Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.

Category: Cover letters

Proofread. Proofread.

My mother used to say that I had what she called “the curse of spelling.”

It basically meant that I seemed genetically predisposed to finding errors in text. One example: I can open a complex restaurant menu, something I’ve never seen before, and within a few seconds, my eyes will inevitably zoom in on the one or two misspelled words in that giant mass of text. It’s almost a brain condition.

Show, don’t tell

Anyone who has taken a freshman composition course has probably heard of “show, don’t tell.” In fiction writing it means, for example, to let a character’s actions, appearance and speech explain their personality.

THIS: “Larry is lazy.”

OR THIS: “Instead of doing dishes, Larry has his bulldog Albert lick them clean. The ones Albert won’t lick, Larry throws away.”

What does this have to do with job hunting? Too many cover letters and resumes are filled with phrases like “well-organized” and “innovative” and “problem solver.” When you describe yourself like that, how does an employer know whether or not to believe you? Or whether your definition of “innovative” is even in the same ballpark as hers? They can’t – so your materials go immediately to the “no” pile.

Ditch the laundry list

In “Show, don’t tell,” I talked about telling stories in your cover letters and resumes. In addition to lots of empty phrases (“people person”), another enemy of getting your point across is the impulse to list every single task, every single award, every single college club on your materials, in the hopes that all that accumulated stuff will be impressive.

Kill on the cover letter

Great post by David Heinemeier Hansson of 37 Signals about the importance of the cover letter in today’s job market.

So much time and energy is spent on resumes, that people often forget the cover letter. It’s crucial – it’s the first thing your prospective employer will read, and it’s often bad enough to get your materials put into the “no” pile instantly.

David’s post inspired me so much that I ended up writing a whole guide to “killing on the cover letter.” If you’d like a free copy, just subscribe to my email list.

Adjectives vs. Verbs

When writing cover letters and resumes, words mean things.

Diligent. Trustworthy. Reliable. Dynamic. Enterprising. Professional. Detail-oriented. Organized. Enthusiastic. Passionate. Creative.

Recognize these words, or words like them, from your resume or the resume of others?

I have some simple and direct advice about including these words in your job-hunting materials: Stop it. Stop it now. I’m serious.

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