Your application to a job is supposed to be all about you and your strengths, right? It’s the one time that it’s okay to brag—in fact, bragging is encouraged. That’s right, but only to an extent. You also need to show, especially in your cover letter, why your skills and accomplishments are beneficial to the company you’re applying for.
As you write your cover letter, it’s easy to fall into the trap of using the word “I” to begin every sentence. In doing, so, though, you are weakening your application, and without realizing it you’re telegraphing to a hiring manager that you might have trouble seeing the bigger picture outside of yourself and your immediate job.
So why and how do you fix the “I” problem? Let’s take a look.
Why Does “I” Weaken Cover Letters?
First of all, using “I” continuously weakens your writing. Many jobs do require some level of writing, and a hiring manager will be using your cover letter and resume to assess how strong of a writer you are. Even writing emails daily means that you will be using writing skills as a representative of the company, so you need to make a good first impression with your writing skills.
By using “I” over and over again, you indicate that your writing lacks complexity and that you might not have the vocabulary to keep up with writing memos and crafting impressive presentations. “I” is a fallback, and using it constantly and consecutively makes your writing repetitive and boring.
Beyond the writing skills component of “I” overuse, though, are some psychological components. First of all, by not taking the time to find a better way to write a sentence than by starting it with the same word over and over, you’re indicating that you might be lazy. The English language is enormous and offers plenty of opportunities for playing around and rephrasing. Revise, edit, and rewrite. Your cover letter is your first impression with a potential employer, after all.
Overuse of the word “I” can also just show your ego. While it may not be true that you have a large ego, and you might be an excellent team player, if the word “I” takes up a significant portion of your cover letter then you are sending a different message. This is why it’s particularly important to work in information about how your skills and accomplishments can directly benefit the company to which you are applying. It takes the spotlight off of you for just long enough while shining it on what the hiring manager really cares about—his or her company.
How Else Can I Describe My Skills and Accomplishments?
I’m not saying that you should avoid using the word “I” altogether. In fact, that would be nearly impossible and make your cover letter awkward and clunky. What you need to be careful of is falling into the trap of starting every sentence with the word “I,” or making “I” the centerpiece of every sentence.
Rewording sentences to get rid of the word “I” will also make your cover letter read more smoothly. In general, consecutive sentences should never start with the same word. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Uh-oh, I just wrote a cover letter where most sentences start with the word ‘I,’ now what do I do?” don’t worry—I have some suggestions.
Let’s take a look at one example of a cover letter section that uses “I” too frequently:
I was the vice president of marketing at a successful retail store, and I helped increase sales by 130% during my ten years there. I also proved how creative I can be by regularly coming up with new ad campaigns across a variety of media.
That’s not terrible writing, and it’s not necessarily going to cost you a job. But there are 4 “I”s’ in there. That’s four in two sentences. Here are some tricks for how to revise your cover letter to reduce its “I” count and strengthen its message:
● Combine sentences or break up sentences
● Insert an “explainer” sentence after each skill/accomplishment that directly describes how that can benefit the company you are applying to
● Rewrite sentences to start with words or phrases like “My,” “As a result,” “In my position as,” “Responsibilities like,” and so forth
Now let’s apply some of those tips to rewrite the above sentences and see which version sounds stronger.
During my ten years as the vice president of marketing at a successful retail store, I used my creativity and analytical skills to help the store increase sales by 130%. At the centerpiece of my efforts were creative ad campaigns implemented across a variety of media. Using the same creativity and same business acumen, I can help your store increase its bottom line.
Yes, the word “I” is still used twice, but by not using it as a crutch you force yourself to write stronger sentences with clearer, better-flowing transitions.
Writing about yourself is hard. Doing so over and over again during a job search can be even harder. Take your time and re-read what you’ve written. It’s amazing what just a few simple changes can do to strengthen a cover letter. Start by just going in and highlighting the word “I” throughout what you’ve written, then go back in and revise those areas. Remember, you don’t have to get rid of all of them, but balance out the “I” talk with “You” talk and with strong transitions.
As you go through and revise your cover letter, looking for the word “I,” you should also consider what kind of position you’re applying for. If you’re looking at a company with a highly collaborative culture where you’d be a member of an active team, then it is imperative for you to reframe your cover letter to focus more on collaboration and team achievement, rather than putting forth an image of yourself as an “I”-centric person solely focused on your own ambition.
For a position like an executive at a major corporation, completely reframing your cover letter to rid it of most “I” usage is not necessary. However, you should still revise and rewrite it just to make the writing stronger. No matter what job you are applying for, do not use the word “I” to start two consecutive sentences.
Write a first draft, read it over, and make use of the tips listed out in this article. You might be surprised at how little effort it takes to craft a much stronger cover letter.
Want more cover letter help? Download my newest guide How NOT to Start Your Cover Letter (Plus 7 Examples of What to Say Instead).
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About the author
Jessica Hernandez, President, CEO & Founder of Great Resumes Fast
Hi, I’m Jessica. I started this company back in 2008 after more than a decade directing hiring practices at Fortune 500 companies.
What started as a side hustle (before that was even a word!) helping friends of friends with their resumes has now grown into a company that serves hundreds of happy clients a year. But the personal touch? I’ve kept that.
You might have seen me featured as a resume expert in publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Fortune. And in 2020, I was honored to be named as a LinkedIn Top Voice of the year!
I’m so glad you’re here, and I can’t wait to help you find your next perfect-fit position!
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