Cover Letter Assertiveness

Are you using language in your cover letter that is unintentionally hurting your chances of getting an interview; simply because of how you are expressing yourself?

I’m going to strongly suggest that you pause reading right here and pull out a cover letter that you have recently constructed. Now, knowing a little about human nature, most readers will have just continued on reading without doing this, and therefore, the lasting impact of what I’m going to share is going to be greatly diminished. You have to actually see what you’ve penned in order to get the full impact, and it isn’t the same as reading your cover letter later. Still, you’re the reader.

Okay so I’m hoping you’ve paused and got out a cover letter. Somewhere near the beginning, you may have said something akin to this:

“I believe I have the qualifications you are looking for.”

This simple statement when read by a representative of the employer who is considering whether you meet their criteria is left with a different impression than the one you are attempting to communicate. Remove the first two words of that sentence and the sentence reads:

“I have the qualifications you are looking for.”

All the doubt is gone from the 2nd sentence. It’s not a matter of the applicant believing they have the qualifications; they are asserting that they do. The first sentence leaves open the possibility that the person ‘believes’ or ‘thinks’ they have the qualifications but may not have them. This is not a simple matter of playing on words, but a shift in confidence on behalf of the writer, and a shift in how the reader receives the message. Now the message is received with clarity and conviction; the message is, “I meet your stated needs.”

For those of you who still might not get what I’m saying, imagine someone approached you and said, “I think I’m hungry.” You probably would say, “Well are you or aren’t you?” After all, you are or you’re not. This is a logical response – and the same response can be expected by an employer reading your letter and wondering, “Do you or don’t you have the qualifications?”

As a job applicant, you’re not just applying for a job, you are competing for a job. That’s why it’s called a job competition, not a job lottery. Never lose sight of the fact that the cover letter and resume are intended to prompt a single action from the person in receipt of both documents; extend an invitation to the next phase in the hiring process which is the job interview.

I can’t tell you how many times I’m asked to proofread a cover letter where the writer doesn’t actually ask for the interview! Writing things like, “I’d like to request a meeting” isn’t the same as saying, “I’m requesting an interview to best demonstrate in-person how my skills and experience make me the right fit with your organization.”  Look again at the first sentence.

“I’d like to request a meeting.”

The employee of the company reading your cover letter is thinking, “Well, if you’d like to, why don’t you?” Again this kind of passive language betrays a lack of confidence; doubt; it’s almost as if the word, ‘but’ is going to follow the word, ‘meeting’ and read,

“I’d like to request a meeting but…”

Surely this is the last thing you intend to communicate, but there it is. Oh and if you wrote something like, “I’m requesting the favour of an interview…” think about that for a moment. The employer is the one with a need; they have a position to fill and are advertising that need in the hopes of attracting people who have what they are looking for. So, who is doing who a favour when you apply? If anything, you’re doing them a favour by putting forth your name as a candidate.

Now you might be one of those people that is worried about coming off too aggressively, being too pushy; you’re thinking, “I can’t say that!” The suggestions I’m putting forth here are not aggressive, they are assertive. Look, you’re marketing yourself in your cover letter and resume; showcasing your skills, experience and education (in short, your qualifications) so that you come across as attractive to the employer. Keep this in mind.

Finally, check and see how you both began and ended your letter. If we agree that assertive language is preferable, and that the intention and purpose of the letter is to generate a positive response leading to an interview offer, why not begin and end your letter by requesting the interview?   

Written By Kelly Mitchell

Cover Letter Assertiveness was originally published @ myjobadvice – Kelly Mitchell and has been syndicated with permission.

Photo by gruntzooki


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