Cover Letter Writing: It’s All About (What) You (Can Offer)

Having proofread cover letters for a long, long time, I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been getting in quite a few with the following about why the writer wants the job. Have a look at:

This one:

I think the summer job at your company can offer me what I want in a working day: collaboration, constantly new challenges and new knowledge about chemistry.

This one:

I would like to work with other professionals to improve my skills and knowledge which will allow me to further contribute in the field of renewable energy.

Or this one:

I also know that I would not be pleased if I only worked behind a desk…I hope to find an environment where I can learn and grow as an engineer.

Question: Did you notice what might be ‘wrong’ in the eyes of a hiring manager reading these letters?

(Obvious) Answer: It’s that these people are writing what working at such-and-such company will do for them, not the other way around.

(Pause for sympathy: Writing a cover letter is difficult, and writing a well-written cover letter is especially so. I’ve never met anyone who thought it was fun; in fact, most people say it’s the worst part of their job search. That’s why they keep asking me over and over if they really have to write a cover letter because someone else has told them that nobody does that anymore. Which isn’t true, by the way, as most often they/you really do have to write one.)

Why do they turn this around? One reason could be that they’ve gotten mixed up when thinking about their motivation for applying.

Maybe they’ve gone to an application writing course where this advice appeared on the screen ‘Motivation: Why do you want the job?’

They thought, ‘Well, I want it because it will give me…’ (fill in the blank)… a way to use my hard-won education, a salary, (hopefully nice) co-workers, a true start to my career, etc.

Which is all well and good – most everyone thinks this way – but they just shouldn’t write it.

Sort of like the idea that you really shouldn’t share all of your thoughts with other people, either.

No — honesty is not always the best policy, at least not in the world of cover letter writing.

Advice: Keep your hopes about what a job/company can do for you under wrap is when sitting at the keyboard typing out why you want a job and why you would be good at it.

Turn it around – what can you bring to the job table? That’s what anyone reading your letter truly wants to know.

Simple advice that you might have heard before? That you think is such a given that everyone surely knows it? Well, judging by what I’ve been seeing lately, simple advice can’t seem to be repeated often enough.

So don’t write about what your dream job can do for you, write about…oh, you know the rest.

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