Cover Letters: What Not To Do

Over the years I've done a fair share of interviewing candidates; most of the time I deal with mainly the technical aspects instead of the soft skills, so by the time I get to see a candidate, they've already passed the initial phases. Recently, though, I also received a cover letter from a candidate.

The age-old warning from professional HR types is: make sure there are no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Kind of obvious, isn't it? Well, the cover letter I received is a veritable gold mine of "don'ts" that, I feel I must rant about it here because Mike isn't in the office today to hear me. I will change a very small amount of this to protect the innocent, and I’ll just be quoting the bad parts.

The letter starts off:

"Dear HR personal,"

OK, I know what he means. He means, "personnel." But a bad way to start. (I know most people recommend addressing letters personally, but I realize this isn’t always possible given the way jobs are sometimes listed on the internet.) I can't help but think another greeting would be more friendly, such as "Dear Hiring Manager."

The first two paragraphs are acceptable. My only criticism is the use of the word "firm" quite a bit; i.e., "I believe that your firm could use my expertise…"; the problem is, each time I read "firm" I’m reminded that this is a generic letter. I’d rather just have it left out. The next paragraph starts out (following a bulleted list of qualifications that were OK):

"With this, having a programmer with both backend and front-end programming experience as well as experience with data gathering, from direct dealings with customers."

This sentence just doesn’t make much sense, even though I do understand what he is trying to say. The next sentence doesn’t sound a lot better:

"And, an employee who believes in getting the job done with little to no supervision, no matter what it takes."

Again, nice sentiment that he’s willing to do whatever it takes, but it comes off strange. How hard would it be rephrase this? Let’s try:

"As a senior programmer with years of experience, I have a track record of meeting deadlines and exceeding expectations. I’m a strong team member with leadership experience who is capable of working with minimal supervision."

I admit I was inspired to write this from my daily readings of The Daily WTF. While there can be humor in these situations, sometimes the best way to learn how to do something is to see how not to do it.
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