Cover Letter Contest

Hi all – and thanks for playing along! Contest entries are closed, but you can still win just reading and adapting a lot of great advice from people who played.

Here are my thoughts about this cover letter.

  1. It’s not marketing. In the direct-marketing world, great marketing is focused squarely on the felt needs of the customer, NOT the features of the product. When I look at this letter one word stands out…the word “I” is in it 14 times, so it’s obviously about the candidate, not the hiring manager.

    Both Lynn and Sathana correctly spotted all the “I’s”, and Jeff really nailed it – nothing in there has tweaked curiosity and focused on ROI.

    Remember, as you write, that your major competitor isn’t other candidates, it’s the reader’s own need to rapidly come to a conclusion and move on to other work.

  1. The approach is too strong. Basically this letter throws down a gauntlet. Hiring is a game full of skeptics and cynics (no, not just me)…if you say, “I know I meet and exceed all requirements” you’re forcing the hiring manager to choose on the spot to believe you.

    Given the number of candidates he’s going to get, that approach is practically guaranteed to have him open up a file in his head where he will list all the reasons you don’t meet or exceed his requirements.

    Remember that most of the critical requirements WON’T be on the job ad anyway, so to stake your credibility on his poorly written requirements is a cover letter no-no. A job seeker saying “I’m qualified” on a resume is like a prisoner saying, “I’m innocent” in the state pen. It may be true, but credible proof is what counts.

    Gold stars to Lynn and Susan for spotting this!

  2. The words are from the job seeker handbook. Using phrases like, “…meet and exceed all of the attributes you have solicited…” sounds like something right out of a bad cover letter template. It screams, “I’m a job seeker and I demand to be recognized as competent.”

    You ask, “Don’t you want to sound like a job seeker when you’re applying for a job?” NO! You want to slip past all those people who use that template and say things that are real, genuine, and honest.

    The second paragraph strings together: led…challenge…occasions…unified consensus…internal group leaders…external customers…commoditized product. These are all fifty-cent, Dilbert-terms generated words almost no one uses in real life. They immediately make the message sound fake, ‘processed’ if you will. It’s like a 9-year old standing there in his father’s suit as a little kid…nice suit, but it doesn’t fit.

    Lots of you got this – David, Roger, Lynn, Bill – almost all of you. Bill’s note is particularly good – no proofreading! Often we write and re-write until we’re like a sculptor that’s turned a reasonably good statue into a hideous beastly thing that doesn’t resemble what we started it out to be. Famous copywriter John Clayton advises his students to write as if there’s a gun to their head and only write absolutely what’s necessary to be clear and compel action.

  3. NEVER admit to being a hybrid. While the job ad certainly asks for a marketer that understands and communicates with sales (and in this case, the candidate’s sales experience is helpful), saying, “I’m a hybrid” in a letter is not wise.

    Remember, employers love it when they end up with a multi-function person, virtually every hiring process and mind-set I’ve ever seen in 782 hires is about getting a specialist to solve one or two problems…not a generalist.

    Job seekers today rage on forums about how stupid employers are to not want someone with multiple skills in multiple areas…and remain unemployed because that’s just not how it is. Specialist. Not Generalist.

    No one got this, but it’s good advice…!

To fix this cover letter, start with the same advice I give when you’re writing a resume. Ask yourself: what do you think they’re trying to get accomplished with the work this person will do?

Next week I’ll show you what I would write, and announce the winners!


(Original Post 10/26/10)

Welcome to the MPC “Over the Shoulder” Cover Letter Review and Contest!!

A client who bought my “Resume That Won’t Take No For an Answer” eBook reached out to me a few days ago and asked me to review a cover letter for a specific job.

Resume and cover letters continue to be a hot topic – mostly because there are so many opinions about whether they are required, useful, or ever read. Hot opinions, too!

This cover letter example is a great one because it shows several mistakes people make as they market themselves in general…good people, trying hard to get work, but killing themselves because they ignore solid marketing principles in their written (resume/cover letter/email/inmail) and verbal (elevator pitch/interview technique) self-marketing.

Next week I’ll reveal those mistakes, and give you a re-written example cover letter that you can adapt.

But first – CONTEST!

I decided to make this a contest just to have some fun and hear your thoughts about cover letters. All you have to do – read the cover letter below, and then tell me what you think the single most important mistake is.

Scott's eBook

The prize? The top 5 answers will get a free copy of my “Resume That Won’t Take No for an Answer” eBook, which sells for $27. The best answer will also get a $25 gift card to iTunes.

(I’ve recently rediscovered the power of music in my life as I do the solo-preneur thing…Steve Ray Vaughn and Boston make research and writing sooooo much more fun than listening to the space heater in the basement.)

So here’s the letter…leave comments below.

(Notes: NAME is VP of Marketing at COMPANY and has asked qualified candidates to reach out to him through a job ad on LinkedIn for a Product Manager…all company and personal names have been altered…and I’m using this gentleman’s cover letter with his permission.)



I think we should have a talk, as I meet and exceed all of the attributes you have solicited for the Product Management Manager at COMPANY, and I’ll tell you why.

I’ve led the challenge on many occasions to bring a unified consensus among internal group leaders as well as external (customer) teams to bring a great product to market (as a commoditized product or as a customized product).  In the past I’ve found that a tremendous amount of time and human resources are wasted in the juggling, sifting and separating of noise v. content.

I’ve led and conceived product development in the technological (hardware and software) space by gathering, dissecting and interpreting data, authoring the business and marketing plans, and integrating conclusions into the road map development processes.  I’ve also successfully developed traction where there was none.

I take pride in my ability to determine who our customers are by speaking to them, by speaking to our FAEs, and by speaking to our top Sales people:  I’ve also used VOC and QFD skills to complement competitive intelligence and assessments of not only our products but competitor offerings.

As a Sales person in the highly competitive telecommunications arena, I over-achieved Chairman’s club quotas for 4 consecutive years; while at XYZ, I achieved PMI status (which I viewed as a project planning stepping stone).  So, I feel that I am a hybrid of sorts, having Sales, Project Planning, Product development and heavy Marketing skills.

I am committed to initiate and develop business opportunities.  I’m willing to reach out within my network, and will travel in order to bring business to COMPANY’S bottom line.

I’ve attached a resume for review, and look forward to speaking with you about a future with COMPANY.



That’s it – leave your comments below…no spam or ugliness please. Winners will be determined by yours truly…all decisions are final :)

And remember – I’m looking for what you think is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT mistake!


14 Responses to Cover Letter Contest
  1. David Vargha
    October 26, 2010 | 5:49 pm

    The letter is filled with meaningless platitudes and vernacular that fail to tell what the candidate truly brings to the table.

  2. roger enfield
    October 27, 2010 | 7:19 am

    Run-on sentences. I like to take a breath between complete sentences. The focus of a paragraph is lost when multiple phrases are strung together. From the first, this letter contains sentences that should be broken up to make the supportive ideas more coherent.

  3. joe huey
    October 27, 2010 | 7:50 am

    the letter is very weak in that it so general & lack specifics

  4. Jeff Portwood
    October 27, 2010 | 8:39 am

    This candidate did not provide any data relative to scope of work experience: size of teams lead, size of projects, % or $ improvements achieved. It doesn’t have to be extensive, but enough to tweak the curiosity of the hiring manager and cause him/her to read on. What’s the possible ROI for choosing this guy?

  5. Scott Birkhead
    October 27, 2010 | 10:24 am

    There are definitely some platitudes in there…I see LOTS of those on cover letters and resumes…big words, no meaning…good catch David!

  6. Scott Birkhead
    October 27, 2010 | 10:26 am

    Roger – great comment…better idea to break up these long sentences into pieces that can be easily digested!

  7. Lynne Reynolds
    October 27, 2010 | 1:31 pm

    Each paragraph begins with a variation of “I.”

    “I think we should have a talk…” immediately puts the reader on the offensive, and makes the reader feel he is being given an order.

    Lots of words that don’t tell the reader anything.

  8. bobsled8
    October 27, 2010 | 1:51 pm

    Very good Lynne: I, I, I is baaaad marketing!

  9. Bill Greenfield
    October 27, 2010 | 4:40 pm

    Simple answer is that the writer clearly did not do any proofreading, resulting in a letter that would surely lose them the job.

  10. Scott Birkhead
    October 28, 2010 | 2:35 pm

    Jeff – great comment…ROI is what it’s all about!

  11. Susan
    October 30, 2010 | 8:23 pm

    The first sentence does not make me want to read more. In fact it was a turn-off. And then when I saw what followed (way too many words)I lost interest in what the writer had to say.

  12. Sathana Valli
    November 1, 2010 | 8:35 pm

    Being a MBA candidate and working through my resume and cover letter ,i found the most important thing is not to have many ‘I’s’ in a cover letter in addition to portray what you can bring to this particular role and company.These two big things seems to be lacking in the cover letter

  13. Scott
    November 2, 2010 | 6:53 am

    The “I” issue keeps coming up…hard to spot that when you’re writing for yourself, but easy to spot if you ask someone else to proof your resume who knows a little about proofing! Thanks for the comment.

  14. Scott Birkhead
    November 12, 2010 | 11:16 am

    Hey all – see the updated post with my review of the cover letter and all your input!

    Great job from all of you – thanks!


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