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How to Avoid the “I’m Wonderful” Cover Letter

An image of Michelle Shaw.
By Michelle Shaw, Associate Director/Pre-Law Advisor and Advisor for Careers with Social Impact at Williams College Career Center
September 12, 2017
An image of someone looking at a blank page.

For many jobseekers, the cover letter is a little bit like a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a taco. To unwrap the mystery, jobseekers must think of the cover letter as the narrative version of their resume. It’s the opportunity to tell their story without the constraint of the short, action verb, resume-speak rules that govern the resume.

The cover letter is where they can describe how their background and experience are the ideal fit for the company and position to which they are applying. They are helping the employer determine their competency by highlighting the information on their resume that illustrates that.

Now that you understand what the cover letter is intended to do, how can you make sure your cover letter is doing what it’s supposed to be doing?

 

Be Specific

Always address the cover letter to a specific person when possible. With access to Linkedin now more prevalent, you can always do your research to identify the person to whom your letter should be addressed. If there is no person you can identify, at all costs avoid “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” Instead try something like “Dear Hiring Coordinator,” which reads less like a form letter.

 

Who are You?

If you can answer this question, you already have the introduction paragraph. Talk about how you learned of the position and, most importantly, why this employer’s company or mission matters to you. This again is where good research gives you the opportunity to distinguish yourself from other candidates. Instead of just reading what’s on the company’s website and regurgitating that, find information in trade journals or online that speaks to the company’s latest successes or reputation.

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I’m Wonderful Because . . .

I often see jobseekers who declare they are able to do the job without any direct support from their resume. I call this the “I’m wonderful” type of cover letter, which generally is destined for the toss pile. It’s important that you provide evidence from your resume that illustrates this rather than asking the employer to take your word for it. Think of it this way instead: “I’m wonderful because I’ve worked as a candy striper and you, employer, are looking for someone with real people skills.” Or, “I’m wonderful because I’m a volunteer firefighter and you, employer, are looking for someone with leadership experience.”

Identify specific accomplishments that demonstrate the skills the employer is looking for in the position, and explain how you developed those skills. Take a look at your unique accomplishments (i.e. direct experience, transferable experience, interest/education) and complete the above statement. If you can do that, know that you are on the right track!

 

And in Closing . . .

This is the easy paragraph! Reaffirm your interest and why you are a good fit. Provide contact information, a list of any enclosures or salary requirements (if requested), and any details regarding planned follow up. Thank the reader for his/her time!

Now that you have unwrapped your taco rolled up mystery, pull out your old cover letters and see if you can improve them by following these recommendations.

 

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Michelle Shaw, Esq., LEED AP is an alum of Williams College and former attorney. She currently serves as an Associate Director and the Pre-Law Advisor for the Career Center where she counsels both current students and alumni.

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