don’t start your cover letters with “if you’re looking for…”

by Ask a Manager on July 8, 2013

Share on Facebook7Tweet about this on Twitter16Share on LinkedIn5Share on Google+0Share on TumblrDigg thisShare on StumbleUpon0Print this page

I see a lot of cover letters that open with some variation of “If you are looking for a dynamic professional who can XYZ, you’ve found the right person.”

You must stop this.

It is salesy, it’s incredibly over-used, and it signals to the reader that whatever follows is likely to be boring and stilted too.

Get rid of it.

If you need an opening line to help you start writing, try something simple and straightforward, like “I’m interested in your XYZ position because …”

Seriously, you don’t need to be in sales mode. We don’t want to feel you’re selling us. We want to feel like you’re talking to us like a normal person.

(Also, you should stop calling yourself a “dynamic professional,” because who talks like that? And it conveys nothing of substance.)

{ 106 comments… read them below or add one }

Lar July 8, 2013 at 2:49 pm

If you are looking for a dynamic commenter who can add insightful, value added comments, you’ve found the right person.

As you can see from my resume, I am uniquely qualified for the position based on my core competencies.

I will call you tomorrow to set up an interview so that we can negotiate my salary and stock options.

Reply

Lindsay July 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm

+1

Reply

tangoecho5 July 8, 2013 at 3:08 pm

You forgot to include that you added a $1.00 Starbucks card and would love to meet for coffee to discuss what what you can do for AAM!

Reply

Rana July 8, 2013 at 10:06 pm

And sent a cake. Homemade, of course.

Reply

Kelly O July 9, 2013 at 7:20 am

And 27 8×10 color glossy pictures outlining your evidence.

Reply

LOLwhut July 9, 2013 at 8:05 am

With a paragraph on the back of each one.

Reply

Vicki July 9, 2013 at 11:49 pm

+100

Reply

Tina Career Counselor July 8, 2013 at 3:28 pm

+1

Reply

Julie July 8, 2013 at 3:44 pm

+1

Reply

PuppyKat July 8, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I’m cracking up in my office! Good thing most of my co-workers are waaay down the hall.

Reply

Elizabeth West July 8, 2013 at 5:36 pm

:D

Reply

Jessa July 8, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Hahahahah,

Reply

Liz in a library July 8, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Calling instead of dropping by in person? You’ll never stand out that way!

Reply

FD July 8, 2013 at 7:52 pm

And the link to your video resume.

Reply

Lisa July 8, 2013 at 8:19 pm

So was your attached photo an 8×10? Because if you didn’t attach a photo, well, then…forget it. Circular. File.

Reply

nyxalinth July 8, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Yet for some reason, employers in Europe insist on this. Thankfully, I’m not in Europe.

I did run across an ad that demanded a photo recently. “Put a face to the name” My butt. More like “Hot file or Round File.”

Reply

Chocolate Teapot July 9, 2013 at 7:27 am

Not all European employers do request a photo. Besides, since when did anyone look good whilst getting photos for passports?

Although I have never forgotten the advert in an Austrian newspaper that started “Nice, pretty secretary wanted”.

Reply

I wish I could say July 8, 2013 at 3:00 pm

I’ve seen “My name is______” more time than I care to count!
UGH!

Reply

Anonymously Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Omg my cousin said she was going to start off with this as a response to the “tell me about yourself” question. I begged her to not do that. I’m not sure if she listened. I guess it could be helpful if your interviewer had a few imposters trying to steal interviews. (Like the fake Debra story a couple weeks ago on here.)
I’m just saying. Usually my interviers address me by my name when they call me back and even during the ice breaker… so by time they ask ‘tell me about yourself…I’m pretty sure they already know my name.

Reply

Tina Career Counselor July 8, 2013 at 4:38 pm

I would hope they know your name by then. Then again, most will probably know your name at the time they call you for an interview.

Reply

Anonymously Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Exactly. I’m pretty sure whoever is scheduling the interview knows that Jane Doe is coming at 9:00 am for an interview. Depending on the industry some people schedule interviews an hour apart–most of my interviews I’m the only person in the waiting area. Of course, you introduce yourself to the receptionist upon arrival. And now everyone will soon learn ‘Jane Doe’ is in the building.

Reply

AnotherAlison July 8, 2013 at 5:54 pm

And yet, if you have an appointment with someone new, it’s perfectly normal to introduce yourself by name. Why is it not okay in writing?

Reply

shellbell July 8, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Because there are different conventions for writing and conversation. Also, your name is on your resume and in your signature.

Reply

Tina Career Counselor July 8, 2013 at 7:56 pm

What shellbell said.

Reply

AnotherAlison July 8, 2013 at 8:30 pm

It was NOT a genuine question. I know why it’s not okay.

Reply

shellbell July 8, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Whoops! Sorry!

Reply

Collarbone High July 8, 2013 at 5:54 pm

This would annoy me immensely because my brain would start shouting “My name is … SLIM SHADY.”

Reply

FD July 8, 2013 at 7:53 pm

I was thinking Bond…James Bond.

Reply

Kelly O July 9, 2013 at 7:21 am

That’s usually the first thing I think of – with one caveat. Because of an ongoing joke with my husband, I usually go straight to the “wicka-wicka Slim Shady” bit, which involves me pretending to scratch.

Reply

nyxalinth July 8, 2013 at 9:08 pm

Stupidly, I’ve done this. Never again.

Reply

jesicka309 July 8, 2013 at 10:58 pm

All my cover letter’s start that way….. is this bad? I usually go with:
“My name is jesicka309 and I am writing to apply for the position of chocolate teapot maker advertised on Findateapotexpert.com on the 27th of June.

My experience as assistant tea pot maker has given me X skills etc etc

Have I been doing it wrong? I felt that because I’m writing to someone I don’t know, I have to introduce myself properly before I start talking myself up, and tell them where I saw the ad and what position I’m applying for (esp. when they have multiple openings). Is there a way to do this differently without a cold open?

Reply

KarenT July 8, 2013 at 11:03 pm

The employer will see your name on the resume and assuming you applied by email, from your email address. I would cut out “my name is” and jump right to “I am writing to apply for the teapot maker position listed on job site.com”

Reply

Ask a Manager July 8, 2013 at 11:25 pm

Yes, you should cut out “my name is.” In email or a letter, your name is already included in the signature; it’s not convention to repeat it at the start of the letter.

Reply

Vio July 9, 2013 at 1:39 am

In the email where I attach my cover letter and resume, I always start off with

Dear Hiring Manager,
I am [Name] and I am applying for ABC position with ABC company. Attached in this email is my resume and cover letter.

Thanks,
[Name]

Is the mention of my name in the first sentence considered repetitive? If it is, this there another way to say it? I feel that going straight to saying “I am applying…” after Dear Hiring Manager is too sudden.

Reply

Brandy July 9, 2013 at 8:27 am

No, it’s not too sudden. Your name is presented in your email address (hopefully) and in your signature. That is absolutely plenty for a professional communication such as this.

Reply

I wish I could say July 8, 2013 at 3:00 pm

*times

Reply

So Very Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm

What’ll it take to get you to hire this dynamic professional RIGHT NOW?? (Also, please don’t trip over the large framed portrait of myself and my equally dynamically professional cat, Mini-Alison, which I made your surprisingly unwelcoming secretary leave in your office).

Reply

LJL July 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm

I want a professional cat. Perhaps I can work out with the local shelter a way to use kittens as business cards? That way the kitties would be out of the shelter and I would have made an impression. ;-)

(and, yes, KIDDING. Completely and totally.)

Reply

So Very Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Plus: give the kitten some Starbucks and tie a $1 giftcard to its collar. Playtime for everyone!

Reply

twentymilehike July 8, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I’m picturing a kitten with your name and number shaved into it’s fur … they must be used quickly, before the hair grows back ….

Reply

Lily in NYC July 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm

surprisingly unwelcoming secretary, lol!

Reply

Chinook July 8, 2013 at 4:00 pm

ahem…we prefer the term “Adminsitrative Assistant” and I happen to be a dog person! *sneeze*

Reply

So Very Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 5:38 pm

NO WONDER she was so unwelcoming!!!

Reply

Anonymous Accountant July 8, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Lol! Now this would make you a memorable candidate. :)

Reply

PuppyKat July 8, 2013 at 4:21 pm

As long as my new professional cat could answer questions that end with “Is this legal?”

Reply

KellyK July 8, 2013 at 8:18 pm

If the cat gives you a dirty look, it’s legal.

Reply

voluptuousfire July 8, 2013 at 10:28 pm

+1.

I’d love a professional cat. Especially if they wore a suit and tie.

Reply

Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 3:05 pm

I really don’t think I could call myself a “dynamic professional” with a straight face.

Reply

Anonymous Accountant July 8, 2013 at 3:47 pm

+1

Reply

Ali July 8, 2013 at 3:09 pm

OK I have definitely done this…now I know to stop that immediately!

Reply

SB July 8, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Figuring out how to write a cover letter is so difficult. It’s one of the worst parts about job searching. Trying to “sell yourself” and sound convincing as a viable candidate on paper, it’s so easy to fall victim to buzzword trope. You almost feel like to have to in order to properly convey what a good worker you are.
One of the easiest ways I find to avoid this is to sit down with a friend or very trusted co worker, and, interview style, describe to them verbally why you think you’re a good candidate for the position. To get started, I usually take the job advertisement and write down the top three things I think they’re looking for, according to the ad, and describe how I feel I fulfill those requirements. Have the friend take notes on what you say, and build your cover letter on that. It seems like people have a much easier time verbalizing it to someone rather than having to put it on paper.

Reply

dejavu2 July 8, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Frankly, over-reliance on buzzwords might also be the result of candidates trying to out-smart filtering software. Modernity is crushing us.

Reply

twentymilehike July 8, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Modernity is crushing us.

Truth. In so many ways.

Reply

Julie July 8, 2013 at 3:48 pm

I agree. Despite having worked as a professional editor and doing quite a bit of writing as part of my job, I find it incredibly difficult to write in business-appropriate language, “Hi, I’d like this position and I think I’d be good at it. Please hire me.”

Reply

Felicia July 8, 2013 at 4:03 pm

That sounds like how I wish I could answer the “Why do you want this job?” interview question. Apparently because it sounds interesting and I think I’d be good at it and also I need a job, although honest, isn’t how one is supposed to answer:)

Reply

Esra July 8, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Alas, the honest answers are never the good ones. “Because I love the work but management at my current job is woefully broken. And you’ll pay me, gosh I like money.”

Reply

Frustration July 8, 2013 at 9:32 pm

I want this job because my apartment demands that my rent be paid every month. I don’t even care if the work is interesting or the workplace is a good fit. I only care that your company is solvent enough to issue paychecks that don’t bounce.

Too honest? ;)

Reply

Lindsay J July 9, 2013 at 12:05 am

I hate this crap, especially in retail.

They hire people at minimum wage, put little effort into training them, and treat them as completely expendable and are more likely to replace an employee with the next 16 year old who walks in the door than they are to work around scheduling issues etc.

Yet that employee is supposed to find some bullshit reason to be excited to work at your store, even though any store in town would be the exact same job of standing behind a register for 8 hours a day and dealing with grumpy people for minimum wage. Saying “Oh, I need a job and this is close to home and has the hours I need,” isn’t good. Neither is, “I buy all my clothes here and love the product, and would love to get the employee discount,” nor, “I have bills to pay and you were the ones who called me for an interview first.” One of those reasons is probably the truth for 90% of the employees at any retail store (with the exception of niche hobby places like music stores, camera stores, etc where there are people who are super into the product. I’m more talking Walmart vs KMart or JCPenny vs Macys, here). However, we’re supposed to do this stupid song and dance of, “Oh, I would love to work for McDonalds because of their strong reputation of promoting from within and blah blah blah” or whatever, when honestly we walked around the food court and applied to McDonalds, Burger King, Sonic, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Arby’s, and the odds are still against us getting a call for an interview from any one of them.

Reply

Ruffingit July 9, 2013 at 7:21 pm

+100

Reply

Anonymously Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 3:51 pm

++ Agreeing. I found myself stuck in this rut. I absolutely hate writing cover letters. It has taken me a long time to learn how to craft a good one. I couldnt sell a kid candy. I used to send out a generic one. That didn’t make me stand out from the people who spent time tailoring to the specific position and/or the ones who knew how to sell themselves….

Reply

Tina Career Counselor July 8, 2013 at 4:40 pm

SB, matching your qualifications to the job description is a great way to start. It shows that you’re really thinking through what you have to offer and why you’d be a good fit.

Reply

AC July 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I think I’ll start my next cover letter with some inspiration from Ron Burgundy. “I’m kind of a big deal.”

Reply

Anon July 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Is it bad that as a manager I would hire you based on that alone. I think that means I shoud review my professional credibility. :)

Reply

Meg July 8, 2013 at 3:45 pm

A cover letter comprised of nothing but Anchorman quotes would be amazing.

Reply

Claire July 8, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Boy, that escalated quickly.

Reply

Daisy July 8, 2013 at 5:55 pm

I have a voice that would make a wolverine purr and suits so fine they would make Frank Sinatra look like a hobo.

Reply

Lily in NYC July 8, 2013 at 3:33 pm

I would NEVER do something so uncouth. My “recipe” cover letter is so much better : One cup of hard work, with a tablespoon of spice. 3 parts good judgment to one part good sense of humor. (These abominations were frighteningly common as college essays in the 80s, I’m going to bring it back to the corporate world, 2013-style!)

Reply

jesicka309 July 8, 2013 at 11:03 pm

So a 2013 recipe would be like:

1 part social media guru, with a dash of technical savy!

Reply

Anonymous Accountant July 8, 2013 at 3:46 pm

I misread the “if you’re looking for” and read it as “if you like pina coladas” and then thought “Ooh! Are you hiring a pina colada taste tester?”. Because then I’d definitely apply. :)

Reply

Elizabeth West July 8, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Aaaand now that song is stuck in my head….

*blasts Daft Punk on her phone to get rid of it*

Reply

T (not longer in Construction) July 8, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Ahhhhhhh same problem!!

Reply

Esra July 8, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Everybody will be dancing tonight

Reply

evilintraining July 8, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I once got a letter from a man (a PhD, no less!) who was trying to get a committee position – completely unsolicited. It started that way and got unusually boring because the whole letter was a single run-on sentence about a quarter of a page long. Oy!

Reply

Ruffingit July 8, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Run on sentences are so frustrating. Off topic, but +1 for your name evilintraining. Love that!

Reply

Another Allison July 8, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I find the beginning of cover letters to be the most difficult part. It’s impossible not to use a cliche somehow, because it’s a cliched situation. You saw a job listing and recognized that it seemed like it could be a mutually great fit because of your skills and experience. And then how do you say that without sounding either totally dull or too clever by half? It’s a tough problem. But yeah, as usual your advice nails it — saying “If you are looking for x, then I am y,” isn’t the way to solve that conundrum.

Reply

Zahra July 8, 2013 at 4:40 pm

I usually go with the equally clichéd but less salesy “I’m writing about X position as advertised on Y.” It is stilted but I find it breaks the ice for me and gets right to the point.

Reply

Felicia July 8, 2013 at 5:42 pm

At the beginning I usually say something like I’m interested in this position because I have experience in x, y and z. Boring but I struggle soooo much with how to start to the point where the rest after the first sentence seems almost easy , so it gets me started.

Reply

Al Lo July 8, 2013 at 7:47 pm

I always indicate where I saw the posting, because I know that a lot of companies want to know how effective their various forms of posting are. It also helps to get that first sentence out of the way with a piece of information that’s actually useful.

Reply

Brandy July 9, 2013 at 8:33 am

I also tend to go with a pretty basic opener like this. I want them to know right away what position I’m applying for. Mine usually ends up looking something like “I am writing in regards to the open teapot painter at Teapots Unlimited”.

Also, like “Al Lo” below I like to put in where I learned of the position. I know when I was in hiring previously it was good to know if certain adds made any difference at all or didn’t generate any applications.

Reply

AnotherAlison July 8, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Ummm. . .you can’t steal my name, LOL. I’ve been using it here for at least a year.

AnAl is up for grabs, though : )

Reply

Oh Allison My Aim is True July 9, 2013 at 11:47 am

Two Ls, not quite theft! Just light plagiarism. Sorry, I didn’t realize though! Time for me to think of another handle and get “creative” — like a cover letter in sonnet form. ;)

Reply

Steve G July 8, 2013 at 9:35 pm

So true. I like your wording of “its hard not to be cliche because its cliche.” I have the same thing at work. Everyone tries to sound overly educated and experienced in my industry (energy), but they all end up using the same cliche phrases, series of acronyms/words when they don’t necessarily have to. That gets me upset because its cliche when it doesn’t necessarily have to be cliche!

Reply

Elizabeth July 8, 2013 at 4:41 pm

The only time something this sales-y ever worked on me was when someone took a similar approach but with negative characteristics, i.e. “Are you sick of employees who don’t show up on time? Who have no motivation? Who X, Y, Z?” I’m paraphrasing but as I read it I kept saying “Yes! Yes I AM sick of that!” She did it in a way that was funny but not obnoxious or cocky and while she wasn’t right for the position I was hiring for, I did hold on to her resume for another role I knew we’d have in the future.

Reply

Tina Career Counselor July 8, 2013 at 8:00 pm

I must have interpreted that differently than you. I read it as her insulting your company’s current employees, no? Granted, I’m sure every company has employees that show those behaviors, but not so sure I’d want a candidate pointing it out as a first impression.

Reply

PuppyKat July 8, 2013 at 9:48 pm

I interpreted that as someone trying to do what I do in a cover letter: recognizing that the hiring manager has a problem (open position, someone who hasn’t been performing, etc.) and telling them how I’m going to help “fix” their problem.

Reply

AB July 8, 2013 at 9:52 pm

As I read, I interpreted it as, “are you tired of having to recruit again and again for the same position due to these problems?”.

(So, not a comment directed to the company’s current employees, but rather the bad ones that got fired for low performance.).

Reply

Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 4:51 pm

I just write: “I’m applying for the position of X” then describe why I’m qualified.

Reply

Elizabeth West July 8, 2013 at 5:43 pm

You know, these are a lot like query letters (which basically are a cover letter, only to a publisher or agent). Queries are harrrrrrrdddd…..

Perhaps I should Alison-ize some of my queries and adapt her targeting techniques to better my approach. Maybe then I could get someone to read my freaking books!

Reply

Rana July 8, 2013 at 10:09 pm

That does not sound like a bad strategy at all. :)

Reply

fposte July 8, 2013 at 10:17 pm

In the small chance you don’t know already about Query Shark:

Reply

fposte July 9, 2013 at 10:56 am

Argh. The dreaded link invisibility. Here:

http://queryshark.blogspot.com/

Reply

Tuesday July 8, 2013 at 7:44 pm

This makes me think of Stefon from Weekend Update on SNL.

“If you’re looking for an experienced professional, look no further. New York’s hottest club is ME, and it’s got everything…”

Reply

Windchime July 8, 2013 at 8:28 pm

LOL, this is too funny and now this is what I’ll think of whenever I see a cover letter that starts that way. :) I love Stefon!

Reply

kristinyc July 9, 2013 at 7:40 am

Me too!

If you’re looking for a good time in New York, look no further. New York’s hottest employee is….BLLAAAAARFOOTINMOUTH.

This employee has everything!…

Reply

kristinyc July 9, 2013 at 7:41 am

…. if it was written really well and used that format, I’d probably interview that person.

Reply

Karyn July 9, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Am now CRYING laughing. The one where he was like, “New York’s hottest club is SPICY.” I die.

Reply

FD July 8, 2013 at 7:56 pm

I was scrolling by and misread that as “dynamite professional”…Useful for the Mythbusters perhaps?

Reply

Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 11:21 pm

I am currently a hiring manager at a pretty big company. I am new here, so I am not an expert on the process, but in the candidates I have been sent to review, I don’t even see a cover letter – just a resume. And the resume is plain text – no formatting or anything.

So while this is obviously not true for all employers, all that work on a cover letter and making a pretty resume is going to be lost on me.

Reply

Ask a Manager July 8, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Yes, there are some employers who don’t read them. But good hiring managers do because they’re hugely useful in culling your candidate pool — I would encourage you to ask to have them included when applications come to you.

Reply

Oh Allison My Aim is True July 9, 2013 at 11:49 am

Also, I should specify that my field is mainly writing, so the cover letter’s standards are that much higher, but if you knock it out of the park, the rest of your work is that much easier from there on out.

Reply

Anonymous July 9, 2013 at 12:23 am

I am not even sure that is an option. I am emailed a list of links to potential candidates and am directed to a system which displays the available information and a button to press to indicate if I want to go forward with the candidate. If the cover letters aren’t accessible there, it is going to be tough to chase after and manage them after the fact.

At my previous job, we didn’t have anywhere near as many applicants for the positions I was recruiting for. HR would email resumes to me as attachments. I would have to repeatedly ask for the cover letters and it was a lot of back and forth for every single applicant.

Reply

Ask a Manager July 9, 2013 at 12:34 am

I’d still push back. HR should be working for you, not dictating how you hire.

Reply

Suzy Schmoe July 9, 2013 at 12:47 am

Thank you! I see a lot of “dynamic professionals” on LinkedIn and it always makes me roll my eyes. I saw a guy’s profile there this week with his title listed as “Technical Genius.” He wasn’t currently employed, so it wasn’t an actual job title–he was just using that to describe himself. I seriously cannot imagine ever trying to call myself that and keep a straight face.

Reply

FD July 9, 2013 at 1:28 am

Yeah, if you are a technical genius, you don’t have to tell people. Your accomplishments say it for you.

Reply

Chocolate Teapot July 9, 2013 at 7:31 am

I once had a meeting with a recruiter who expressed some concerns about me for a particular position, saying that she didn’t think I was dynamic enough for the job.

Eh? Oddly enough, I went through the job description and explained my experience in each of the items. I seem to recall she went a bit quiet after that.

Reply

Anonicorn July 9, 2013 at 9:23 am

Ugh, “dynamic professional” reminds of this:

http://futurama.wikia.com/wiki/That_Guy

Reply

Leave a Comment

You can find the site's commenting guidelines here.

Previous post:

Next post: