Avoiding the “kid in a candy shop” cover letter

 kid in a candy storeWhen it comes to professional self-presentation, one of the central challenges is to move from “I want” to “you need me”

I have talked about this concept here on Career Linguist as flexing your “perspective taking” muscles to assume the perspective and concerns of an organization as your own or as “shifting your deictic center.”

But THEY need you!
Basically, this all about showing an employer why THEY need you (and not the other way around)

After discussing this idea thoroughly on a recent plane trip with my neighbor in seat 16A (as part of my now famous “what can you do with a degree in lx?” plane conversations), I have decided that kid in a candy shop works to convey the idea much better.  Your task is to imagine yourself on the other side of that glass or as the favorite employee at that candy store.

Saying “I speak French”
As an example, let’s take the case of describing language and culture skills in a cover letter.  We know that it is important to show enthusiasm in this genre, and probably some of the initial excitement as we might experience looking at a job posting that calls for a French speaker might feel something like this: “oh yay, look, I can actually use my French as part of this job!!”

This might come through in your cover letter like “I am excited about the opportunity to use my French as part of X organizational initiative …..” or “I want to be a part of this project because I am looking for a chance to apply my cultural knowledge about Francophone Africa….”

This is the kid in a candy store talking.
If you were the dream employee at that candy store, you would be doing things like:

  • tracking inventory (which candies do we need to order for this week/next month)
  • thinking in terms of brand identity (how is our candy store different from other candy stores?)
  • anticipating new developments in the world of candy (how can get get ahead of the hot new trend in chocolate?).

Thinking this way will make your cover letter sound more like:

“my fluency in French gives a strategic advantage for your work in…” or “by bringing my cultural knowledge to the project, I would benefit the organization in X, Y, Z ways…”

Writing is an iterative process
This is no less true for cover letters than it is for any other piece of writing. You might want to start by thinking about how you might “show your city block” in this cover letter.

One you have gotten all the ideas down on the page, take that draft, print it out, and look for opportunities to move that kid to the other side of the glass.  Give it to friends and colleagues to have them help you identify some of the “I wants.”

Rather than being “outside looking in,” get the “I wants” out and be on the inside.  Show that employer what it would be like to have you on their side! 🙂

..and be sure to tell us all about it!