Developing Your Career

Writing a Good Cover Letter: It’s Not About You

By Greg Simpson on February 28, 2013

What’s the meta message in your job search correspondence? Do your cover letters and emails convince readers you have the skills, expertise and attitude needed to help the company achieve its goals? Or do your letters inadvertently create an impression that’s self-absorbed or – even worse – arrogant?

In the Harvard Business Review article, “Don’t Anesthetize Your Colleagues with Bad Writing,” Byran A. Garner identifies some of the common weaknesses he’s noticed in business writing. While all should be considered when composing job search-related correspondence, one of the most significant weaknesses is the overuse of the personal pronoun “I” – a mistake that can definitely knock job seekers out of the running. If you’re overusing “I,” the reader is left with the impression (real or perceived) that you’re more concerned about what you want than what you’re going to do for the organization.

Thankfully, it’s a mistake that is easily corrected. Just give your letters and emails an “I” checkup. Here’s how it works:

  1. Gather some representative samples of your job search letters (cover, networking, follow up, etc.) written at various stages of your search.
  2. Look at each document and circle every use of the personal pronoun “I.” Then underline how many times you used “I” to start a sentence. Were the sentences consecutive?
  3. Practice re-writing the letters deleting all but one or two “I’s” and instead using “my,” “mine” or the pronouns Garner suggests: we, our, you, and your.

Your job search mantra should be, “Ask not what the company can do for you, but what you can do for the company.” Make certain your job search correspondence focuses on the organization’s needs, not your own.


3 Responses to “Writing a Good Cover Letter: It’s Not About You”

  1. Jay

    Like your article. Very helpful in my current job search. I look for my cover letter and see about five I’s. in next cover later I will try to keep it minimum.

    Thank you

  2. Dianna Howard

    Looked at my latest cover and there are 6! I have a litte re-writing to do.
    Thank you for the tip!

  3. MARIA

    Examples would be useful. I tried to replace the I but sometimes is not possible. It is easier to say how to do it than actually doing it. Would love to change it. The best would be giving the resume to somebody and see what it is suggested, working on the real thing. Thank you.


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