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Cover Letter Casualties - Beware Of Ego Overkill

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesJob Search, Job Interview Questions, & Job Interview TipsCover Letter Casualties - Beware Of Ego Overkill, Proof, Proof, And Proof Some More, No Room For Excuses In The Cover Letter

Beware of Ego Overkill

Job Seeker's Story

With a bachelor's degree in psychology and master's degree in clinical psychology, Carrie had initially gotten a job as a mental health counselor with a large, residential treatment facility for teenagers. She had been there a few years, but was really beginning to miss being back in the Midwest where she grew up, and she was getting bored.

As Carrie broadened her job search to include all types of counseling jobs, she excitedly penned a cover letter for a job posting in Cincinnati, her hometown. She wrote:

I am writing to you because I want to take this opportunity in my life to relocate back to Cincinnati, the home of my birth. I feel it is time to move back from the East Coast where I got my schooling and am currently employed.

Last week I learned about your opening for a High School Mental Health Counselor while speaking with a friend. I then called someone at the school district office who confirmed the Mental Health Counselor position was still open. I believe my education and experience are just right for this job.

I have included my previous employment background, as well as my phone number and e-mail address, on the attached résumé. I would like the opportunity to talk with you to further discuss the salary and benefits you are offering before I come to Cincinnati to interview. I can be reached on my cell phone—see my résumé for the precise contact information. I look forward to hearing from you by Friday.

As Carrie mailed her résumé and cover letter to Cincinnati on Monday, she started counting the days until Friday when she felt sure she would get a return phone call. Unfortunately, Carrie's hopes were dashed. There was no phone call, only a letter stating that the position had been filled.

Job Seeker's Stumble

This cover letter, while written sincerely, missed the mark. Carrie's overuse of the word “I” to begin almost every sentence, as well as emphasis on her need to find out the salary and benefits first, leaves an impression of being very self-centered and lacking in professional communication skills. With no mention of her actual qualifications, Carrie left it up to the reviewer to find that information on her résumé.

Job Seeker's New Strategies

Starting sentences with the word I is a commonly seen plague in cover letters. Learning to vary sentence structure is one way to overcome that mistake. Let's de-construct Carrie's letter to improve her self-marketing content and grammatical flow, and change the tone from self-serving to helpful. Here are a few tips:

  • Focus on Their Needs, Not Yours: It is fine to state that you wish to relocate and why, but that self-centered need should not be cited as the driving force behind your motive to apply for the position. Instead, Carrie could have written, “Emily Warren, the Superintendent at the Plainfield School District, suggested I contact you directly regarding the position of Mental Health Counselor at Plainfield High School, as my qualifications are a perfect match with your requirements. With my professional experience helping teenagers manage mental-heath issues, as well as my familiarity with Plainfield High School (I am a native of Cincinnati), I could acclimate quickly to your school and begin providing immediate mental-health services.
  • Build in Highly Visible Proof: Provide the reviewer with proof of accomplishments in the cover letter and facilitate readability with “sound bites” of information. For example, Carrie could have written, “My strengths and accomplishments are noted in detail on my résumé. Here is just a brief glimpse of what you will find:
    • Psychological training in adolescent stressors, addictions counseling, and suicide prevention. Achieved 4.0 GPA in both Master's degree and Bachelor's degree programs.
    • Two years of experience in a residential treatment facility for adolescents (ages 14–19) with mental-health and substance-abuse issues. Voted “Most Valuable Employee” for six (out of eight) consecutive quarters of service.
    • Experience with dually diagnosed adolescents. Received commendation for quick thinking in crisis intervention with distraught teenage resident.
    • Leadership role model with teenagers. Volunteered in high school after-hours recreation programs and in homeless shelters to intervene with mental-health issues and provide stability and mental-health resources. Recommended by high school principal and director of homeless shelter to other volunteer programs.”
  • Close With Consideration and Confidence: Be considerate of the reviewer's time; include your contact information in your cover letter. Carrie might have said, “If the characteristics and accomplishments I have noted describe the candidate you desire, may we talk soon? I am very eager to bring my genuine caring and compassion, combined with my proven mental-health skills, to the students of Plainfield High School. You can reach me on my cell phone at 555-222-3333 during the day. Thank you for your consideration.

In fact, every document you send, whether a résumé, cover letter, bio, references list, thank you letter, or follow-up letter, should contain your contact information. If your cover letter became separated from your résumé, for example, then you could still be contacted. Showing consideration for the reviewer's time may seem to be a small matter, but it subtly signals a professional approach and team spirit.

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