things I wish I hadn’t seen on your resume or in your cover letter

It’s true that your resume should market your accomplishments, but declaring that you are a “visionary leader” — as I read on two candidates’ resumes recently — is going a bit far. (Besides, if you’re really a visionary leader, I’ll see it in your accomplishments, right?)

And “I have a very charismatic personality” is a weird thing to say about yourself. It’s the sort of thing that others get to determine about you.

On the other end of the spectrum, I was nonplussed to see this in a cover letter:  “I am a strong employee who possesses adequate leadership skills.”  Adequate isn’t generally what employers are hoping to hire.

And then there was the candidate with this objective:  “to obtain a professional position in Corporate America”



{ 85 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S*

    Objective: Im a guy that wants a job at Your Company or Establishment. Please let me know when I can call you to set interview(s).

    Seriously, though–on the handful of times I’ve been asked to read over a friend’s resume, I’m usually struck by how bland, non-descriptive, and … adequate … the picture they paint of themselves is.

  2. Nathan A.*

    I went to an average school, got average grades, and performed average duties at the average grocery store located at fair lane, mediocreville USA.

    Consider me adequately.

  3. Perfectshinist*

    In my opinion, this shows why cover letters are overrated. The only thing the examples above show is that the candidate(s) did not have the proper “training” on how to write a good letter. It’s funny because the 2 jobs I’ve obtained since graduation didn’t even ask for a cover letter but for something more concrete-your University transcript and G.P.A. This just seems like a superior way to sort out candidates rather than something subjective like cover letters .

    1. Karen*

      I see where you’re coming from, but a cover letter boils down to writing skills and how articulate one is. A GPA just boils down to how well someone can study. Personally, I think the former is a better measure of how one might do in the business world.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s really not about having some special cover-letter-writing skills. When I think of the really good people I’ve worked with, most of whom don’t haven’t had any particular training in writing cover letters, I can’t imagine any of them writing something like the stuff in the post. As Karen said, it’s about being articulate (and thinking about what you’re saying and how it might come across); those skills aren’t limited to cover letters.

    3. Perfectshinist*

      What I meant is that a “good” cover letter might just be the result of someone who has researched what to include and what not to include in a cover letter. Does that really show something? At least something like a G.P.A. is solid in the sense that you can’t really wiggle your way into a good one. No method is perfect, but if I were hiring I personally would put more emphasis on something that is more concrete. Just my $0.02.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You don’t hire based just on cover letter, believe me. You look at the resume and accomplishments too, of course. But a cover letter, good or bad, really does give you additional insight into the candidate.

        1. Mephistopheles*

          @Perfectshinist: I like writing cover letters because it not only gives me a chance to exercise my writing skills, but it also helps to reiterate my interest in the company, and specifically, the position. Whereas my resume lists my past employers, education level, and skills, the cover letter can help explain how those past occupations and education can be applied to the position.

          You also say that all a “good” cover letter includes are things that an applicant “researches” when looking up how to write a good cover letter. Well, can’t the same be said for researching how to write a good resume? Or how to conduct a good interview? I (and every other job seeker should) make no apologies about researching tips and guidelines to make me stand out as a candidate. The job market is extremely competitive and fierce due to the economy, and I will make the effort to do my homework and stand out as much as I possibly can.

          Having concrete background information is only half the battle. The rest depends on how well the applicant can articulate himself in written and oral form.

        2. Perfectshinist*

          I didn’t mean to imply that the cover letter for most is the only thing they look at. I have no problem with cover letters, but asking for cover letters and not asking for something measurable like a G.P.A. seems a bit strange to me.My issue, if you want to call it that, is asking for something like a cover letter and not asking for something that to me seems more important like your G.P.A.For example, I studied finance and believe me there is a BIG difference between the low G.P.A. students and the high G.P.A. students. Now if I’m hiring and you need a degree in Finance for the job, I would want to know the G.P.A. of the candidate. Why would I ask for a cover letter and not their G.P.A. when I know that there are resources that can help you write a good cover letter or that someone else may have actually written it? I may ask for both, but personally would place more importance on their transcript which I know is at least genuine.

          I hope you don`t take this is an attack on what you teach or your blog, just something I was thinking about.

          1. Jennifer*

            I think you’re assuming far, far more emphasis is put on the cover letter than AAM (or many hiring managers) would actually put on it. A good cover letter might help get you in the door, but the quantitative facts *should* be looked at in the process too.

            By the way, at a certain point I think the GPA as a measure is not that great a tool. For someone fresh out of school, sure, but after that not only should actual experience and success matter, but as time goes on, people change and that should be taken into account. Someone may have been irresponsible in their youth and blown off their college classes, but who knows how they have grown since. (I see Under Stand has the same sentiments I do).

            Also, to reply to this: “What I meant is that a “good” cover letter might just be the result of someone who has researched what to include and what not to include in a cover letter. Does that really show something?”

            Yep, you know what, that really does show something. At least the candidate put some effort into their job search and if it’s a good letter, presumably into research of the company. Since that’s a lot more than most people do, it should mean something. You can be a summa cum laude graduate for all I care, but if you couldn’t be arsed to even include the company/specific job title in your cover letter, I would worry about your actual real-world skills.

          2. fposte*

            At least for my positions, a cover letter is going to be better at displaying relevant skills than a GPA, and it’s going to be less subject to inconsistent implications (GPA may be measurable, but it’s not a consistent enough measurement to be hugely helpful). Plus a cover letter is a current index while a GPA ages fast.

          3. anon*

            A GPA is rightly only considered for greenhorns. And only because they have no real experience to demonstrate their skills.

            I have colleagues that graduated with excellent GPAs and are average employees and others that graduated with mediocre GPAs and are climbing the ladder and making great contributions.

      2. Under Stand*

        So a GPA shows that someone can study. That is an old argument. But you just stated the cover letter shows that the person can study something and put it into actual practice. So you would rather have someone who can show they can get abstract concepts but not put them into practice, or would you rather someone who can take concepts and put them into practice. I would respectfully disagree that the GPA is more concrete than the rubber meets the road cover letter. Especially since AaM usually hires people who have jobs that require writing.

        1. Under Stand*

          One other thing: how are you going to measure someone who had a mediocre GPA 20 years ago and has learned over those 20 years and the guy with a pretty good GPA but only out of school 6 months and has yet to prove they can take the abstract and make it concrete? Someone just out of school, of course the GPA may be of interest. But 5, 10 years out of school. There will not be as much a difference of GPA in the quality of work as there will be in where they worked and how well they did the job. Over time, your GPA will be of less and less importance.

          1. Perfectshinist*

            How would you know whether or not someone can take a concept and put into practice based on their G.P.A? You seem to think that a high G.P.A. is only an indication that a person can study concepts but not apply them yet a good cover letter means the person is fully capable of being practical. I don’t buy that. Again, I have no problem with cover letters. I do have a small issue with using them as a measuring tool and not using something more objective like a GPA . I’m in the finance field and a high GPA means I know for sure that this person knows his stuff, whether they can apply them or not I have no idea but a good cover letter without knowing their GPA would not prove whther or not they can apply the finacial concepts. I may use a cover letter in combination with GPA, but to place more emphasis on a letter than what this Finance student was able to accomplish in school would be foolish for me personally.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think you guys are talking at cross-purposes. A great cover letter and a terrible GPA would be cause for concern — although, honestly, a really great cover letter might still cause me to get that person on the phone and probe about what was up with the GPA … whereas a great GPA and a terrible cover letter would end things right there. I need people who can communicate clearly and effectively.

              Good grades are one piece of the picture. I need someone who’s smart and a hard worker, and a high GPA can reflect those things — but being smart and working hard on their own aren’t enough. So it’s just one tool, one thing to look at, not something that should be a decision-maker on its own.

              The idea with hiring is that you want to gather as much info as possible about the candidate — the fuller the picture, the better. So why wouldn’t you want to look at a cover letter to see how that person presents their interest in and fit for the job, and how they communicate in general?

              And I agree, of course, with the comment that GPA is only useful for a few years after college. After that, I want to see real-world accomplishments.

            2. Jennifer*

              What if this letter explained why their GPA is low? If we use the example of someone who didn’t take college as seriously as they could have, but has since really grown personally and professionally, the cover letter could and probably should be given more emphasis. To turn down someone who has actual real-world accomplishments over someone merely with a high GPA seems foolish to me, but I think we look at things differently :)

              Besides, you seem to be looking at this through the very narrow lens of your specific profession. For a transcription position, typing skills might be more important than almost anything else, but that doesn’t mean the same applies for all jobs. In general, for many positions, a cover letter can be a good tool for getting a feel for the candidate. It shouldn’t be the only tool, or the most relied up, but AAM has in no way advocated that.

              1. Perfectshinist*

                Jennifer-That’s a circular game, maybe someone did not take work seriously when they were young and thus has no real world accomplishments. Is this any less justifiable over not taking school seriously when one was young? I agree that a GPA should not be the be all and end all. However, my issue is not taking it into account at all and placing more importance on something like a cover letter(which may have been written by someone else for all we know.)
                AAM- “a really great cover letter might still cause me to get that person on the phone and probe about what was up with the GPA … whereas a great GPA and a terrible cover letter would end things right there.” This I don’t get. Unless great writing skills are crucial to the job, why would you place more emphasis on a cover letter? I’m not saying to place no emphasis, but to actually give more importance to a cover letter seems odd. So the 2.0 GPA student with a great cover letter would at least get a phone call but the 4.0 GPA student with the poor letter is done? I’m not saying I would consider the poor letter candidate, but he would ABSOLUTELY rate higher than someone with a poor academic record who got some tips on how to write a good letter. Why would you give priority to an unknown(are these the candidates true feelings in the letter, did they even write the letter themselves,etc) over something that you know for sure is not only measurable but is authentic?

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                At least for the kind of jobs I hire for, I’m looking for people who are smart and really good at communicating. A cover letter can give me a good feel for both of those things. It’s not about following a list of tips; it’s about how the person writes and what they choose to say. A list of tips doesn’t give you that, believe me. In my experience, when people who are not smart and don’t communicate well follow cover letter tips, it comes out stilted or cheesy or generic. (Sorry to be so blunt about it, but it’s true.) Good writing isn’t about just following tips.

                Now, of course the letter could have been written by someone else. And if that’s the case and they are not in fact smart and great at communicating, that’s going to come out in the rest of the interviewing process.

                So those are the good cover letter candidates. Now, as for the high-GPA/bad-cover-letter candidates? Just not interested. I’m sure there’s a line of work they’ll do fine in, but the types of jobs I’m generally hiring for, you’ve got to be able to express yourself intelligently. I’m never going to need them to take a test on something, but I AM going to need them to express their thoughts clearly and concisely many times each day.

                Now, I’d obviously rather have both: high GPA and a great cover letter. But the above is an explanation of why it breaks down the way it does.

              3. fposte*

                If you’ve been out long enough to have actual real-world accomplishments, your GPA shouldn’t be on your resume anyway.

            3. Under Stand*

              Like it or not, your cover letter is the first impression of you that the person who is doing the hiring gets. So why on earth would you WANT to make a bad first impression by writing one that did not stand out in a positive way? Also, if you are hiring someone to be a writer, why on earth would you look at someone who has a great GPA but cannot even write a decent cover letter?

              Now on to GPA, you state your job is your second out of college. So that puts you what, 2-4 years out? What have you accomplished during that time? That is what I would want to know more than what grades you got in school. If you got all a’s but you cannot write a cohesive letter to me, but instead write one where you even spell “finacial” rather than “financial”, I would presume you to be someone who is not detailed oriented enough. As a person in the financial field, I would want someone who could do the details. A cover letter should put you in a positive light, but a letter with misspellings or heaven forbid says that you are an adequate employee would just get you cut. I am looking for exceptional employees, not adequate.

              Tell me what you have done, not your grades. As AaM stated, stuff could have been going on at the time you were in school. How do you know that student with the 2.8 GPA who just squeaked by his final year did not have his mother die that year, be diagnosed with cancer and go through chemo, and lose a pregnancy? You do not. But life does happen. What if that same person, now 10 years out has done incredible things in the working world, should a hiring manager ignore all that because “well, this guy who just graduated 2 years ago had a 4.0 GPA and the other candidate only had a 2.8”? I would hope not. You would be comparing a current view of the candidate with a picture from 10 years ago.

              1. Marie*

                Quote from fposte: “If you’ve been out long enough to have actual real-world accomplishments, your GPA shouldn’t be on your resume anyway.”

                Agreed. Many years of accomplishment is more important than what your grades were when you were a kid.

              2. Perfectshinist*

                Well, yeah, if it’s a writing job the letter would take on more importance. Although one would think that to get a writing job you’d need a degree in a field that emphasizes this and thus a high GPA would reflect that you can indeed write.

                As for unfortunate events, they can happen at any stage in life. Maybe they occurred when I finished school and that’s why I have no “real-world” accomplishments.

              3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Interestingly, there’s not really a correlation at all between GPA and writing ability; I’ve seen plenty of 4.0’s whose writing sucks. And some drop-outs with great writing.

                (And actually, to get a writing job, your degree isn’t really relevant — it’s all about being able to demonstrate your writing skills.)

                It’s rare that I’m hiring for a pure-writing job though; what’s more typical is I’m hiring for something else where writing just happens to matter.

            4. Jen*

              The problem I have with treating a GPA as an objective, quantifiable measure is that it’s not. Grade inflation is rampant at many schools, and there’s no solid way to tell whether a 3.0 from Whatsamatta U is comparable to a 3.0 from Embiggen College.

      3. Anonymous*

        I think that you might be placing to much faith in GPA. I have several friends who are professors and apparently it is a very common thing for students to come to them and demand higher grades. While I guess being able to con your way into a higher grade does show some kind of skill that doesn’t mean it is indicitive of their say basic math abilities. If you add to that simple cheating my confidence in someone’s GPA is very low. A high GPA is not a gaurentee that someone will excel at a position. (Nor is a low one a certainty that they will fail.) Especially once you get more than a few years out from college. At 10 years out of school I can’t imagine asking someone what their GPA was. I certainly don’t recall. (It was high enough to graduate with honors but really? You shouldn’t care.) What you should make note of is the actual work I’ve performed recently.

        1. Aniau Jade*

          I don’t think you can really get a clear picture of a person unless you truly know them. In all reason there are plenty of ways that a 4.0 could have been four years of copying papers or plagiarism, or just bad teachers. Or a bad cover letter can also be written by another person to cover up the candidates terrible writing skills. References, if personal and even if business, can either “feel bad” or will not point out major flaws with the potential candidate. There are so many variables that go into this, that even those people who are great “fakers” at life in general won’t stand the test of time. In hiring you always run that risk. GPA, cover letters, and resumes put aside, it all depends on your culture, business, and trade. A mechanic isn’t going to necessarily care about a good cover letter or GPA, but wants to see his work and experience. In Alison’s case good writing skills are more than a necessity, and she is going to look deeper. YOU ALL HAVE GREAT POINTS AND PERSPECTIVE!!!! :) but it really all depends on the situation.

          1. T*

            +1 to all of these and I have to say that as someone who got three interviews within with three weeks of each other, one telling me straight out “I loved your cover letter (thanks AAM!!),” I must agree. I only have two years of professional work experience (teaching English in Japan), my first job after graduation, so clearly my resume could ONLY focus on that. The cover letter makes me shine, gives me a voice and makes me stand out as someone who has learned life skills, has different kinds of experiences and can rite the HELL out of a cover letter. A GPA and resume simply cannot communicate that.

            It shows whom ever is hiring you that you actually read the job description and you’re focusing on their needs. As a high school AND college nerd, while I was very disappointed, I was forced to come to the realization that GPA means absolutely nothing and some of the best employees never even finished college (like my awesome, hardworking fiance). Trying to apply college credentials to real life situations will only stunt your professional progress.

    4. jersey knit*

      I totally disagree. As someone who has read hundreds of cover letters for jobs that are 90 percent writing, cover letter “training” can only do so much. You can’t mimic a tutorial, because the good advice out there encourages you to describe your actual strengths in more useful terms. You can’t fake that.

      A list of adjectives isn’t very convincing without actual evidence to support it. If you’re a visionary, explain how you revolutionized a process or convinced someone to do things the way you thought would be best and succeeded with flying colors. Following a tutorial isn’t cheating; it just makes you describe in concrete terms which qualities actually make you a good employee.

      Cover letters that hit on exactly what the employer needs are so rare that, for me at least, it makes process of elimination ridiculously easy (although I’m known as a harsh cover letter critic). If you think it’s gaming the system to follow advice for good cover letters, you’re probably not writing good cover letters.

  4. Karen*

    Things like this sound so awkward, cheesy, and unprofessional, that I almost assume the same of the person that wrote them right off the bat. Sorry, but it’s true.

  5. D Currin*

    I’ve never had to hire anyone, but I’ve applied to plenty of jobs, and call me crazy but I LIKE writing a cover letter. It really lets my enthusiasm for a particular position come out, and I can also interject some of my personality in there too. If I was spamming a bunch of jobs I didn’t care about then sure, writing cover letters sucks, but when I focused on jobs that I really liked and really wanted, my cover letters reflected that.

    1. Anonymous*

      I help people write resumes in my job, but I’m not allowed to do any actual writing, just guidance, suggestions, and the like (my main role with it is to help them get a resume into our computerized system). If I had a nickel for every time I saw a resume where the objective was listed as “get a job,” “support my family,” “find employment,” etc, I wouldn’t need to work anymore. If I get lucky, I catch them early and can explain what an objective actually is without stepping outside of my boundaries, but sometimes that doesn’t help either. People also look at me like I’m nuts when I suggest writing cover letters, even basic, generic ones, or having more than one resume. Even simple tips like don’t include what your wife does for a living and spell your former employer’s name correctly have been ignored in the past-people who haven’t written a resume before often don’t care what the finished product looks like, just that it suits whatever forced them to make one in the first place. I Love (yes, capital L) resumes and cover letters (plus I’m a classic INTJ personality), so it just kills me to see them butchered. If I were a hiring manager/HR person I would need a red Sharpie and a stress ball or three just to get through the day. *Sigh.*

      1. Perfectshinist*

        It’s funny how 2 people can look at the same thing and reach 2 different conclusions. I find phrases such as “get a job,” “support my family,” “find employment,” as just the honest truth. These ARE the main reasons why people look for a job. What percentage of people actually mean it when they say they love the company, the job, etc. At my University career centre they told us to write stuff like how much the company impresses me,how this is my ideal job, blah blah, even if we didn’t 100% believe it. I’d wager that a VERY high percentage of people who write stuff like this dont really mean it. Someone who is looking for a job to support his family doesn’t mean this person will do a poor job.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Of course their objective in job-hunting is to get a job. But that’s so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said. I’m not a fan of resume objectives, but if you’re going to have one, it’s supposed to be something that frames your candidacy for the employer. Pointing out that you hope to earn a living doesn’t do that at all. You’re not really advocating writing that on a resume, are you?

          1. Perfectshinist*

            Nope-what I’m saying is that having what most would consider a “bad” objective is in reality no better or worse than a “good” objective. In fact, to me it comes across as less phony for the reasons I stated(candidates being told to exaggerate their feelings for the position, company,etc).

            I’ll give you an example.I’ve studied business/finance my whole life. Throughout my studies, the companies I actually learned about constituted about 5% of the actual companies I applied to. To tailor a resume/cover letter to show how much I love the company is such a stretch. So you went to our website and found out some facts and now you can’t wait to work here. Sure. As I said, my own university career centre told us to oversell our feelings for the company,position,whatever.

            It’d be interesting to see what percentage of people at their current jobs are there because well you need food/shelter and the job is not too stressful. I think there’s nothing wrong with that. So if a candidate states that their objective is to make a living and you determine through his experience/degree/whatever that they can probably do the job even if their objective isn’t the most enthusiastic , I don’t think it’s the end of the world.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think your missing the point :) It does no good to state that your objective is to get a job; that’s clear by the fact that you’re applying for one. If you must include an objective, it should contribute something to your candidacy, not just state the obvious. And I totally disagree with your career center that you should talk about how much you love the company. You should talk about why you’d be a good fit and why you’d be enthusiastic about doing the work.

              I don’t mean this to be rude, but I’m getting the sense you haven’t hired very many people and you might have a somewhat limited perspective on what’s effective with a hiring manager and why :)

              1. Perfectshinist*

                I’ve never hired anyone (graduated in 2008) but I think I do get your point. I’m not saying it’s a great idea to have a bland objective, what I am saying is that it shouldn’t be the object of ridicule and an automatic disqualifier as some are making it out to be. Whether you’re talking about fit, enthusiasm for the job,or anything else from my experience (friends and myself included) most people oversell it. So, if I was hiring, if I saw a bland objective my first thought would be, ok this candidate wasn’t trained on how to do this. No big deal if everything else is ok. That’s all I’m saying.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                In my experience, the people whose resumes and cover letters show a lack of even a small amount of research into how to present yourself to an employer don’t generally become any more impressive once you interview them. Every time I’ve winced at something in a resume but thought “well, let me get this person on the phone and just see what they’re like,” it’s not been a phone call worth making, unfortunately. (And with 300+ candidates for a single opening, it’s not like it’s hard to find excellent candidates who meet a higher bar.)

              3. Under Stand*

                Here’s the thing: if you feel you absolutely MUST put an objective (and I would highly suggest against it), that objective should not be what the company can do for you, it should be what you can do for the company.

                As for your College no-help career center, they did you no favor telling you to lie to the employer. Do not apply to a job that you have not researched the company. Do not apply to a job where you have not talked to people who have either worked for or with the company. This is not “what do you want for dinner” this is “where do you want to spend the majority of your waking hours”.

                If I see someone who writes about what the company can do for them (an “I am looking for a job to support my family” style of objective), then 9 times out of 10 I will pass on them. The reason being they are not sold on the job, it is a job to them not a career choice. And when something comes around that pays more, they will be out the door. I want someone who is invested in the job from day one, not because they have no other option for something that pays but because they have placed a value on the job itself beyond money. Those are the employees that will grow.

              4. John*

                Perfectshinist, I hear you when you say that people shouldn’t bullshit when applying for a job (or in general). But AAM is not criticizing putting “to get a job” as an objective because it’s too candid; she is criticizing it because everything that a candidate does as part of the application process should be done with the aim of portraying that candidate as the best man/woman for the job. Saying that one’s objective is to “get a job” does nothing to make that candidate appear better than the others, so it is gratuitous and therefore should be removed from the resume.

              5. Perfectshinist*

                @Understand-My university career centre did not say to lie-but to exaggerate your fondness for the company,position,etc. Judging by the comments here-they were dead right because it seems that’s what people want to here abive all else. Also, your job vs career argument is outdated. This is not the 1950’s where you are going to work for one company for 40 years and then get a gold watch at the end. I read somewhere that today’s new employees can expect to change their jobs every 2-3 years,either because in today’s fast paced world new roles are popping up everywhere or companies are downsizing. So, if you’re trying to determine who will last a long time based on their objective, good luck.

                @John A candidate who says their objective is to get a job or whatever may not be better than someone else, but it doesn’t make them any worse in my eyes. The only thing it really shows is that they did not get the right advice-heck they might just have stumbled onto the wrong website to get advice. This is much different than say a spelling error where one should know intrinsically that this is wrong. Big difference.

              6. Under Stand*

                P- Let me put it more direct for you. You suffer from a prolonged case of teenager disease- you think you know everything. You say they told you to “enhance”, that is just a fancy way of saying lie. Advertising companies that get caught “enhancing” their claims get fined for lying. It is obvious that we will have to agree to disagree. As a manager, I do not hire anyone for a position of authority that I do not think will stick around for more than a few years. Those that job jump every 2-3 years do so because they really do not like the jobs they are getting. And a large portion of those are because the person lied about themselves in order to sell themselves for “a job” instead of hunting out “the job”. As I see your point, you see nothing wrong with being a career job jumper and whatever it takes to find the next job is fine. And in 20 years you will still be putting your 4.0 on your resume and will still be wondering why you are not getting promoted, and will still be resenting your coworkers who are getting promoted who had a 2.0 GPA but actually looked for a job they loved. Life is too short to settle for a job you hate. Even in this economy.

              7. fposte*

                P., I also think you’re seeing it from the applicant’s point of view, and therefore looking for reasons not to weed people out. When you’re hiring, you have a limited amount of time, and the goal is, indeed, to weed people out. It’s not that inexperience with business conventions and lack of sufficient initiative to check a workplace out are cardinal sins; it’s that that person is up against candidates who have that knowledge and that initiative. I’m not going to interview all the people who lacked the entry-level skill that others possessed just in case they have other superior talents–there’s a reasonable enough correlation between knowledge and initiative displayed in the application and in the job that I know I can get somebody who will work for me in the position by weeding out those who didn’t demonstrate that. Even if it turns out the out-of-touch resume applicant was better, which honestly isn’t that likely, they’re not going to be sufficiently superior in the position to justify a more onerous search that means other aspects of my job don’t get done.

                Think of it as analogous to the joke about the friends running away from the bear, where you don’t have to be faster than the bear, but you have to be faster than the other guy. It doesn’t matter if you have a late kick–if a lot of other applicants are faster than you from the get-go, you’re bear bait.

              8. Perfectshinist*

                @fposte-I was talking to my HR director today and he had a good laugh at the thought that a career objective is EVER used as a measuring criteria. The way our dept. works is for new hires(<5 yrs exp.) you need a certain GPA. If you have that, you are sure to get a call and be asked to answer a few questions. If he likes your answers, you get an in-person interview. He says that is a much better way to get a feel for a candidate than something that they have written. Two-way communication. He thinks a critical issue like hiring should be given top priority and resources and instead of waiting for the right candidate you should go find one. That's why you get a call if you meet the GPA criteria. He thinks a lot of people are overthinking the situation and the time it takes to call pre-screened candidates is not that much more than screening cover letters/resumes and looking for mistakes.

              9. Perfectshinist*

                AAM-I’ve admitted that I don’t have much experience, that I graduated in 2008, and that I never hired a single person. However, I have studied business my whole life and you learn a lot about the hiring procedures of different organizations(worldwide) and current trends. I’m just presenting my take on the situation. I may be right or wrong, it’s just a discussion.

                Here’s a link for you;


            2. Perfectshinist*

              @Understand- You couldn’t be more wrong about why young employees are switching jobs more frequently than ever before. It’s not that we hate our jobs or lied, it’s because we want to be continuously challenged and the thought of new industries,new roles, and even new cities is very intriguing. At my current employer, they actually value people who bring a diverse assortment of experiences to the table as opposed to working at one place for 15-20 years. Also, we have seen our parents being kicked out of a company after working there for 30+ years so loyalty is not really a consideration. If someone comes along with a higher salary and a role that seems interesting(my case), I have zero hesitation in leaving even if it means moving to a new city. Another thing you don’t understand (bad pun intended) is that old perks like a promotion don’t hold much appeal if it significantly interrupts work-life balance. This is another new trend. My girlfriend and I have both rejected a promotion in the past 3 years because it required a lot more time at work.

              1. Anonymous*

                Perfectshinist enough already! You are hijacking the thread and embarrassing yourself. You have expressed your opinion which you admit is based on little and people with more experience than you have explained it differently and you keep insisting you know based on what? Studying business in school? You are not doing your generation any favors by continuing to insist you know everything in the face of people who actually do know what they are talking about.

              2. Anonymous*

                Jersey-I never said you shouldn’t do anything other than try to get good grades. Yes, you shouldn’t be in the library 24/7. Join a sports club, join a campus group,etc-all good. What I am saying is that the notion that good grades don’t mean much is wrong and that whether or not a person has a proper objective on their resume should be given as much or more importance is also foolish. I can’t speak for every program, but in my program you had classes where you had to do group work, make oral presentations, etc. All the “soft skills” like communication and teamwork that you supposedly learn only if you have ventured into the “real-world” were covered and I suspect that holds true for other programs as well.

                Look at it this way, if every student was of the mindset that grades don’t mean much this would be extremely unfair to the professor. If the class avg. is a C because ppl think that grades don’t matter in the long run it reflects poorly on the professor and they may wonder what they are doing wrong. Doesn’t a professor deserve as much respect as a manager?

              3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I don’t know how many other ways to say this: If you have a 4.0 and a ridiculous resume objective (or a bad cover letter, or whatever), then I am going to focus on the many, many candidates who do not have that shortcoming. I am not interested in hiring people without common sense or the initiative to learn the basics of how a job search works. And my experience in having interviewed and hired many people (and earlier on wanting to give those people a chance) tells me that there is in fact a correlation between a bad cover letter or resume and being a weak candidate, relative to the rest of the pool.

                I don’t know how to say it any plainer.

                You’re telling us what you believe should be true, based on theories. We’re telling you what IS true, based on real-life experience.

              4. Perfectshinist*

                AAM-That’s fine if it works for you. In my field, if there were 2 candidates, one who had a 4.0 but a bad objective and other who had a 2.0 but a great objective and everything else was equal, it would be really,really dumb to hire the 2.0.

                This just isn’t some theory either, companies like Google,McKinsey,and many others would place WAY more emphasis on GPA than a career objective. Fields such as finance and accounting have traditionally placed more emphasis on GPA and now this is spilling over into consulting and high-tech.

              5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Well, NO ONE hires because of someone’s objective. What they do is ELIMINATE because of bad objectives. (And really, no one should even have an objective on their resume, but that’s a different rant.)

                Anyway, the point isn’t that you’re stuck needing to hire someone with a 2.0 in the case you laid out — there are hundreds of candidates to pick from. The point is just that a silly objective is a dealbreaker — eliminates them from the pool. Much of hiring is about eliminating people from the pool and I’d eliminate the 4.0 with the awful objective and focus instead of the other 299 candidates without any qualms.

              6. Ted*

                @Perfectshinist (whose name should be Missing The Point): You are talking out of your ass. You’ve admitted you lack experience. I’ve worked with people like you who think they know it all right out of school. There’s usually a painful comeuppance at some point. How about trying some humility, admit you don’t know everything because you don’t have the experience? Is that outside your sphere of experience too?

              7. Perfectshinist*

                @Ted-Most people do not have experience in politics, does this mean they shouldn’t complain about any political issue? The whole experience angle has no traction with my generation, we care about ideas and logic. I have presented my ideas and the reasons behind them. If you disagree, that’s fine. However, you’d think I was calling for slavery to be re-institiuted by some of the reactions here.

              8. Ted*

                Hahaha! The experience angle has no traction with your generation because you have no experience. Wait to run your mouth off until you do.

              9. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Okay, this is becoming overly heated … although I have to agree with those who have pointed out that it’s pretty silly to dig your heels in and insist that something in an effective practice when you don’t have firsthand experience in that thing and are arguing with those who do. Perfectshinist, I’m sorry to say that I do think you’re playing into stereotypes that don’t do your peers any favors. You have plenty of peers who are sensible enough to care about experience and who have written on this blog repeatedly that they don’t appreciate being tarred with that brush.

                In any case, I think we’ve wrung this topic out for the time being.

            3. Ask a Manager* Post author

              P, re: your HR director, you’re talking to one person in one industry with one perspective. Your experience, it sounds like, has been fairly limited. My advice is to be open to people with wider experience or you’ll come across as naive. You’re a few years out of school. You’ve never hired. Listen to people with other experience.

              On job-hopping, read these for a different take:



              1. Perfectshinist*

                Edit:put it in the wrong thread

                AAM-I’ve admitted that I don’t have much experience, that I graduated in 2008, and that I never hired a single person. However, I have studied business my whole life and you learn a lot about the hiring procedures of different organizations(worldwide) and current trends. I’m just presenting my take on the situation. I may be right or wrong, it’s just a discussion.

                Here’s a link for you;


              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Penelope, I’m afraid, is known for writing things that almost no one else agrees with, and for being counterintuitive in order to get traffic :)

                I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. I don’t think you’ll find very many people outside of academia who put more value on what you learn in school than what you learn in the real world. You clearly do — but you may feel differently once you’re the one doing the managing.

  6. Anonymous*

    Things I’ve seen recently:

    Spelling errors including: our state, the individual’s name, the name of a previous very well know red and white employer, an abbreviation which was incorrectly spelled to be a very vulgar word.

    In a cover letter: “I was fired from my job at X because they wanted to get rid of all the people with experience who knew how to do the work and I’ll never get hired because I’m too old.”

    “Objective: I would like to be independently wealthy and not have to work for anymore assholes.”

    My favorite: “I’ve been blackballed in my industry so it doesn’t matter, I’m just writing this letter to show the governement that I’m doing something.”

    1. Marie*

      “Objective: I would like to be independently wealthy and not have to work for anymore assholes.”

      I frequently feel the same way.

    2. Office Mommy*

      “Objective: I would like to be independently wealthy and not have to work for anymore assholes.”

      Ha ha! I LOVE this! Gotta give them points for honesty.

  7. Anonymous*

    Personally, I don’t have the time to weight someone’s GPA. Even when I was in school, we knew that a low GPA with certain professors meant so much more than a high GPA with others. Give me a strong cover letter anytime!

  8. on the ground*

    Didn’t we have a letter within the past year from a young person trying to get a job as a visionary because s/he had great ideas?

    I worked for a visionary once. It was a huge pain. She would have the vision, and we her employees would scramble to make things happen. To her credit, she didn’t object when we spent gobs of money doing it. But to this day I read “I’m a visionary” as “I have the ideas and you do the work.”

  9. Joey*

    I don’t have time to read all of the nonsense on crappy cover letters. Besides the obvious here are the worst ones that don’t even get fully read:
    -more than a 1 page resume from a new grad who’s never had a real job
    – objective: [job title]
    -new grads that that claim to have “vast” or “extensive” experience
    -claiming to have excellent writing/communication skills with a crap cover letter
    -referring to youself in the 3rd person

  10. Soap Lake*

    Spelling is so important on a cover letter. I work for an organization the includes the word public in the title. One applicant forgot to put the l in public. We laughed a lot but never called him.

  11. John*

    AAM, have you ever wondered if your application advice is providing any net benefit? Because these things seem like a zero-sum game: if one candidate wins (gets the job), all the other candidates lose (do not get the job). So although your advice will sometimes help the best candidates (i.e. the people who would do the best job at the company they applied for) get a job offer, many times your advice will help a lesser candidate get the job offer instead. Because let’s be honest: there are probably some awful people (like a tyrannical boss, for example) who have stumbled upon your blog; read some great tips on things like the cover letter, the resume, likely interview questions, etc; and used that information to get a job. I’m not asking this question in order to repudiate you. I’m just wondering if this is something that has ever crossed your mind.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s a good question! I think I don’t really believe that a bad candidate can trick their way into a job though, at least not through my advice or with a competent interviewer. Because while I can give specifics about what NOT to do, my advice on what you SHOULD do is a lot less specific / more open-ended; much of it is about identifying your strengths and how you’re a fit and conveying that in a genuine way, and about the mental framework you should have, and so forth.

      But I’m not saying “answer X to this question” and so forth — because there aren’t really answers that will be right universally, in the majority of cases. It’s more about figuring out how to approach the process. Do you guys agree/disagree with that?

      (That said, I do worry about the magic interview question being used by bad candidates.)

      1. Under Stand*

        I would agree. To me, the key to finding “the job” is not looking for a job to win or lose, like some kind of game. It is about finding the place that you fit. And if you find that place, even if there are tasks that you hate (and I think we all have tasks that we hate at one time or another) you will wake up and say “I get to go to work today” instead of “I have to go to work today”. Those are the employees who stay. Those are the employees who grow with the company instead of just looking for what the company can do for me.
        I take your advice more as how to get from being the person competing for a job to being the person searching for that place you fit and the advice teaches us how to convey that fit to the interviewer in a way that makes it easier for them to see the fit as well. Before coming here, I never heard the advice of an interview being a two way street. I somehow knew that people decided if the company was right or not before taking the job, heck I had done that throughout my career taking some jobs while turning others down, but somehow their was a disconnect between that gut feeling that the company was not right and the interview not being a two way street.

        Thank you for the wonderful advice. And I think this would be a wonderful discussion on its own.

  12. Anonymous*

    I once read an application by a convicted child molester who spent three pages explaining his conviction and why this wouldn’t impact his performance if hired. Seriously. That was one for the ages.

  13. jersey knit*

    Re: “Well, yeah, if it’s a writing job the letter would take on more importance. Although one would think that to get a writing job you’d need a degree in a field that emphasizes this and thus a high GPA would reflect that you can indeed write.”

    As someone who does a tricky kind of writing for a living and hires semi-regularly for similar positions, if I got a crappy cover letter from an English major with a 4.0, it would just make me question the grading scale, not reevaluate their writing skills. When you’re hiring for a job, it’s about whether someone can meet the needs for your team, not whether they could eventually be useful after more training. Again, as Alison put it, anyone who has to tell you “I am an excellent communicator” clearly isn’t.

    I have a passion for helping people perfect their cover letters, and it’s helped with their job hunting. (even in some cases where they didn’t get interviews, people have gone out of their way to say how extraordinary their cover letters were.) But my friends are usually describing qualities other than their ability to write, so it’s less challenging for me to polish theirs than to write my own.

    With cover letters for writing positions, it’s not just that the stakes are higher — you have to demonstrate your skill without addressing it directly, since that would be bad writing. Instead, I have to discuss how my experience has specifically prepared me for their particular needs in a writer. Also, since I’m showing and not telling, the actual subject matter is less obvious than for most positions. However, the silver lining is if you get an interview, you’re in a fairly good place because you’ve already shown your effectiveness in the job you would perform.

    So, yes, a cover letter is more important for a writing job. But if you’re actually a viable candidate for a writing job, the type of cover letter you have to do is a whole different (and sadly less fun) beast altogether.

  14. Anonymous*

    So all of this very interesting discussion raises a related question for me. I completely agree that GPA is meaningless after the first few years–no one cares. But what about graduating with honors? Are honors considered to be part of the degree, and thus something an applicant would always list, or is it a separate piece of information that should be left off after the first job or two?

    As a side note, I do a lot of hiring in an academic environment–and even we don’t focus much on GPA, except perhaps in the very specialization the person teaches. Even then, a history of good teaching trumps an average GPA. (Though a very low one would probably raise some eyebrows.) But of course we ask for transcripts, so we can see all the details, which is perhaps more telling than just an overall GPA.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think honors are okay to leave a little longer than GPA. But I think they’d start to seem odd to include if you’re, say, 30 years out from graduation!

      1. Heather B*

        What about something like Phi Beta Kappa? Technically you’re a member for life once you earn admittance. (Personally, I would give credence to someone well out of school who was a PBK member because it seems to me that PBK folks tend to be intellectually curious and engaged, but I’m interested to hear what someone who actually hires would think.)

Comments are closed.