The Doom and Gloom of "To Whom It May Concern": Forget old-fashioned cover letters

Applying for a job you really want? Don’t nix your chances by writing a boring cover letter. For starters:

1. Lose the “To Whom It May Concern.” That went the way of the 20th century.

2. Forget the “This letter is in regards to your ad…” People reading these letters are already bored with the reams of pablum they have to read. Do you really want to make them comatose?

I don’t know why people present themselves this way. It’s like wearing a dreary old brown suit to an interview (if you ever get that far). Yet, every day I see how people resist being creative when introducing themselves to a new company.


I think fear is the biggest culprit. It keeps people from writing anything well. They remember the harsh words of some grumpy old grammar teacher in the 9th grade, or they hear irrational bosses and even parents droning in their heads. Tell them to get lost! You’re good, and you’re not going to take it anymore.

Cover Letter 101

So how do you write a good cover letter?

1. Show, don’t tell. Share a good story about what you’ve accomplished. Stories show why you’re the best candidate. They also show you’ve got a head on your shoulders.

2. Use good grammar. In our electronic world we rarely meet face to face, so the way we write conjures an image of us. It’s like when we picture how someone looks when we hear them on the radio or the telephone. Don’t let your cover letter conjure the image of an unkempt slob. Give your readers the impression of a bright person who’s on the ball.

3. Be uncommon. Not weird—interesting. Not reckless—creative. A good cover letter does much more than tell about you. It shows that you can think. Writing is the portal to your deeper thoughts. Text messaging? That’s just top-of-the-mind stuff.

Sometimes I see fear in clients’ eyes when they hear this. They’re pleading with me, begging for mercy.

“You expect me to write something different?” they ask, gulping.

“Well, are you different from the other candidates? Are you the best choice?” I ask.

“Yes,” they answer with great confidence.

“OK, then show it.”

Sadly, most do not. That’s a real shame, because resume reviewers enjoy reading something different. Jennifer Dupper, a recruiter for Parker Staffing Services in Seattle, Washington, says she takes special notice of candidates with good writing skills.

“A well-written cover letter makes such a positive difference!” she says. “When I’m screening an inbox full of applications and come across an interesting cover letter, I’m not only excited to view the resume, but more likely to contact the candidate—even when their experience may be lacking some of the necessary requirements of the position they are seeking.”

Cover yourself

Check out the [Before] and [After] examples below. They’re just to help get you started. Think of a personal story that shows why you’re the best, then tell about it in relation to the job specifications.

You can do it. You can write a great cover letter. And your results may well be the opposite of that inflated curmudgeon on “The Apprentice.”

Instead, you’ll hear, “You’re hired!”


Please accept this letter and accompanying resume in application for the XYZ Director position advertised in the Boise Bulletin. As the current executive director of ABC Imports in Washington and Oregon, I have the skills required, and I’d like to remain in this region.

In my current role, I have utilized the essential functions found in the job descriptions. This includes …. [z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z]


I believe the best way to convey my qualifications for the XYZ Director position is through a real-life example from my tenure as executive director of ABC Imports. Last April, I was having lunch with a manager of one of our divisions. He’s good at his job, and we’ve enjoyed working together. So, I was surprised when he suddenly grew angry. He told me he resented the way headquarters was telling him how to run his division.

I took a deep breath and reminded myself this man was frustrated, maybe even a little scared. He needed our help, even though he couldn’t admit it to himself.

New directions

Today, that situation has changed dramatically, and this manager is back on track. I drew on a number of resources and relationship tools to turn this volatile situation around. For example, I encouraged other division managers to call him and offer words of encouragement. I took him to dinner and listened empathetically. When he requested more information, I responded promptly. I also continue to check periodically to see how things are going…. [Highlights of experience follow.]


Lynda McDaniel is a creativity catalyst and business writing coach. She brings more than 25 years of writing and teaching to her position as director of the Association for Creative Business Writing (AFCBW). Lynda founded in 2009 to help writers learn how to mine their creativity and express their business ideas in an organized, compelling way. As a result, they're able to persuade, sell, teach, improve, guide, explain, change, contribute, motivate, praise, recommend...and there's no telling whe...

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