Cover Letters…Writing about yourself without making it about yourself

Cover letters are your official introduction to an employer, whereby you intrigue them enough about your background and experience so that they’re compelled to read your resume and eventually say “we have to interview this person!” Yet, for most folks, writing a cover letter ranges from being an exercise in monotony to downright uncomfortable.  Cover letters for many go against everything they’ve been taught about being humble, while for other folks one page seems like not nearly enough to talk about themselves.

However, the secret to writing great cover letter letters is keeping the following in mind: It’s About Them, Not You. The best cover letters are those which focus on the organizations needs and illustrate how your skills and experiences match those needs. An important part in ensuring whether your cover letter is focusing less on yourself and more on the employer is a basic one: grammar usage, specifically of the personal pronoun “I”. When a cover letter is filled with “I”, it can (albeit unfairly) leave readers with an impression that a candidate is self-absorbed, arrogant, and only concerned with what the company can do for them. To avoid this common mistake, Greg Simpson of Lee Hecht Harrison advises three simple steps to ensure that you don’t fall into the “I-Trap”:

  1. Gather some representative samples of your job search letters (cover, networking, follow up, etc.) written at various stages of your search.
  2. Look at each document and circle every use of the personal pronoun “I.” Then underline how many times you used “I” to start a sentence. Were the sentences consecutive?
  3. Practice re-writing the letters deleting all but one or two “I’s” and instead using “my,” “mine” or the pronouns we, our, you, and your. Shying away from the use of “I” not only engages readers but also projects confidence in your abilities without the arrogance.

So the next time you’ve finished cranking out that cover letter, before hitting submit, review it and ask yourself “is this cover letter about me or them?”

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