Three years ago, job search expert Jenny Foss wrote one of my favorite articles on cover letters. It was called, “Bad Pick-Up Lines: They Don’t Work in Bars, They Don’t Won’t in Cover Letters.” (Yes, I remember it even three years later.)
Even after reading that article, it took me some time—longer than I’d like to admit—to step outside of the “I am writing to apply for [position]” lead-in, because it’s what I was comfortable with. But it’s 2015, and people are still writing form letters, which leads to the spread of terrible advice like, “No one reads cover letters anyway.”
RELATED: 6 words that might get your resume tossed in the trash
It’s not that no one reads them. The hard truth is that if your letter looks like everyone else’s, the hiring manager will read it—and promptly forget it.
So, read on for the five of the most cliché lines to strike from your cover letter immediately. (Bonus points if you have yours open in a separate screen, highlight any offending lines, and promise to change them before you submit your next application.)
1. “I Am Applying for the Role of [Title] at [Company]”
Years ago, when applications were sent through the mail and secretaries sorted through letter after letter, it was probably really important to dedicate your opening line to the job you were applying for. But nowadays, I’d guess you’re applying via some system that makes it clear what position you’re interested in—such as an online portal where you can check that box or in an email with the subject line: Application: [Name of Role]. In other words, the person reading your cover letter knows why you’re there.
Of course, I’m not suggesting you never mention the position. The very opposite is true: You shouldabsolutely mention the position, the company, and why you’re a fit for both. What I’m saying is that if you open your cover letter with the line above, you’ll have the same opener as several other candidates. Translation: You’ll have wasted your first impression as well as valuable space.
So, start your letter by grabbing the hiring manger’s attention (more on that here), and then leading into why you’re a fit for the particular role and organization.
2. “I’m a Fast Learner”
Confession: Every time I’ve written this in a cover letter, it’s because I didn’t have the preferred number of years of experience. And, I’m pretty sure the person reading my application translated this line accordingly.
Saying that you learn quickly isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off. So, what should you write instead? Include a stat or story that shows what a fast learner you are. If you have a photographic memory or taught yourself to code, mention it. If your boss asked you to learn every major client’s name in one morning and you did it, share that anecdote. It will be much more memorable than “I’m a fast learner.”
3. “I Think Outside the Box”
Let’s start with the irony of using a cliché to describe how creative you are. Seriously, though, if you are someone who thinks outside the box, why not do just that with your cover letter?
Your best bet here is to show—rather than write a sentence about—your inventiveness. Maybe youapply for your job in a creative way or provide an example of time when your ingenuity saved the day. Or, just prove it right off the bat by opening up your cover letter with a witty line that grabs people’s attention.
4. “I’m the Best Person for the Job”
First things first, do you know every other applicant? Take it from someone who’s lost out to a person with a decade more experience in a given sector (twice): You can’t make this assertion.
Not only could there be someone who is in fact more qualified than you, but your prospective boss may also have additional considerations that you’re unaware of. Maybe you’re the person with a decade more experience, but the company is looking for someone greener because of budget constraints. Or perhaps you check all the right boxes—but the best person is actually in-house.
“Best” is a subjective term, so stick to statements you know to be true. This would include all of the lines about how well-matched your experience is and why you’re personally drawn to the organization. By the time someone finishes reading your cover letter, he or she should know that you’re the best person.
5. “This Is Exactly the Kind of Role I’m Looking For”
OK, this statement means well. You’re trying to show that you’re here for the right reasons, that you’re passionate about the company, that you’re invested in the role, and so forth.
But it doesn’t have the impact you’re going for. First, it can come off a little self-indulgent (i.e., that you’re more focused on what the company can do for you than on what you can do for the company). Second, it’s redundant. If you’re applying for a job, let’s hope it’s what you’re looking for!
Instead, shift your focus to discussing why you’re the candidate the company is looking for. (More on that here).
Your cover letter is a chance to show why you’re uniquely qualified for an open position. So, don’t bury your potential in cliché cover lines—use the tips above to stand out from the pack.
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by Michael Cheary
Time for a change?
There are many reasons you may wish to change your choice of career. However, no matter what the reason is, a key part of your success will be convincing employers you’re the right fit for your new role – even if your previous experience in the industry is limited.
We’ve already focussed on how to write the perfect CV after a career change, but your cover letter can be just as important at translating those all-important transferable skills.
To help you go beyond the basics of how to write a cover letter, here’s our cover letter template specifically designed for people looking for a career change.
Just here for the template? Click the link below:
Download Career Change Cover Letter Template
Opening the letter
Keep your opening simple and straightforward. State what job it is you’re applying for, and where you found the vacancy.
Feel free to mention your source by name (e.g. as advertised on reed.co.uk) or, if someone referred you to the contact, you may also wish to mention them by name in the opening.
I wish to apply for the role of Events Manager, currently being advertised on reed.co.uk. Please find enclosed my CV for your consideration.
Second paragraph – Why are you suitable for the job?
Briefly describe your most relevant professional and academic achievements to help sell your suitability.
Generally this will be related your previous work experience, although you could also include any professional or academic achievements which could be a testament to your character. They may also demonstrate skills that are relevant to the industry you’re looking to move into. For a career change, you can also use this paragraph to suggest why you see this opportunity as the right role to switch disciplines.
As you can see from my attached CV, I have over eight years’ experience in the sales industry. Having worked my way up to Regional Sales Manager, I’m ready for a new challenge in the Marketing industry, and see this position as the perfect role to help me achieve this.
Third paragraph – Why you’re looking to make a change
Once you reach this stage, it’s time to expand upon why you’re looking for a change of career.
Above all else, the main thing you want to put across to an employer is why you see this industry, and to be more precise, this position, as the perfect role and change for you.
Feel free to keep your reasons relatively concise, but make sure you can justify the change of direction before you decide to move on. If the recruiter can see that the decision has been well thought out, they will have much more trust when it comes to reviewing the rest of your application.
I’m particularly interested in working in Marketing because of my passion for organising and managing events, something I’ve had extensive experience of during my time in Sales. Further, I feel that I have achieved all that I can in my current industry.
Fourth/Fifth paragraph – What can you do for the company?
Once you’ve briefly explained the reasons for your potential move, use practical examples to emphasise what you can do for the business – and place prominence back on the positives.
The key to success in this section is to major on your transferable skills. Think of any attributes you’ve built in your current role, and try and apply them to your new role.
Although not everything will translate, you’ll be surprised how many of the same skills are applicable for a number of different roles. Problem solving, customer service, analytics and adaptability are all good examples. If you’re struggling for inspiration, the job description should be able to give you a little direction as to what they’re looking for.
You could also choose some quantifiable examples to demonstrate your success. ‘Increased revenue by x%’, for instance, will be impressive to most hiring managers. Again, try and choose transferrable skills, wherever possible.
Throughout my previous positions I organised events ranging from small product launches for a select group of clients, through to end-of-year awards events for over 200 professionals within the sector. I believe that this experience, coupled with my excellent interpersonal and organisational skills, make me the perfect candidate for building a long-term career in this role.
In my previous role as a Regional Sales Manager at Sales Company Ltd, I was responsible for managing relationships with big brands, such as X, Y and Z, and my account management resulted in an 18% increase in business renewals achieved. Despite being in a different industry, I am confident that I can bring this level of success with me to your organisation and help Marketing Company PLC build upon their reputation as one of the biggest names in the UK events industry.
Closing the letter
Thank the employer for their time, and sign off politely.
In terms of terminology, use ‘Yours sincerely’ (if you know the name of the hiring manager)/’Yours faithfully’ (if you do not), and your name.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to meeting with you to discuss my application further.
Remember: Just as with our standard free cover letter template, this is a template, not a ready-made cover letter. As with any other part of your application, it requires a good level of research and your ability to tailor what you write to the role will dramatically improve your chances of success.
The most important thing to remember here is to explain your reasons for wanting a change, and to convince employers you’re unlikely to change your mind if things don’t work out.
Major on your transferable skills, and you’ll alleviate many of these fears. Follow your cover letter up with a well-written CV, and you’ll leave no doubt in a recruiter’s mind.
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