By: Revanche

Down with terrible cover letters!

December 10, 2014

After several years of hiring, patterns inevitably crop up with every round of applications. In the latest round of hirings: Awful cover letters.

I’ve spent more time as an applicant than as a hiring manager and always hated writing cover letters so I know very well how much it sucks. So at first, I was feeling motivated to write a really helpful post about all the things you should and shouldn’t do in your cover letter, but Ask A Manager has that covered and really, knowing what not to do is NOT the same as able to give advice on what to do.

Then too, the letters were so bad, well, something in me just broke. A misstep here or there is no big deal but each letter was chock full of eye-twitch inducing goodness.

Why didn’t you get the job? Well ….

Dear Applicant,

Please don’t use “Greetings”. I feel like I’m being contacted by aliens. (Yes, personal preference.)

If it’s not the cultural norm, please don’t send me your photo. I do not want to be biased in any way or distracted by what you look like. Or wondering why you sent me that picture with that background, and what’s going on with all that there?

Please don’t use “Let’s cut to the chase”.  Aside from being annoying because you never actually do, we’re not buddies and I’m not trying to buy something from you.

Please don’t say “I don’t want to waste your time”. It has only ever prefaced several long paragraphs, chitchatting about your daydreams, inevitably wasting my time. Again, you’re applying for a job, we’re not having a coffee and biscotti on a Sunday afternoon.

Speaking of biscotti, please don’t offer your skills at baking cookies or fetching coffee in lieu of relevant skills, when the job has nothing to do with baking or fetching. Frequency: 20% of cover letters. 100% of them were written by unqualified candidates.

You cannot claim to have AMAZING (stellar, unbelievable [well maybe unbelievable], fantastic) attention to detail when your resume has seventeen typos in the most relevant work experience section. The evidence does not support the claim. That isn’t how you spell those words and you didn’t even finish that sentence right there.

Please don’t do written choreography in your resume. I just need stuff relevant to the job. Not your personal philosophical journey, the length and breadth of which spans the globe, that got you physically here to this location.

The different colors and font sizes thoughout? Please please spare me. Some of us are old and our eyes are tired.

Only apply to this job IF YOU KNOW WHAT THIS JOB IS.  It’s right there in the title. I’m not playing job Mad Libs or Mystery Job. The cover letter is not the place to speculate (fantasize?) what the job might be. The ad actually tells you what it is.

If you have a disproportionately different (far more or far less) amount of experience than the job requires, tell me that you actually noticed that and explain why you still want the job. Otherwise I have no idea if you know what you’re trying to apply for.

Telling me that you’ll follow up in a few days to answer any questions I might have is not showing initiative. It might suggest that you think I’m too stupid (lazy? incompetent? these are valid concerns but maybe don’t be so obvious about it) to hit “Reply” on the email to ask those questions I might have. More importantly, if you nag me within 3 days of sending in your application for consideration, it’s just going to suggest that you don’t respect my very limited time. Alison agrees with me, see Letter #3!

It is common for the same job to be posted at more than one website. We do not mean for you to apply to every identical posting.

Don’t include an objective if you can’t be bothered to customize it to the job you’re applying to. Everyone‘s objective is “get a job that pays me money”. It’s cool.

Saying “Call even if you don’t think I’m a fit. You won’t be wasting my time since I am interested in finding out more about your company…” doesn’t sound like “enterprising individual” so much as “not aware that hiring isn’t the time to play publicity person and also didn’t notice that you have a website that tells you a LOT about us”.

*Deep Breath*

I had a handful of good cover letters and a few ok ones.

I took a chance on one of the ok letter writer-applicants as I do from time to time, but true to experience, that candidate was the worst of the lot: barely qualified, completely disinterested in the actual job, just looking for a pitstop sort of thing on the way out of town.

Don’t get me wrong, all jobs are temporary stays over the length of a career. But!  There has to be some match between what you want and what the job requires of you. When the role is doing A, B and C long term, and you intend to get out and do X, Y and Z as soon as possible, it’s kind of pointless for both parties.

The cover letter doesn’t tell you the whole story about a candidate but it has been a decent indicator of whether or not the applicant is worth speaking to.

As an aside, I do agree with Suzanne Luzas on hiring people who make typos when it’s not relevant to the core job.

25 Responses to “Down with terrible cover letters!”

  1. Lizzzz says:

    Here’s another “don’t”.

    Don’t paraphrase the company website content and say, “I’ve always wanted to work for an upmarket, boutique enterprise.” You are not the only applicant to write that, and it just means you have the ability to search the company website and jumble some words around so it’s not blatant plagiarism.

  2. I still think regarding any job I’d have a hard time getting past typos. I really enjoyed this, especially the “greetings” (earth citizens). lol! I’m always in the process of looking for jobs/projects so this is good info!
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Movies That InspireMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      Typos are absolutely a pet peeve of mine but if it’s not SUPER relevant to the job, I try to shelve it 🙂

      I can’t imagine you doing any of these things inappropriately!

  3. Sabrina (you-know-who) says:

    When I worked as an editor at a publishing company, my supervisor once told me that she had received an application with a cover letter in which “public” was misspelled (you can guess which letter was omitted). Needless to say, the applicant didn’t get the job!

    • Revanche says:

      THAT WORD! I always slow down when I’m typing “public.” And double check it. Twice. Quadruple check.
      (also HI! Good to see you!)

  4. Wow this actually makes me feel so much better about my cover letters I’ve been writing recently! I didn’t do any of these things! Maybe that’s why I’ve been getting interviews. 😉

    Also, I can’t believe some people do these things!
    Fig @ Figuring Money Out recently posted…Should I Go To Grad School?My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      “I didn’t do any of these things! Maybe that’s why I’ve been getting interviews.”
      You wouldn’t believe the number of people I count IN for a phone call because the letters were simple, to the point, and informative.

      I didn’t believe it either but after several years of seeing the same things, I have to concede the likelihood they really seriously think this works or some bastard out there is advising them to do this.

  5. Sally says:

    Yeesh, all of those phrases sound so flippant! While I try not to be too stiff in cover letters or over-promise (and then under-deliver), I stick to the same type of writing as I use in businesses proposals. Use the NOSE (needs, outcomes, solutions, evidence) and hopefully do it in like 2 paragraphs and 1 short closing paragraph. It’s when I get to the interview that I can show off a little in how I present myself and share anecdotes (if asked).
    Sally recently posted…Ikea Couch, ReduxMy Profile

  6. I could forgive one typo, especially if the typo spells another real word, though not the intended word. But these days, with spell check, there really is no excuse for typos.
    Newlyweds on a Budget recently posted…How Our Marriage Survived EscrowMy Profile

  7. I wish the job ads really WOULD say more about what the job actually *IS*. It’s hard to know sometimes, and titles can be vague. I also wish they’d list the salary (FOR THE LOVE OF GOD) so I know whether it’s a waste of all our time to apply. A girl can dream….

    That said, a letter filled with daydreams would probably get passed around the office as giggle-fodder.

    • Revanche says:

      They can be and they SHOULD tell you. I write detailed job ads so our applicants, if they read them and are at all familiar with the field, would have a good idea of what the job was and required. I’ve also done checks a year after hiring to see if the new hires felt like the job ads fit their actual job descriptions. With the exception of items they’d become interested in and added to their repertoire, they felt it was accurate. There was obviously some benefit to hindsight for those new to the industry but I aim for transparency. I’d like to list salary range but I think that remains a pipe dream for now.

  8. Personally, I am not a fan of cover letters. I normally ignore them and get right to the resumes. But this is not just me and our company actually requires applicants to submit 2 different files – one a cover letter and one a resume, but preferably a CV.

    I find cover letters to be too dense and prefer to skim the resume instead for any relevant experience or skills. Generic terms on the cover letter tend to frustrate me a lot which will make me ignore good candidates with relevant experience. As an engineer, I like seeing tables or cut sheets, or drawings, or anything else that summarizes a ton of data in as few words as possible. Page long life stories area bit of a waste of our time in our field.

    We recently had an incident where the HR person I was working with discarded an applicant because his cover letter was generic, bad and plain annoying. I skimmed the resume and picked up on a rare skill. We ended up calling the applicant for an interview and he was in our top 3. The HR person admitted that she was wrong and that she really liked the guy.
    Young Millennial recently posted…November 2014 Monthly ExpensesMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      Interesting that your company requires them if they’re not useful to your roles in your field. I don’t require anything that I don’t use and don’t need because why waste anyone’s time??

      For us, the information in cover letters are valuable for what they actually share that the resumes aren’t designed to do as well as indicators of how that person might perform certain relevant tasks so a good letter stands out as much as a bad one. But again, why require it if you’re not actively using it?

  9. SP says:

    I must admit, I absolutely HATE proofreading and am really not good at it. This is where a second set of eyes is IMPERATIVE. Attention to detail… is what I want in someone who reports to me. Because it is a struggle for me, and they can help me with that. I am fast, sometimes too fast and not careful enough. I have to set up systems for myself in cases where this is important (i.e. job applications, cover letters). Actually, in most cases, it is important. So, eternal struggle.

    I hate writing cover letters too. I think mine are generally mediocre. I always read the (few good) examples on AAM, and can never strike the right tone.

    How did i ever get jobs? Haha.

    (Did I tell you about the time I had a HEADING on my resume that was EXPERINECE or something like that? I had someone at my college career center “help” with reformatting, and I traced the typo back to them. Seriously, I am pretty sure I got my LA job with that typo on my resume).

    • SP says:

      Oooooh, loved the article you linked to regarding hiring people who make typos! Can I include that in future job applications, perhaps in the cover letter?! (kidding….)
      SP recently posted…Negotiating the new jobMy Profile

      • Revanche says:

        Hah ok that’s funny that you had THAT typo.

        I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not being specifically good at proofreading unless that’s the job in which case tough cookies, buster, why are you applying for THAT job if you’re not good at it??

        AND when you’re rereading something that you wrote 40 times over, it’s much harder to spot any mistakes, your brain is used to the text and what you meant.

        I think that, in your area, the kinds of screw ups that I see that I eliminate candidates for are just not as applicable because we do fundamentally different work. So that’s why I agree with the article about hiring people despite typos if that’s the case for your industry – there are other skills that are much more important (though it makes me shudder on a personal level) than the ability to spot a typo from a hundred paces for some jobs.

  10. Karen says:

    I hate cover letters and am glad that virtually none of the companies I apply to require one (one pretty popular company explicitly says, no cover letters). I’ve not applied for a job due to needing a cover letter.

  11. I HATE writing cover letters. Don’t worry… My cover letters do not have any of your DO NOTs – rather, I struggle what to write. I’m so bad with selling my skills. Just hire me already. I’m good. ^__^;
    The Asian Pear recently posted…Nail Art: Santa’s ReindeerMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      I hate writing them too 😛 But personally I don’t like sales pitches anyway, I just want them to address anything I might need to know (if there’s an actual reason to tell me why you’re interested, for example, if you’re switching fields), and not to worry about selling their qualities. The resume will tell me the hard facts and the phone call will give me a sense of your personality.

  12. […] What are your thoughts on this cover letter?  Down with terrible cover letters! […]

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