I recently got a letter from a senior in college asking if her cover letters were too focused on herself and not enough on the organizations she was applying to. She showed me a typical letter, which included the following (pieces redacted to protect her privacy):
“As a graduating senior double majoring in __ and __ at __ College, I am interested in pursuing a career focused on __. I believe that my experience researching __, combined with my internship, shows my commitment to social justice and grassroots action to combat __. This drive makes me an ideal candidate for the position of __.
My excellent communication and writing skills combined with my proficiency in analysis, research, and time management enable me to contribute to the goals of ……….. and importantly, afford me a tremendous opportunity to expand my own personal knowledge and skill set…”
I wrote back and told her this:
One problem is that you’re telling, not showing — “shows my commitment to social justice” … “makes me an ideal candidate…” … “enable me to contribute to the goals of”…
Let the employer draw those conclusions through the information you show them. Don’t tell them what it means; they decide that stuff.
Have you reviewed the cover letter section of my archives? That might help.
Here’s her response, which made my blood curdle on behalf of college students everywhere who are being poorly advised by their campus career centers, to the point of malpractice:
Thank you so much for your advice. I haven’t gotten a chance to look at your archives yet but I definitely will. I’m just confused about letting future employers draw conclusions. My career center always told me I have to tell the job how good I am and not let them infer anything since they could negatively infer. Was that an over-generalization?
Campus career centers are notorious for giving out bad advice, but this is among the worst I’ve ever heard.
Do not tell the employer how good you are; they are going to decide that for themselves, not simply trust your assessment, and it makes candidates look overly cocky when they attempt to assert this kind of thing (and in the case of recent grads, naive — since most aren’t that good yet, and that’s normal).
Given the incredible amount of terrible advice coming from campus career centers — from telling students to “call to schedule an interview” to telling them to overnight their resume to “get the hiring manager’s attention” to recommending salesy interview answers instead of genuine ones — it really might be time to close down most of these charlatans.* Students would probably be better off if they were forced to find better sources of advice.
Health inspectors have the power to close restaurants that are endangering their customers. Someone should do the same here.
* And yes, I know there are some good ones. But when they’re such the exception to the rule…