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Cover Letter Makeover

Dramatically improve the effectiveness of your resume cover letters with helpful tips from a career expert.

I, Me, My -- A Cover Letter Makeover

by Kevin Donlin

Since your cover letter is written by you and for the job that you want, it may seem natural spend a lot of time talking about you and your skills/qualifications.

Unfortunately, this often produces myopic (or "I-opic") cover letters...and poor results.

Remember that all employers listen to the same radio station: WII-FM. That stands for "What's In It For Me?"

To stand out from a stack of cover letters, yours must focus less on you and more on the results you can deliver.

If you do nothing else, try replacing the words "I", "me" and "my" with "you" wherever possible. This will put the emphasis back where it belongs -- on the employer and his/her problems.

Here's a before-and-after example of an actual cover letter. Note the number of times "I" and "my" appear:

"I am enclosing my resume for your review because I am very interested in obtaining a full-time position as an Investment Banking Analyst at Ace Financial.

"I am well qualified for this position. In addition to the strong quantitative and analytical skills I have developed as an undergraduate economics major and in my work experience, I have a proven ability to stay focused for long hours under pressure."

There are five instances of "I" and two of "my."

Now, here's that same cover letter, revised to focus more on the reader:

"I am applying for the position of Investment Banking Analyst where my combination of economics training and high-tech experience will add value to your operations. Please consider the following:

"You will gain from my strong financial background, which includes a recent bachelor's degree in economics, coupled with experience researching and trading securities as a successful investor (resulting in returns of 200%)."

Just one "I" and two "mys" -- a 57% reduction. With "you" and "your" thrown in twice for good measure.

Replacing "I" with "you" is an old advertising trick that's worked for decades. (Read any good advertisement and you'll always find "you" and "your" sprinkled liberally throughout.) And what's your cover letter? Essentially, it's an advertisement for your resume...which is an advertisement for you.

So follow the rules of the world's most successful advertising copywriters. Focus on "you," the reader, to dramatically improve the effectiveness of your cover letters.

Best of luck to you!

Kevin Donlin owns and operates Guaranteed Resumes. Since 1995, he has provided resumes, cover letters and online job-search assistance to clients. This article and hundreds like it on topics ranging from networking to resume writing to finding internships also appear in The Last Job Search Guide You'll Ever Need, a self-help job guide.