Category Archives: Cover Letters

10 Cover Letter Clichés You Must Avoid

too much advice

I was one of those ornery hiring managers who wanted to be challenged by a candidate’s cover letter and dazzled with an achievement-heavy résumé. Most of the time, I was disappointed in what I saw. Sure, there are lots of hiring managers who don’t give a rat’s behind about how good or bad your cover letter is, or who may not even be aware of how a well-written, hiring-manager-focused cover letter can indicate a strong résumé is likely attached.

And then there’s those who want to see how good you are at understanding how to use the cover letter to promote yourself as key resource for the hiring manager instead just promoting yourself. You have just 5 to 7 seconds to grab a hiring manager’s attention with your cover letter and you MUST do that with your opening sentence. Do NOT state the obvious like most cover letters do.

But for those of you who want to stand out from the crowd of candidates who are equally qualified, here’s a list of 10 cover letter clichés that will kill your efforts for going further in the hiring process –  especially if the hiring manager is someone who also wants that “something extra” from a candidate’s cover letter. Avoid these (and similar-sounding ones) like the plague.

  1. I have enclosed my résumé for your consideration… For crying out loud – I’m reading a cover letter. I KNOW that your résumé is going to follow the cover letter and OF COURSE you want me consider it. You must get to the point immediately. Place the position title for which you are applying in the “re:” line just above your opening salutation. You can get that bit of business out of the way and not waste precious space stating the obvious.
  2. As you can see from my résumé…/As my résumé reveals, I have…Why do I need to look at your résumé if you’ve summarized it in your cover letter? That’s another misuse of valuable space. Never use your cover letter as a summary of your duties, responsibities, degrees, certifications, awards, etc. But DO include accomplishments – even better if you can attach some value to those accomplishments, such as revenues generated, costs avoided, percent improvement. And put that information close to the top.
  3. I am a self-starter/self-motivated/conscientious…Says who? You? This is just another way of saying you are a hard worker. Well, guess what…so is my grandson who works at Pizza Hut part time while pursuing his undergraduate studies. Such statements do not differentiate you from others who may be saying the same thing. Any statement about your personal qualities written by YOU will naturally be somewhat suspect because you won’t be writing that you are lazy, unmotivated, and require a kick start. Avoid the self-accolades. These are qualities that are best said about you by others.
  4. I feel that/I believe that/I’m confident that you will find….Hiring managers aren’t persuaded by what you feel, believe, think, or how confident you are about your qualifications for the position. They will determine that by seeing how much value your accomplishments (not duties or responsibilities) brought to previous positions from your résumé. Avoid such squishy language because it turns off many hiring managers.
  5. I am passionate about…/I love working with… Again, a hiring manager has no interest in what you love or what you are passionate about. More squishy language to avoid.
  6. I have a proven track record…Really? Then for me to believe the “proof” I’ll need to see highlighted accomplishments on your résumé that are (1) quantified or (2) demonstrate a contribution beyond duties and responsibilities to the organization’s higher strategic objectives. Don’t write this if you can’t comply with either/both of these requirements.
  7. Thank you for your time and consideration. Two statements that shouldn’t appear in a cover letter if you fully grasp the purpose of a cover letter: Please and Thank you. The cover letter should have a declarative tone as it’s a promotional piece that affirms your expertise as the problem solver the hiring manager is looking for. Their “time and consideration” is part of their job – they aren’t doing you a favor.
  8. I look forward to hearing from you…Of course you do. If you are the expert problem solver you claim to be, the hiring manager should be looking forward to hearing from you. To improve your odds of contining forward in the hiring process, you have to take control of the next contact. Tell that hiring manager you will be contacting him or her in the next few days to further discuss how you can be that solutions provider he or she has been looking for. And initiate the contact.
  9. I can be reached at the numbers below (or above). Do you really need to tell a hiring manager how to contact you when your contact information is at the top of the cover letter or underneath your signature block?
  10. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. Really? Do you have to tell a hiring manager to do this?

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Want to receive a free copy of my Career Strategy Tip Sheets? You get 5 bundled tip sheets (PDF) for career strategy, cover letters, résumés, job interview, and salary negotiation. Just let me know your thoughts on this or any blog post–or let me know of a career topic you’d like me to discuss from the hiring manager’s perspective.


My name is  Donn LeVie Jr. and I’m a former hiring manager for Fortune 500 companies (Phillips Petroleum, Motorola, Intel Corporation, and others) and have worked in the federal government (NOAA) and in academia as an adjunct faculty lecturer in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics for the University of Houston (Downtown Campus). I am the author of Strategic Career Engagement(September 2015), and the book that reset the rules for successful job and career strategies:  Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (June 2012, Winner of the 2012 Global eBook Award and Winner of the 2012 International Book Award for Jobs/Careers).  I lead career strategy seminars at conferences, business/trade schools, colleges and universities, and U.S. military veterans organizations. I also offer a Career Engagement Evaluation subscription program to associations as a member benefit.

Does your conference need a keynote speaker or a career strategies seminar for conference attendees? My 2016-2017 engagement calendar is starting to fill up…contact me directly at for more information.

Don’t miss out on my blog posts…follow me now on Twitter @donnlevie and join in the jobs/career conversations at the Strategic Career Engagement LinkedIn discussion group. 

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HR Trends in Hiring You Need to Know


As social networking sites become more attuned to the needs of employers, research suggests that HR departments will change how they use video résumés, social and networking sites, and cover letters.

A study from 2009 found that:

  • 46% of employers (HR departments) prefered to receive résumés via email (41% attached; 5% embedded), 38% uploaded to the company web site (34% résumé copied in entirety; 4% in sections), and 7% preferred a paper résumé. None of the employers preferred to review a candidate’s résumé on a candidate’s own web page.
  • Companies with fewer than 100 employees preferred to receive résumés via email than larger compaines.
  • 71% of employers preferred the traditional chronological résumé format (21% prefer text format)
  • 56% of employers preferred a cover letter to accompany a résumé.

A 2015 study by the MacroThink Institute found that employer preferences were not projected to change for next two years. However, the use of video résumés was found to be a statistically significant change indicating a steady increase in the number of employers who will want to use video résumés two years from now.

The 2015 study suggested use of cover letters to decline over the next two years, but despite the expected growth of video résumés and decline of paper cover letters, the expected preference of cover letters is still nearly double that of video résumés.

Most practices and tools used by HR will remain relatively unchanged for the next couple of years, but social and professional networking, video résumés, and application tracking systems will become more prevalent.

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Want to receive a free copy of my Career Strategy Tip Sheets? You get 5 bundled tip sheets (PDF) for career strategy, cover letters, résumés, job interview, and salary negotiation. Just let me know your thoughts on this or any blog post–or let me know of a career topic you’d like me to discuss from the hiring manager’s perspective.


Former Fortune 500 hiring manager Donn LeVie Jr. is the author of Strategic Career Engagement (September 2015), and the book that reset the rules for successful job and career strategies:  Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (June 2012, Winner of the 2012 Global eBook Award and Winner of the 2012 International Book Award for Jobs/Careers). He leads career strategy seminars at conferences, business/trade schools, colleges and universities, and U.S. military veterans organizations.

Does your conference need a keynote speaker or a career strategies seminar for conference attendees? Donn’s 2016-2017 engagement calendar is starting to fill up…contact him directly at

Don’t miss out on Donn’s blog posts…follow him now on Twitter @donnlevie and join in the jobs/career conversations at the Strategic Career Engagement LinkedIn discussion group.

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Part 3: Do You Need Professional Career Help? Coaches, Recruiters, and Résumé Writers

Do I need Professional Help

YOU are the Best Option for Writing Your Cover Letter and Résumé

It’s been said that if you give a man a fish, you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime. Having someone else develop your résumé for you is the equivalent of them giving you a fish for the day, and if that’s good enough for you today, fine. But what about tomorrow, and the day after that?  What you really want is to be fed for a lifetime by being able to write your own cover letters and résumés, and develop first-rate interview skills for whatever job or career change you find yourself in today and in the future. You might need some help, but you should be responsible for writing—and rewriting—that résumé and cover letter.

I don’t “typically” rewrite cover letters or résumés for career strategy clients because I don’t know their expertise anywhere close to their own knowledge of it. (I say, “typically,” because if a client really has no clue and they specifically request that I provide a rewrite, I will.) I do, however, suggest changes to résumés and cover letters that get clients out of the “I, me, my, mine” context approach, and encourage them to rethink their skills, knowledge, experience, and expertise in a manner that takes more of a consultant’s approach to solving other people’s problems. That means promoting how your expertise provides future benefits to the hiring manager.

No one but you knows the extent of the skill, the breadth of experience, the depth of knowledge, the decision making, the problem solving that goes behind every bulleted item on your résumé, and no one can express it better than you because you lived it. You can learn how to best express it in meaningful terms that address the needs of a hiring manager. That skill feeds you for a lifetime, and that’s what I teach in my books, seminars, personal consults (for subscribing organizations), and in 2016, online videos and workbooks.

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How to Make a Cover Letter Address Hiring Manager Needs

guy reading letterIn the many years I have advised individuals on creating attention-getting cover letters, the one thing that is most difficult for them to grasp is how to turn a statement about themselves or their expertise into content that addresses the hiring manager’s needs. Too many people still think of the cover letter as formal business document when in fact, it’s most effective use is as a sales letter that promotes your skills, knowledge, and experience as a service you are offering to the hiring manager. Forego much of the stodgy style between the salutation and the close of the cover letter and use a little self-promotion language. You have 5 to 7 seconds to grab the hiring manager’s attention…if you do and he or she reads your cover letter, you have set the hook for them to then look at your résumé.

Here are a few examples of how to take statements about you and turn them into statements directed at the hiring manager’s needs:

  • Throughout my career, I have been able to save both capital and man hours with my proven ability managing design and simulation optimization.
    New version: Your organization will benefit from proven expertise  managing design and simulation optimization–saving your organization capital expense and man hours.

Notice how the new version removes the “I/me/my” tone and replaces it with “your.” Rather than “me” saving capital and man hours as part of a past accomplishment, the hiring manager’s organization becomes the beneficiary of those savings in the new version.

  • Not only do I know how regulators view and approach issues but I also understand the challenges that corporations face in remaining competitive while meeting their regulatory and control requirements.
    New version: You will need someone who knows how regulators view and approach issues, and understands the challenges your organization faces in remaining competitive while meeting regulatory and control requirements.

Not a bad statement in the original, but simply taking “I” out of it and redirecting the tone toward the hiring manager (“you/your”), it becomes a more powerful selling statement for the candidate, and edges the hiring manager closer to looking at the résumé and perhaps setting up an interview (especially if the candidate takes control of the next contact in the closing paragraph of the cover letter).

  • My time spent on audit engagement provided me with experience for assessing internal controls, analyzing financial statements, and honing my professional skepticism.
    New version: You will need an expert experienced with audit engagement, internal control assessment, financial statement analysis, and sharp professional skepticism on your forensic accounting team.

Again, rethinking the core essential information in the original statement and slanting it to the hiring manager’s needs makes this expertise more directly pertinent to the hiring manager. The three instances of “I/me/mine” in the original that highlight the past have been replaced with two instances of “you/your” that address the hiring manager’s needs going forward.

Reminders (see previous posts for details):

  1. Don’t use “please” or “thank you” in a cover letter.
  2. That first sentence MUST grab the hiring manager’s attention for him or her to continue reading.
  3. Avoid stating the obvious: “I am writing to you in response to…” or “I have enclosed my résumé…” or “Feel free to contact me at the number below.”
  4. Take control of the next contact: Avoid “I hope to hear from you at your earliest convenience…” “I am available for an interview at your convenience.” Instead, tell the hiring manager when you’ll be calling to follow up…don’t think “cover letter”–think “sales letter.”
  5. Standard close is “Sincerely,” not “Kind regards” or “Yours truly”

This will be my last post for the year. Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas and New Years…see you in 2014.

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Cover Letter Intro: Please get to the point

get-to-the-pointIn the many cover letter evaluations I provide for members of client organizations and associations, I continue to be bored to tears with the opening paragraphs of cover letters. I know of no hiring manager who starts his or her day thinking, “I can’t wait to get to the office to read more poorly written cover letters and résumés…” One factor that drives the hiring manager to the edge is that of cover letters with opening paragraphs which state the obvious. Here are a few examples along with my comments:


  • “I have attached my résumé in response to…”
  • “Recently, I learned about a possible position with your company.  I am very interested in applying for this position.  I believe that my background and experience in this industry makes me an excellent candidate for the open position.”
  • “I am writing to express my interest in working as an <position A> or <position B> with your organization. I am highly talented and dedicated professional with over 25 years of progressive experience in <skill A>, <skill B>, and <skill C>. Now, I would like to bring my expertise and knowledge to work for your organization.”
  • “I am excited to see the <position title> with <company name>.”
  • “I am interested in the position of <position name> posted on your website.”
  • “I am writing to share my interest in applying for the <position name> as posted on your website.  <Position name> has been a strong desire of mine, and my customer service experience at <current employer name> would make a great fit for your organization.”

OK, that’s enough. None of these opening salvos generate any interest in the hiring manager to read further. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve seen me write time and again about having only  5 to 7 seconds to get a hiring manager’s attention with the cover letter. None of these examples do it. You may have stellar experience and accomplishments, but by the time you get to mentioning them, I’m already reading the next candidate cover letter. PLEASE, get to the point sooner than later!

These few examples reveal a common problem with cover letters (besides not getting to the point): stating the obvious. It’s a “cover letter”; the hiring manager knows why you are writing it. You don’t have to write a preface about the purpose of the cover letter or why you are writing in the first place.  So, before firing off that cover letter with your résumé for that next position, keep these simple guidelines in mind:

  • You MUST grab the hiring manager’s attention in that 5 to 7 second window in your first sentence and opening paragraph.
  • The hiring manager already knows why you are writing, and already assumes you are interested in the open position, so there’s no need to restate it.
  • Use your accomplishments and achievements (can you quantify them? If so, even better) to demonstrate how you are a great fit for the organization. Just saying so in your cover letter–without any demonstrated accomplishments/achievements on your résumé that show a contribution to a higher strategic objective–ring hollow in the ears of the hiring manager. “Demonstrated expertise” means that your résumé contains evidence of how your skills, knowledge, and experience contributed to generating revenue, avoiding costs, recovering costs, or some measurable percentage of improvement.
  • Don’t summarize your experience in the cover letter–the purpose of the cover letter is to convince the hiring manager to look at the details of your expertise that’s on your résumé; speak directly to the hiring manager’s needs in the position–use the same wording that’s in the job ad. You want to position yourself as the hiring manager’s problem solver, solutions expert, game changer and you do that with (1) understanding what the hiring manager needs; (2) demonstrated achievements (don’t confuse task completion with achievement–see previous posts that detail the difference between the two).
  • Saying you are “highly talented and dedicated” is only affirmed by demonstrated accomplishment.
  • Don’t even write, “As my résumé reveals…” That’s a given as well…if the hiring manager is reading your cover letter, chances are there is a résumé in the vicinity.
  • Hiring managers really don’t care much about what you “believe” about your background or experience–how you have demonstrated it with past accomplishments is what interests them. Oh, and hiring managers really don’t care much about how much you “love” a certain profession, field, or expertise–or how strong your “desire” is…again, it’s the demonstrated accomplishments that will communicate that to the hiring manager. “Love” and “desire” have no place in business correspondence.

Put yourself in a mindset of being in business for yourself as a consultant. How would you write a letter of introduction to a potential client? You’d begin by getting to the point with past accomplishments (especially when framed with $$or % figures), and assuring the potential client your expertise can serve him well going forward. Your “letter of introduction” has a self-promotional tone to it that reinforces your self-assurance that you understand the client’s challenges and issues and you are the best available expert who can help him achieve the business objectives necessary for future success.

And don’t forget to close the business letter–I mean, cover letter–with YOU initiating the next contact with the follow-up phone call.


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Using Direct Mail Strategies to Create an Effective Cover Letter

In my workshops, presentations, and personal consultations, I am always emphasizing how the best cover letters include elements of great advertising copywriting. A  well-written direct mail piece emphasizes product or service benefits to the customer; a well-written cover letter emphasizes the benefits of your expertise to the hiring manager. A well-written direct mail piece retains control of the next step by asking for the sale in the closing paragraph; a well-written cover letter takes control of the next contact by telling the hiring manager to expect a follow-up phone call to continue the dialogue about how the candidate’s expertise is just what the hiring manager has been looking for.

Step 1

Create a flowchart describing your expertise (skills, knowledge, experience and most importantly, your achievements) and why that expertise is necessary. Before you write a single word on your cover letter, it is vital to establish in your own mind what your specialty is—your professional brand offer–what it does, and why the hiring manager cannot live without it. This may sound simple on the surface, but this step requires deep thought and consideration. Really think about what you have to offer and the benefits that the hiring manager will reap by hiring you. Write down all of these points and refer to this list as you draft your cover letter. The flowchart should cover the following: The Need(s) of the hiring manager, the Solution you provide, and Benefits to the hiring manager.

Step 2

Establish the need and a link to the hiring manager.  Do this in the first sentence and paragraph of your letter. You know the challenges and issues facing the hiring manager and the particular profession or industry. Use this paragraph to drive home two points: First, that you and the hiring manager have something in common, and second, that your expertise is the solution he or she needs.

Step 3

Offer the hiring manager a solution. Now that you have established that link between you and the hiring manager and mentioned the challenges, you need to provide him with a solution. This section of your cover letter should inform the hiring manager that your expertise is the answer to their problem — the expertise that he has been looking for, supported with proven past accomplishments (not duties or responsibilities) pertinent to the position. This section should be written in positive and enthusiastic tones.

Step 4

Drive home the benefits that the hiring manager will reap from your expertise. You’ve gotten the hiring manager to this point — he knows he needs what you have to offer, and he knows it’s going to help him in some way. Now, he needs to know the benefits of that expertise if he hires you.  This is an emotional section for the reader. Purchases are often made not based on logic, but rather emotion.

Step 5

Consider providing a special offer. You’ve laid the groundwork for your pitch, now it’s time to drive home the point that you are the problem solving expert he has been looking for. This suggestion may only be for the brave, but consider offering the hiring manager an enticement that will get him to take some action, such as a “try me before you hire me” option. Offer to work for free for a week as a “tryout” for the position. The job market is always highly competitive regardless of the state of the economy, and you need to be able to offer the hiring manager something that will get him to give more serious consideration to hiring you. The “try me before you hire me” approach may be just the trick. Even if a hiring manager doesn’t take you up on that offer (most won’t for various policy or legal reasons), the fact that you willing to work for free for a week sends a strong message about your confidence and your ability to hit the ground running. If it works, it’s a way to instantaneously eliminate the competition for the position—as long as you deliver during that week.

Step 6

Reinforce your message and control the next contact. The last paragraph should be used to reinforce the entire cover letter. Remind the hiring manager why he needs your expertise, what it will do for him, and how that value-add will contribute to the company’s success. Always initiate the next contact in your cover letter. Never leave the next contact to the hiring manager, as in “I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.” Don’t sell the hiring manager on your expertise and why he needs it only to then leave him hanging in your last paragraph. Instead, summarize with, “These examples illustrate how my expertise can work for you and <company name>. I will call you in a few days to further discuss how I am that value-add resource you have been looking for.” Then make the phone call. The key to getting a job offer is creating familiarity with your name with the hiring manager throughout the entire hiring process because the most qualified candidate doesn’t necessarily receive the job offer—it’s often the person who made the most favorable impression.


Don't Underestimate the Importance of a Cover Letter

The cover letter is an important component of your documentation arsenal

At a recent national conference where I was speaking, someone asked me, “Do I really need a cover letter these days, even when a job ad doesn’t ask for one?” I touched upon this point in an older post, so let me elaborate some here.

Some hiring managers think that a cover letter is a waste of time because they don’t get read.  Well, they often don’t get read because most are poorly written and are created more as an afterthought instead of being developed with purpose. Done correctly, a cover letter is another document in your portfolio that attests to your professional expertise and your brand. It summarizes in a high level–with a touch of marketing panache–the accomplishments and capabilities detailed on your résumé with only minimal explicit verbatim repetition.

The best cover letters are written after the résumé has been polished much the way the preface of a book is written after the manuscript is finished. The résumé provides the raw materials for the cover letter, the purpose of which is to get the hiring manager to look at the résumé. Hiring managers that don’t read cover letters and go directly to the résumé  often miss out on a candidate who may be a notch above the competition simply by how they sell their professional brand in the cover letter. If all I do is scan résumés, then I’m just looking for another employee; I may inadvertently pass over the problem solver, the solutions provider, or the game changer my team or company needs.

The cover letter is another form of documentation in your Professional Skills, Knowledge, and Experience (PSKE™) Portfolio that attests to your professional brand. For consultants, the letter of introduction serves the same purpose as the cover letter and contains the same underlying message: I understand your business and the issues you face every day; when you need that value-add professional who has a demonstrated record of accomplishment and success, you call me.

The cover letter must do these things to get the hiring manager to look at your résumé–or perhaps get you called in for an interview based on the strength of your cover letter along as it did me three times in my career:

  1. It must speak to the hiring manager’s needs, not your own. You do that by following the rule of thumb that says your cover letter should have more instances of the words you/your/yours than of the words I/me/my/mine. Even the one-sentence underlying message in the previous paragraph speaks to the hiring manager’s needs with more instances of you/your than I/me (4:2 ratio). That’s just simple advertising copyrighting put to work in your cover letter.
  2. Quantified accomplishments pulled from your résumé communicate to the hiring manager that you do, in fact, have a proven track record (just saying so without the evidence to back it up is a far too common problem). Hiring managers understand numbers more than words. The number of arrests you made as a government agent may not mean anything to a hiring manager in the private sector, but your success rate (percentage) certainly will. Rethink numbers using the hiring manager’s criteria.
  3. You have 5 to 7 seconds to get a hiring manager’s attention with your cover letter. You don’t do that by beginning with, “Please find enclosed my resume…. “ You start it with a rhetorical question such as, “Do you think that Company ABC would want a financial risk management professional who has accomplished the following: “ and then you follow that with a bullet list of quantified accomplishments pulled from your résumé. Leading with a rhetorical question whose only rational response is “yes“ is a tactic that has you escorting the hiring manager deeper into your cover letter and the other accomplishments that support your contention that you are the perfect candidate.
  4. You can put on your assertive unabashed self-promoter hat when creating your cover letter but only if you have the quantified accomplishments to back it up. Writing something like, “When you need that proposal writer who has garnered more than $30 million in government grants and awards, you call me: John Doe“, it is perfectly legit if that claim is on your résumé. But without the evidence to support that assertion, you’re just “all hat, no cattle“ as they say here in Texas.
  5. Always take control of the follow up in your closing paragraph. Never write about “hoping to hear from you“ or “thank you for your consideration.“  Tell the hiring manager you will call in a few days to discuss further how you are that value-add professional for the position–and then follow through with the phone call.  Whether you speak to the hiring manger directly, to voice mail, or an administrative assistant matters not. Taking control of the follow up gets your name across the hiring manager’s desk again. And keeping your name out front throughout the entire hiring process–especially after interviews are finished–is a key to improving your chances of getting the job offer as I detail in Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (Second Edition).