.
Does every employer read a cover letter? No. However, many ask for letters, which means that they are read and valued. Why not take a little extra time to give yourself one more chance to get noticed. Don’t cheat yourself. Write good cover letters.