What to Say to Get Hired, Fired, and Ignored

Lessons from editing 500 cover letters and resumes

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Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

I spent a year working as a university editor, where I would help students and recent graduates revise their cover letters and resumes. Then, I spent a year working as an editor, where I was exposed to professional submissions of cover letters and inquiry letters.

A lot of students, recent graduates, and professionals have exceptional qualifications and top-notch degrees. But this didn’t always translate appropriately when lined everything up on a resume, cover letter, or CV.

Though I saw a great deal of resumes and CV’s, I’m going to focus on cover letters here because they usually present the trickiest tides to navigate.

There are infinite online resources and templates for cover letters, which is why I won’t be providing a template in this article. Instead, I’ll be writing about tone and approach — or, the amorphous, intangible aspects of a cover letter.

People looking to get hired often let their stress and anxiety come out through their writing. Too short or too long of sentences, omission of relevant experiences, lack of self-assurance — why apply for a job if you’re not going to act like you deserve it?

Even in reading a cover letter, confidence shines through (and a lack of confidence is like a deafening silence).

So what does this mean?

Say what you have to say with confidence. Say what you have to say as if you truly believe it. Don’t mince words or write vaguely.

Don’t tell them that you are applying for a job that you believe you could handle, but communicate that this is a position that you are ideal for, one that you will excel at.

Include why you are a strong applicant. Include why a pairing such as this (yourself and this company/position/employer) would be not only fitting, but positive.

A cover letter should communicate who you are beyond the lists and statistics on your resume. Part of this “who you are” is your confidence.

Confidence echoes far louder than you may think. It can help employers feel comfortable taking a chance on someone with less experience, or it can reassure an employer of a strong “on-paper” candidate.

Confidence is conveyed is by precise, concrete examples that are relayed with conviction and without hesitation.

Confidence can be communicated through anecdotes of your personal life or professional life, stories that you tell convincingly to convince your employer that you are more than prepared for future challenges.

I’ve often read cover letters that conveyed stories without much concrete detail. This lack of precision implies a lack of confidence or truth.

Failure to articulate concrete facts, experiences, and achievements and instead opting for generalities does not communicate confidence. It holds no shape or value.

Without defining, precisely, the bounds and details of something, it is conveyed as an uncertainty — precision helps mitigate uncertainties.

The least convincing cover letters I would review always used vague terms, and often unintentionally. Compressing ambiguity into definitive stakes in the ground is what communicates confidence to the reader.

To not get hired, speak vaguely and without precision. To not get hired, don’t focus on any specific detail within an anecdote and instead expound upon generalities.

For example, if I were to write a cover letter that included my experience as a university editor, I would highlight specifics such as my ability to efficiently edit resumes and cover letters which stems from reviewing dozens of them per week. Then, I could expand upon how my exact experience editing these cover letters and resumes translates to specific job requirements for the position I was applying for.

Something along the lines of: My experience editing resumes and cover letters in a university setting provides me with the exact skill set required to excel in _____ within your company.

Communicate with precision to convey confidence in a cover letter.

Tighten your cover letter by highlighting specific details of stories, experiences, and anecdotes. Avoid vagueness and string together tangible and relevant specifics.

Communicate exactly how these specific instances in your experience can contribute to the specific duties within the desired position.

Be precise, concrete, and clear. These qualities convey confidence which (hopefully) results in a higher success rate.

Phil is a freelance writer and editor. If you liked this article, you can see more of his ideas on his travel blog and Instagram.

Written by

Bestselling travel writer. Columnist. Author. USC Annenberg School of Journalism. https://philsnextstop.blog

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