Cover Letters from Hell
Attached to every résumé is an obligatory cover letter, which seems to have a difficulty rating of 11, since that’s where we find the most tortured prose ever set to paper. For example:
I expect the position to pay commissary to that of its value, as well as to the performance completed.
Or, decode this:
It is my desire to develop and generate the revolving scheme to filter to the consuming public in.
But first, why are cover letters so often awful? We see two huge reasons:
- A writer uses legalese because she lacks confidence in her authentic voice. From potential interns trying to ace our Creativity Test, to MBAs immersed in BizSpeak, tin-ear applicants feel they must inflate their prose, diligently combing the thesaurus to select — sigh — precisely the wrong polysyllabic clinker.
- Many people fail to understand the mission. Hey, kids, it’s attached to a résumé. You don’t need to explain what you’re doing, to repeat what’s in the résumé itself, or to explain why résumés exist. You want a job. (Hey, look: that simple declarative sentence took four clear one-syllable words.) It’s more important to call attention to yourself. Separate yourself from 499 other applicants by animating the personality behind the cut-and-dried credentials.
And yes, there are 500 applicants. Okay, maybe not for that coveted hostess position at The Olive Garden, but statistically, it’s harder to get a job at Killian Branding than at Southwest Airlines, which is, in turn, arithmetically harder to get into than Harvard.
See the foot. Aim at the foot. Fire!
Applicants often write to an abstract “Sir/Madam,” instead of to an easily-researched human being who has just disposed of 12 other résumés that morning. They might spin their wheels with the non-starting “My name is ______,” which provokes us to ask “Are you highlighting your name to impress us with your celebrity status?” Or the pointless “attached is my résumé” which is a big Duh. Worse is Mail Merge Slippage, where a name, or company name, auto-inserted into the text by some Microsoft Resume-O-Matic fails to match the name of the recipient.
Nobody proofreads. Three-fourths of all cover letters sport at least one spelling error. Most are puzzled by punctuation. No small number are festooned with what we call the Shoot-Me-Now Errors (there/their/they’re; its/it’s; to/two/too). Enjoy your career at The Olive Garden.
A word to the wise: An error-free letter is now so freakin’ rare that the minimal care required to send a letter with zero defects, combined with a few crisply written simple declarative sentences, will, alone, guarantee a respectful reading of a résumé. Maybe even secure an interview.
Doesn’t anybody read Strunk and White in school? If you haven’t, get a copy of The Elements of Style, so you can follow it all your days, especially Chapter 5.
As we promised, more of our best/worst cover letter excerpts:
I promise to keep this short and to the point. I’m looking for a job, within the fields of advertising and or marketing. As I searched online I stumbled upon your company and thought that I’d drop you a line to see if you had any openings. I have a string background in video production…
I’m looking for work because even though my company was profitable last year, this year they are expecting a large defecate.
Despite the many obvious limitations of SpellCheck, isn’t it worth at least a try … for instance, while you Mulitaks with the other chiarpersons?
Skills: Microst word, excel, and power point. Mulitaks person, public speaking, and surveying.
Professional Associations – Chairwomen of Studnts Teaching Awareness and Responsibility organization. Responsible for research of all 10 event topics, coordinating all campus chiarpersons.
Our thanks to faithful reader Steve Beavers of Wishbone Graphics, who shared these next two gems with us.
Does your printed material scream “LOOK OVER HEAR”? If not, why pay the high price for something that doesn’t catch the readers attention.
I am eager to put my McGuyver-like design ability to use in the workplace. I’m sure you receive hundreds of these letters a week, but how many of those people have built an entire campaign with nothing more than old barbed wire and used Popsicle sticks? None? I’ve never done that, either but it would be a neat trick. I would like to come by and show you my work in hopes of making something of my life so I can move out of my parents basement.
Does attending “collage” involve sleepover seminars where you decoupage pictures cut from Teen Scene magazine?
Objective: To work in a challenging environment that allows me to use my imaginatiation…. Education: ______ Collage.
Who’s better to spew out incite, than a college senior … ?
This “red” thing must come up daily... (We pulled the plug on this because you get the drift; the subsequent “blue” and “lavender” explanations didn’t substantially improve her employment chances.)
The colors red, blue, and lavender are those that I identify with the most. I feel they accurately describe my personality. I choose red because I turn red when I get embarrassed ….”
Editor’s question: is “highering” related to “lowering?”
What better way to grow then by highering someone that brings the West Coast charm to the Windy City?
Is this stuff contagious?
I’m not intimated by your internship; want to be apart of your fun atmosphere …
My bachelor Degree in Advertising … brought talent out of me in marketing and having my work done on the due date. Which I would offer my ideas to the company, as well as being apart of the marketing team and learning more as an intern.
Immediately after we first published this next one in a newsletter, we got calls and letters asking if it could possibly be real. Yep. She’s a freelance web designer from Alabama, and we framed the original.
I also have a degree English which serves me well in editing text for poor grammer or typos.
We will omit, out of mercy, questions 3 through 7.
Hi! My name is ____, and I am a senior at ____ University. For my one Advertising class we are select and present an agency, within our groups, to the class in which we find interesting…. Such information that I would need is
1) How your departments are broken down?
2) Who is the executives and how moving up the ladder is achieved?
We'd rather be forced to read 'Eat, Pray, Love' than this inspirational pep talk again:
Today is the first day of my life… Last year was a tremendous year for personal growth, insight and maturity. I courted that growth… This year I want to “take the world by storm.” I want to make a film. I want to be the producer or the director, which ever will put me in the middle of all the creativity and decision-making…. I am terrified of the all-out approach I sense in my spirit. However, I am not scared enough to let it stop me. I will go and push and strive until I have reached the finish line. I will sacrifice anything but my God (morals) and my family. Pride has no place in my new life. I will be striving for perfection.
Presented without comment:
I also want to obtain a deeper understanding of how Advertising firms
An all-time classic sent in by a CLFH fan from the great state of Michigan, where the cyclical nature of the automotive industry leads to a lot of job switching. It’s yet another example of why you must never rely on spell-check alone to catch your errors:
I am seeking a new position as i have recently been laid.
This company was brought up, um, sharply?
My name is ________, and I am currently a Junior Marketing student and the University of ___________. I noticed the high ratings for your company, and I was just wondering what kind of focuses your company advertises to. I am a Marketing student […] and just was wondering how exactly this company was brought up in such a large city such as Chicago.
I am currently attended _______ University…
We’ve always had food-industry clients, and yes, we talk about food a lot, but we’ve never before been ordered to actually be food:
… being a member of the (name withheld) Organization, and, braise yourselves, even participating in a folk dance ensemble …
Not only am I creative, I am a very hard working. Give me a project and I don’t stop until it is finished or I am told to.
[My] proven record of successful brand building … demonstrate[s] my ability to perform in a fast paced environment. Originally from Vietnam, I also offer expertise in the following areas: – Asian cuisine: I deliver Nem, in-box or out-of-the-box, – Traditional massage: I satisfy Client above their expectation, – Karaoke singing: but also a lot of listening, listening and listening to Client. Would you like to taste any of those, please feel free to contact me on my email address mentioned above.
I am a somewhat recent transplant to Chicago and am greatly struggling to find a job. I was employed for just under 3 months during the summer at [redacted] but due to irreconcilable differences between myself and the (mis)manager my employment was terminated. This was almost two months ago and the job market in Chicago is not a friendly place to be.
Thirteen file this into please put.
Strong writing abilities. Able to analysis data and problem solve.
Is this a trick question?
A flaw that I must point out because it even bothers me is that I am impatient. I hate waiting, but then again who does?
This is the first entry in a new category we call “Insult Your Way to the Top!”
Another reason [you should hire me is] your web site is very unfriendly and may sway some clients into not working with you. People use websites of companies such as yours for research and your website thinks that it is witty, but comes off very dull and cheezy.
I will be able to input your agency with a wide and nouveau perspective in the creative field.
I need real world experience and after reviewing your web site I get the impressing that your company believes in maintain a lax work environment while efficiently meeting the needs of it’s customers (right?).
We replied to this college senior, on an ill-advised rescue impulse, gently suggesting he get some remedial help with his writing, since he had an error in every single sentence of his three-page letter. His furious four-page reply included some amazing stuff, such as:
…you should be straight forward and … simply state that your company is seeking a grammar teacher who lacks creativity but knows how to properly write a letter and knows exactly where to place punctuation. If your company takes such a serious position towards proper grammar then I think you guys are in the wrong profession. I believe even the leader of this country that we live in lacks proper grammar yet he is still our leader. [Editor’s note: this was, to be sure, written during the G. W. Bush administration.] I can assure you that he leaves grammar and punctuation to the proper authorities such as his receptionist or grade school English teacher. …I am not precisely sure why you choose to take such a stance perhaps because you have nothing better to do, or maybe because you have personal insecurities that seep out and you feel the need to degrade or target others based on stupid little infractions to make yourself feel better, I don’t know what the case is … if I am out of line please let me know but if I recall properly your companies web site is not the most professional site there is. If you guys are trying to project a laid back yet hard working image through your site and request the same from prospective employees then you should not be so prudent about minor infractions such as punctuation and grammar…. (I reread it before sending it and it states my point clearly and unless you lack the mental capacity to make out the meaning without having exact and precisise grammar maybe you should seek a new proffsion, I hear this country lacks alot of grammar school teachers perhaps that would be a better fit for you) In conclusion I have indeed made many mistakes in this e-mail many on purpose and many accidentaly I did not have the time nor the patientce to deal with it I will leave the grammer checking to the professionals such as yourself.
The accompanying résumé was printed on fabric, which helps explain, but not justify, the preposterous assertion of the first sentence, or the mixed metaphors of the second.
A résumé is the fabric that makes the person. Now, I must combine those fibers and project them so you can discover a little personality beyond the framework.
This next isn’t exactly a cover letter excerpt: it’s the first line of a speculative ad layout submitted by the would-be copywriter who submitted the fabric-printed muddle above. The ad is for champagne.
You feel the crisp, aged taste permeating in your mouth.
Looking for a full creative person for your team? … Deep Studies on movies. Prepared for the totally unexpected advertising and Selling Blasting
I am getting to my goal, slowly but surly
I want to expose my creative ideas for a good agency not just that the agency is good rather to build a image of quality. I know no in this selfish and risky world will give the chance until I prove my quality that too in free of cost. Thus, I am offering you this small note of request to give me a break by providing projects of
a.Creating concept for T.V Commercials
I would like to do first three project for you without any payment or salary. Just to prove my creativity. This is to win your confidence to give me a Just to prove that I can add wing to your agency to fly and reach the height of success. Though it may sound big but I believe in myself and have enough confident to win your trust on me by my work. This will give both of us to understand better.
We would translate this, but it sounds better in the original Gibberish.
It is through the innovational process, as well as media, that the features of an image can be highlighted and brought to the forefront for the consumer viewing.
No chance, babe. Pronoun companies are for wussies. We’re an adjective company.
I would like to start learning from a pronoun company and I feel as if Killian will give me the opportunity I am looking for.
I am a motivated, self-igniting person who greatly entertains the challenges of bettering myself and the performance of work that I do.
My objective in a career is to find a professional position with a company with standards and respect for all of their clients and employees. Where I can work hard and see the results of my help, determination and success in my position taking place.
A “mammut program” is probably not like a Mamet program. More improvisational maybe. Am I right? Yes, you’re right. Damn straight I’m right.
To you, people from killian branding! I’ve read over the content you have on your web site concerning “careers” or “internships”…so, first off all, you would get to benefit from my creativity and abilities. second, Darwin sucks, I will not be ok with the idea that I come from a rock. third, I propose a different kind of internship…I currently work for a huge mammut program called [REDACTED], if you google it, yes, it’s on the map :) ). My work program is flexible and so, I want to fill it and add to it with another type of work I love, creating. What? Anything, I play the guitar, I sing, I carv wood, I draw (newly added passion), but most of all, I like thinking about desings and logos and that kind of stuff. If you ask for experience, I can only say that I know you will help me build it. I have done it only occasionally, and now hope to begin doing it more profesional. What I propose? I have like up to 20h/week of voluntarily work available for anything you think is doable ….
How many ways can you shoot yourself in the foot? Quite apart from the See Spot Run rhythm of the first four sentences, and the always-fatal apostrophe-plural, there’s that indirect request lurking in the last two sentences, where a résumé might be sent to us, but only if we beg for it.
… as I was researching, I found Killian Branding. Killian Branding, sounds both interesting and exciting. Also, I noticed Killian Branding is located in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago, Illinois is one of the area’s I am looking at for an internship. I would like the opportunity of sending you my cover letter and resume. If you are interested, please e-mail me at ….
Hopefully your outside enjoying this wonderful weather, although it’s a little too hot now, will us Chicagoan’s ever be happy with the weather? : )
I just scheduled a meeting with you for this Friday at 9:30AM. I look forward to meeting you.