As you would expect, recruiters and hiring managers receive an overwhelming amount of cover letters after posting a job. To make sure they’re choosing the very best candidates to move on to the next round, they need to be picky — so picky in fact, that they can reject an entire application for one simple phrase that doesn’t just sit right with them. It’s harsh, but it’s true.
When I work with my clients at Word to Your Future to craft a new cover letter, I usually ask them to send me the most recent one they’ve written so I can get a sense of their experience. There are a few particular phrases I see very often, and I understand why they may think those words “seem” right (because they’re clichés). In reality, however, these sentences are likely backfiring and hurting their chances of landing an interview.
Here are five examples of those phrases you should avoid using, and some ideas for new ones you can try.
1. To Whom It May Concern…
This goes for “Dear Sir or Madam,” as well. With the entire internet at your disposal, there’s no excuse for such a vague opener. Most job descriptions note who you’d be reporting to, so with a simple Google or LinkedIn search, you can figure out who holds that role at the company you’re interested in, and instead address the letter to that individual by name. If the listing doesn’t specify, go with “Dear [Company] Hiring Manager,” because really, when was the last time you used the word Madam?
2. I’m reaching out to express my interest in the position of [Role] at [Company].
This phrase is just too obvious – why else would you be submitting your resume and cover letter? You need to hook them in right away with an anecdote about your experience, rather than just repeating the obvious. After that, of course, you want to identify the role and position you’re applying for, but it can go along with why you’re an awesome candidate. For example: Because of my track record handling X and Y, I feel prepared to take on the role of Z.
3. This position will help me grow my skills in [Field].
Of course you want a job that will help you grow, and most companies want to help you develop. But right now, you’re trying to highlight what you can do for the company. This is the time to sell yourself. The company already knows they could benefit candidates, so it goes without saying that stepping into a new position there will enable you the opportunity to learn.
4. I’m a quick learner, hard-working, and extremely passionate about [Industry].
Let’s be real, so is everyone else applying for this position (and even if they weren’t, they would probably still say they are). These are merely characteristics that most people use to describe themselves, especially to impress a recruiter. One thing my journalism professors would always tell me is “show, don’t tell.” Rather than straight-up telling the audience what your personality traits are, show them. Include examples within projects you have executed and done well. Lay out the situation you were in, the action you took, and the result. That will be more effective proof of what you are capable of.
5. I will call you to follow up on my application and schedule an interview.
I often see this on the “do” list when it comes to cover letter advice, but in my opinion, it’s a “don’t.” For a cold application (when you don’t know the hiring manager whatsoever), it comes across as a bit pushy. Not to mention, many people prefer to communicate via email than by phone. It’s perfectly fine to email a week or so after applying to foster a connection, but when you’re closing off your first form at contact, just leave it at “I look forward to hearing from you” or a simple “Thank you for your consideration.” Let the rest of your cover letter speak for itself — if you’ve made it clear by now how suited you are for the role, they’ll be the ones to get in touch with you.
If your cover letter was a road, consider each of these phrases like a stop sign. You don’t want to give the person reading your cover letter any reason to pause and find a new direction to go in, but rather, you want it to be a completely smooth journey from beginning to end. If you put care into each and every part, you’ll be sure to wow the person reading it.
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