Effective cover letters are about communicating our truth. Making what you write count. Time is short: clarify what you really want and communicate your strengths.
Watch your tone
Yes, you DO want to come across as enthusiastic about the the job — but not desperate or overly “gushy.” And yes, you want to come across as confident and direct in conveying your skills and experience. Just not over-confident or presumptuous: that often translates as unprofessional.
The balance can be tricky. To help get it right . . .
- Check to see if too many of your sentences and paragraphs begin with “I.” That’s a give-away that you’re too focused on you and not enough on the employer’s needs.
- Don’t state that you’re a “perfect” or “ideal” match: that’s for the employer to decide.
- Beware of overuse of adjectives and adverbs. That’s a sure sign that you’re violating the “show don’t tell” rule. Instead of resorting to fancy adjectives to describe your teaching as creative, effective, popular, ground-breaking, or innovative, stick to the facts—the nouns—of what you actually did. Maybe you created a custom curriculum for teaching adult beginners, or designed 3 new community engagement programs that you toured with in 5 states, or successfully tripled your studio in 7 years, recruiting students from 2 counties.
- Don’t state that you “enjoy” teaching and performing. Everybody either does or says they do. Employers don’t care. They want to know what you can do for them.
- And please don’t tell us that you’re passionate about, dedicated, or committed to teaching: these are all clichés that all the other candidates use. Instead, give concise examples that demonstrate your skills, your creativity, and the results you get. Give us the facts. Your passion and effectiveness will be self-evident and all the more compelling.
Before you send it
Go back and read the full job description for the position you’re applying for. Put yourself in the shoes of the employer or the search committee members — imagine their priorities. Read your letter OUT LOUD and try to listen to it from the employer’s perspective.
As you read, notice any run-on sentences, awkward transitions, or redundancies. Rework as needed.
Ask yourself whether or not you have addressed the employer’s priorities. Have you given enough relevant specifics to make them want to read your CV or résumé in depth?
All writing is re-writing
I find most good cover letters only get good after 6 or 7 revisions — over days and sometimes weeks. It requires time, reflection, empathy, and a willingness to work on communicating your most relevant strengths.
It’s not a 45 minutes and you’re done kind of deal. Maybe you got through school doing papers at the last minute before the deadline. That doesn’t work so well with promotional materials or job applications.
The good news is that once you’ve done the work and written a really effective cover letter, any future letter will be a relative breeze because you’ll have gotten the hang of using empathy and sticking to the one page rule. You will have learned how to structure and research for success, and how to take care of the layout, format, and tone. Plus you’ll know how to tailor your letters to any particular job or situation.
Once you’ve worked and reworked your letter and read it several times out loud, then ask a coach, mentor, or other trusted professional for feedback. Don’t ask your friends or your spouse: you need someone who’ll be objective and who has perspective as a hiring manager for the kind of job you’re applying for.
Send it right
Make sure you send your documents as PDFs so you can ensure that your fonts and layout will appear as intended no matter what software the reader is using.
Be mindful of how you label your files. I suggest using your full name, the item, institution you’re applying to, and the date (e.g. Jane Rhodes_Cover Letter_UNH_5.28.18 and Jane Rhodes_CV_UNH_5.28.18). This will ensure that the employer can easily identify your materials among the 200 other candidates. This will also help you to keep files organized and make it easy to find any version of your earlier materials.
I recommend sending the cover letter, CV or résumé, and any other requested documents as separate PDFs in one email. In the body of the email itself, I’d simply write something like:
Enclosed are my application materials for the X position at Y institution.
Thank you for your consideration,
So this is NOT the cover letter; it’s simply a note identifying the attached PDFs which will include your full cover letter, CV, etc.
Use these tips and you can upgrade that crucial first impression you make on employers. Here’s to your successful job search!
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