I read a cover letter today that didn’t have a single complete sentence. Each sentence was written without a subject and many didn’t have a verb. The letter was nothing more than a collection of phrases and buzzwords. I’ve included most of the cover letter below, with identifying information removed.
Twenty years of sales experience with a proven track record and many achievements to mention! Caring and compassion to provide patients with quality products is important. Enjoy running a territory as if it was my own business and exceed at building and maintaining both new and existing relationships to maximize sales growth. Extensive experience calling on key personnel within hospitals and surgery centers.
This letter reads like a resume. It is common to omit the personal pronouns from a resume. This is the accepted style. In fact, the paragraph from the cover letter, with a few changes, could be used as a professional summary at the top of the resume.
A cover letter is different. The goal of a cover letter is to grab the attention of the reader and motivate them to want to read the resume. To do this, you need to make a connection with reader. Cover letters are direct, one-on-one communications between a job seeker and a hiring manager. It should be written like a business letter, with a personal, but professional style. The letter above does not fit this mold.
The first sentence of a cover letter should be direct and simple. It should have subject-verb-object structure. I read cover letters routinely that have complicated structures. This just discourages me from reading the entire cover letter. One of the sentence structures I do not like takes a modifying phrase and moves it to the beginning of the sentence. For example, “Possessing 10 years of experience in the widget industry, I have excellent management skills and an ability to drive performance and cut cost.” I would prefer a much more direct format. For example, “I have excellent management skills, gained through 10 years in the widget industry, enabling me to drive performance and cut costs.”
The cover letter I received is nothing more than a collection of phrases. After reading the first line, my impression was confusion. The structure did not fit what I expected. Now, it only took a second or two to figure out the format and structure, and this may seem inconsequential. The problem with this cover letter is that my first reaction was negative and my focus, even if for only a couple seconds, was on structure, not the content of the cover letter. The end effect was to cause me to question whether I should read the cover letter just a few seconds after looking at it.
It is important to remember that hiring managers screen large numbers of resumes at a time. Your cover letter and resume may only get a 15 to 30 look before the reader decides to discard it. This requires a structure and style that can be easily understood.