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 ….
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”.
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.