CVs and cover letters are personal marketing documents. They exist to show an employer how you are a good fit for them.
Most of us have fallen into the trap of listing our skills and experiences, without explaining how these make us ideal candidates for the role. But the flipside can be just as bad. If we are too eager to meet the employer’s expectations, it’s easy to lose our originality. In this blog, we’ll look at ways to stay true to ourselves when writing job applications.
Edit with caution
When I was fourteen, I wrote a ‘story’ (heavy quote marks) where I vowed never to use the same word twice. I used words like ‘casement’ instead of ‘window’, thinking this would make me sound clever. In truth, it sounded ridiculous. A window is a window, and there was no good reason to call it anything else.
Of course, it’s important to avoid excessive repetition in your writing. But when editing your CV or cover letter, make sure you are using the right words, and not the words that sound the most impressive. Not all synonyms are interchangeable!
Unless you use words like ‘casement’ in real life, you risk sounding disingenuous. Employers want to hire you, not a heavily edited version of you. Also, they may only skim your application, so don’t make life harder for them by using flowery language. It should be readable and make its point from the get-go.
I see a lot of applications claiming the candidate is the ‘perfect fit’ for the role. Do you really need to be perfect get the job? This can feel clunky, exaggerated and, again, disingenuous, especially if you don’t back up this claim convincingly. It also implies you meet every one of the essential criteria and have no room for improvement. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t always what employers want.
Instead of perfect, could you argue that you are an ideal fit, or perhaps even excellent? This suggests that you are confident your skills match their requirements, without sounding cocky. Don’t forget to evidence this claim. Show them how you’re an excellent fit by giving examples of your skills and experiences, and link these back to specific criteria in the job description.
This should go both ways, so think carefully about how you write about the employer. They are rarely flattered by excessive compliments, and they don’t want to hear that they are ‘a leader in their field’ because that’s way too generic. It’s better to do thorough research into their work and find something you genuinely love. Likewise, be careful not to come off too strong with phrases like ‘dream job’ or ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’. Even if you feel they are true, you need to convey your motivation with more than just flattery.
Reflect the employer’s tone
This might sound at odds with being yourself, but hear me out. If an employer uses a formal tone in their job advert, you’ll stand a better chance of succeeding if you can reflect this in your cover letter. Other employers may be more relaxed. Always be professional, but don’t be afraid to mirror the employer’s style, even if it’s more on the casual side.
If you find this challenging, think about why this might be. Applications in general can be tricky – is it this? Or does the whole thing feel really, really off? If your application feels impersonal, put it down and try a different one. Perhaps that first role wasn’t right for you, and your energy is better spent elsewhere. If you can’t be yourself in your application, you likely won’t manage it in the role. So focus your efforts on the jobs that excite you. If you get stuck, take a look at our resources, or book an appointment for bespoke feedback.