The Number One Issue with Cover Letters

I write tons of cover letters. Each client's basic package includes a cover letter, and oftentimes professional and executive level clients return for additional, highly customized versions.

And I see a lot of "before" version cover letters, those written by the client. There is one issue I see in these that would be easy to fix. It actually surprises me that the job hunters themselves don't see this as the overuse of the personal pronoun "I" pops out from the page immediately.

Yes, way too many references to "I." In a current client's cover letter I counted 16 sentences that began with "I."

You might be tempted to ascribe this to an overabundance of personal pride or even boasting, but I can vouch for this client and say that she is not at all puffed up with pride. She is quite a down-to-earth, normal sort.

I think that it's more a case of not knowing how to compose  or proofread effectively.

Here are a few ideas on how to clean up your cover letter's "I's."

  • Switch up the order of the sentence, moving the "I" within the sentence structure. (As a productive team member, I've been known to ...Delegation is integral to my methodology, and I further support successful outcomes with mentoring.)
  • Let one of your colleagues begin the sentence. (Recently a colleague mentioned something I've been told before: You are the most organized person I know."
  • Give credit to your team and let it take centre stage for a sentence or two. (My team, of whom I am quite proud, are reliable, consistent, and productive, for example, rising to the challenge of meeting a critical timeline with time to spare for not only one, but two run-throughs. We delivered what is now called "the smoothest lauch" in the company's history.)
  • Integrate the opinion of industry experts you follow. (In October's issue of The Economist, author --- cited statistics that back up my own methodology ...)

Those four ideas will help you remove several "I" sentences. As for my clients new cover letter? Not one sentence begins with "I."

Is it ever okay to sign off your cover letter with "namaste"?

Joyce Lain Kennedy, America's first nationally syndicated career columnist, has now authored eight career books. She writes in a spirited voice, shares practical advice that has years of real-world knowledge to back it up, and her books are full of examples.

And, I am so pleased to say, this is the second of her books to which I have been invited to contribute. In fact, when I received my copy in the mail last week, I counted eight of my samples - yes, I counted! It's a real thrill and honour to join other industry leaders in this book!

So, is it okay to sign off a cover letter with something other than "Sincerely," "Regards," "Yours truly"?

Of course it is! And one of my samples (page 75) does just that. Here is what Joyce L. Kennedy wrote about that ending:

A national health care practitioner (CHERMAINE) weaves a personal history into her letter to a health food products sales manager, suggesting that she is a good fit in the health food culture by closing with "Namaste," a conventional Hindu expression, usually stated while holding the palms together vertically in front of the bosom.

Kennedy preceded the sample with this paragraph:

Simply being remembered as a qualified individual among faceless hoards of candidates is a big threshold to cross. A memorable story helps employers recall individuals when deciding who to interview. Notice the humanizing touches that bring readers closer to good feelings about unknown candidates in the two following samples.

That letter is an interesting one. In it my client claims that "I admit that you will have a challenge with me ..." but I'll leave that for another journal!

- here to support my clients with industry-leading practices, Stephanie