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Channel Your Cover Letter Feedback

Channel Your Cover Letter Feedback

Feeling overwhelmed by the cover letter feedback you've received? Not sure where to begin to make improvements? If you’ve had a cover letter critique and are now faced with harsh criticism, here's help from career professionals on what to do next.  

Prioritize the Feedback

Most professional resume-writing firms also offer cover letter services, so if you're not having much success improving your letter on your own, it may be worthwhile to hire a professional. "I have seen many job searches stalled, because the individual had a terrific resume written by a professional but did not want to pay for a cover letter," says Sally McIntosh, chair of the Certification Commission for the Nationally Certified Resume Writer credential and owner of Advantage Resumes in St. Louis.

Break your critique advice down into three categories: must-do, should-do and ways to outshine your competitors.

Language Mechanics

Obvious errors should be tackled first, even if you do nothing more, advises Norine Dagliano, a certified resume writer, job search strategist and owner of EKM Inspirations. "Spelling, grammar, punctuation and typographical errors fall into this category," she says.

Structure and Basic Content

"If the letter is not in appropriate business letter format, if it is too long or too short or if it fails to say why the job seeker is writing, attempt these changes next," says Dagliano. Although more challenging than correcting typos, revisions to a letter's structure and basic content are usually not too difficult and can significantly improve your letter, she adds.

Rewrites and Major Overhauls

After tackling the first two categories, it's time to address advice you received on further strengthening your letter. "This feedback might include suggestions that you explore more of the employer's needs in your cover letter or write a stronger sell paragraph that gives examples of how you have addressed similar needs in previous work settings," Dagliano says. "This is a much higher level of feedback and requires critical thinking and strong communication skills." But don’t be too hard on yourself if you're having trouble making these more advanced revisions, she adds.

Get a Second Opinion

If you think your cover letter reviewer's recommendations are off-base, McIntosh suggests you get another assessment from someone else and see if the comments are similar. If they are, McIntosh suggests you make the changes. "If two professionals agree, go with their opinions,” she says. “They deal with cover letters every day, whereas job seekers deal with them only when looking for a new job.”

But what if you still disagree with the feedback? Dagliano’s advice: “Ask yourself if it is because you do not understand the feedback or if it is because you think the reviewer is wrong. Ask for clarification about the recommendations, and make the changes that work for you."

Set Aside Your Ego

Still struggling to accept negative feedback? You might be letting your ego get in the way. "Job seekers need to put their egos aside long enough to grasp what the reviewer is saying,” says McIntosh. “The writer wants you to improve your cover letter and have a successful job search.” If you listen to the advice of an objective reviewer, you can transform your cover letter into a powerful marketing tool that can jump-start your job search.

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