Quick Tips For Cover Letters — Part 2: Tone

Earlier we discussed style in cover letter writing.  This go round, we are going to focus on tone which is created by our word choices.  And for cover letters everything should have an active tone.  Check your apathy and passivity at the door, because to get a job we have to present an empowered, proactive stance to our audience — i.e. the people who weed out resumes for hiring managers, the hiring managers themselves and any of the assortment of interviewers we may encounter when we are invited to come in to meet.

So what do we mean by active instead of passive?  The words we choose to describe ourselves and our experiences should by dynamic, suggest activity and keep us in the present tense.  Thus:

"I supervised four employees and also handled all human resource responsibilities which included payroll, filing employment forms and coordinating benefits."

Becomes:

"While supervising four part-time and full-time employees, I simultaneously managed all human resource responsibilities for the office.  The HR duties encompassed all aspects of payroll, filing of federal, state and local employment forms and coordination of health insurance and other benefits."

See the difference?  One sounds like a grocery list, the other sounds like a novel!  After reviewing twenty or thirty resumes, most hiring managers simply start skimming the cover letters.  Our goal is to entice the manager to skim our application a bit more deeply and ultimately take a thorough review of our resume so that our chances of being interviewed increase.

Now let's use another example where we are describing our current position.

"In my time with ABC Company I have been promoted twice, each offering me new and greater responsibilities.  Currently I coordinate all public relations functions and mange the company's social media campaigns.  These require an attention to detail, an ability to work under deadline and careful proofreading skills to assure success.  I write press releases, newsletters and a variety of corporate communications to a number of constituents, which include corporate clients, government agencies and the general public."

That's sounds pretty good, no?  But what if we flesh out the narrative slightly…

"After two promotions in two years, I now manage ABC's public relations and social media campaigns.  My responsibilities require that I plan, write and distribute weekly press releases to a list of 3,000 media contacts. Additionally, I compose newsletters, brochures and a variety of communications collateral that are directed towards corporate clients and government agency heads, as well as the general public.  In my social outreach duties, I coordinate a series of weekly Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn promotional messages that are distributed via the Internet on a daily basis.  The position requires that I handle multiple deadlines, pay close attention to details and carefully proofread all materials."

In the second, we simply fluffed it up a bit by adding a few numbers, making sure we included the current technology and placing the meat of the paragraph at the beginning.

And now, just a word of caution.  When you are creating your cover narrative, there is a difference between fluffing and lying.  It's always best to not lie when putting together your resume and letter.  While you want your application to be interesting; you also want everything you send to a potential employer to be honest and sound professional.  Good luck!