stop telling me you’re the best candidate for the job

Please stop opening your cover letters with this sentence and all variations of it:

“I’m applying for this position because I’m the best candidate for the job.”

No, you’re not. The best candidate has the sense to know that she has no idea what the rest of the candidate pool looks like.

Somewhere along the way, someone told you to be confident and sell yourself in the job application process. But that means showing me what makes you the best candidate, not just telling me and expecting me to believe it. If you’re the best, your accomplishments are what will make that clear.

{ 68 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Thanks for this post. As you are probably already aware, this type of behavior, specifically using the phrase, “I believe I am the best candidate for this position” is really encourage by some college career advisers (at least, by my old career adviser)…I was never bold enough to write that phrase though, so I always put “an excellent candidate” instead of “the best candidate.”

    1. Anonymous*

      Unfortunately, that is what the unemployed candidates are being fed by these “job search experts”

    2. Anonymous*

      College career offices always seem to have such horrible advice. I remember the advice I got from them in undergrad and I shudder to think how my life would have gone if I had followed that advice.

      1. Ask an Advisor*

        Ugh, it pains when I read stuff like this.

        When I was a career counselor in a college career center, I routinely had to recommend this be taken out of students’ cover letters. There ARE good career counselors out there in college career centers, I swear!

        1. Anonymous from 1:41*

          I should add that I did get some great advice from my college career advisers, some of which was generic (always customize your cover letter, for example) and some of which was very field specific that I couldn’t have gotten elsewhere at the time. That said, I did receive a lot of the “be aggressive” type advice, which (fortunately) made me very uncomfortable. I actually remember asking, “are you sure it’s a good idea to call to follow up if the posting specifically says not to call?” I would have been so much less stressed out when I graduated if I knew that it was okay that I wasn’t demanding interviews in my cover letters! too bad I didn’t find your blog until after I had a job :\

          1. A Career Counselor*

            We don’t all suck, promise! I read blogs like these so that I can keep up with what’s going on in “in the real world.” I also have been telling students to keep the objectives off their resumes for years as well as “references available upon request.” I have never seen a good objective statement!

  2. Malissa*

    I’ve always used the phrase, I’m a great match for this job because……
    Then I go on to mention specific areas where the job posting match up with my experience.

    1. KellyK*

      I like that phrasing a lot better. You can’t possibly know that you’re the best, but you can certainly tell whether you’re a good match or not.

  3. Joey*

    I don’t have a problem with it as long as you show me a track record to match. I sort of like the cocky attitude especially if you’re in a position that rewards competitiveness. The problem is that most people need to realize they’re just average.

    1. JfC*

      Yeah, but in this economic climate no one wants “average.” I realize that I am inexperienced and average, but it’s really a buyer’s market right now so it’s not really a good idea to put that forward. Though baldly saying “I am the best” is probably a stupid way to avoid that.

  4. Kelly O*

    Yeah, they probably read the umpteen hundred articles online that explain how you should be confident and tell that hiring manager that you’re the best person for the job. Then you’re supposed to call back frequently asking when they want to interview you, or when they want you to start (depends on which advice you’re reading.)

    Which kind of ruins it for everyone else, who would just like to know that they’re in or out of the running, but because Crazy McFollowuperson doesn’t know how to spell boundaries, much less abide by them, we get that lovely “if your qualifications match we will be in touch” form letter if we’re lucky.

    Not that I’m bitter in the least.

  5. Ryan*

    It depends on the rest of the paragraph, no? Like some above suggested, if you list good (and arguably the concept of “good” can vary from person to person) reasons and accomplishments then I think it makes sense. I’d be more concerned about a cover letter that states this then offers nothing to back it up or is circular in nature e.g. I’m the best because I’m better than everyone else. AAM, I think you’re nit picking here.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Nope, there’s no rest of the paragraph that could make it a reasonable statement. Because you have no way of knowing if you’re the best candidate, or even in the top 5. You don’t know who else is applying, and you don’t know all the nuances of what they’re looking for. So it’s a silly thing to say, and comes across as arrogant, naive, and imprecise with language, none of which are good things!

      1. Under Stand*

        But it at least gives you an easy way to weed out non-candidates from the get go. If you have found those using the phrase to typically be lacking in quality, just make that the automatic discard qualifier.

          1. Sarah G*

            @Anon – The problem is, it can’t be proven by fact. You don’t know the applicant pool, and you don’t even know everything about the position, let alone the work culture. If I was reading a cover letter that said that, it would be a huge turn-off. If the resume and the rest of the cover letter was incredibly impressive (which I doubt, if they included the sentence about being the best candidate), it wouldn’t be a complete deal breaker. But the resume and rest of the cover letter would need to be extra awesome for me to not immediately rule this person out.

          2. Nathan A.*

            I think the common understanding is that best = qualified (in the manner “I am the best because I meet your qualifications”).

            I have a feeling many applicants are writing in that manner instead of saying “I am qualified to perform the functions of X job”.

            Considering there may be 800 applicants for a single job posting, using the phrase “I am the best” is definitely starting off on the wrong foot.

  6. JT*

    No matter how great you are, it’s almost impossible to know you are the best. An exception might be in a very particular field, such as a certain small discipline in academia where you know everyone else working in the field due to reading all the literature all the time. Or perhaps for a high-level professional sports team where you know the names and experience of everyone else who could possibly apply. But those situations don’t call for cover letters of the sort AAM describes.

    In most other situations, claiming you are the best demonstrates lack of understanding of reality and shows a blind spot in judgment.

    1. fposte*

      Basically, using that phrase isn’t conveying any information about your qualifications–it’s suggesting you’re arrogant enough to generally believe you’re better than everybody else. That doesn’t suggest a collegial workplace fit.

        1. N*

          Or you’re a good candidate who can’t write cover letters. No matter what I do, I feel like my cover letters come across as too stiff, too formal, and too full of self-promotion. I’m having a very hard time adopting a more casual style. I’m not sure if it’s lingering product of grad school and having a certain style of writing hammered into me, or maybe that I just don’t know how to blend a personal, conversational style with professional writing.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            One suggestion: Try pretending you’re writing an email to a friend about why you’d be great at this job. Then turn that into your cover letter (modifying it, of course).

  7. Mike C.*

    You should get all the people that use that phrase in a room together and tell them to prove that everyone else in the room are just a bunch of liars.

    1. Kimberlee*

      Oooh, they could have a competition among themselves to see who is REALLY the best. This would be the most boring reality TV show ever. But I would watch it.

  8. NonProfiter*

    “My education, experience in [blank] and interest in [your organization’s mission/company’s product or service] make me an excellent match for this job.” Then a short para on each of those things emphasizing how your background relates to things mentioned job posting, not rehashing the resume, but following AAM’s advice to focus on accomplishments.

    The problem is that people’s education, experience, and disingenuous interest in the job don’t usually relate to the job, or make them excellent matches.

  9. AB*

    I completely agree that it looks both naive and arrogant to say you are the best.

    I hate when recruiting managers ask me “what makes you the best candidate for this job?””

    My answer is always, “I cannot say I’m the best candidate. You will be in a much better position to judge that. What I can say is that my previous experience in X and Y, and the results I got in Z, make me think I would be a good addition to your team.”

    This might be working because as a consultant I have to interview a lot for contract jobs and haven’t unemployed once during the past 5 years!

  10. Anonymous*

    Yikes I’ve been using that line for the longest time, and so far it may or may have not worked, but I still do get interviews. However, from now on I will omit that line and try something different.

  11. Sharat Krishnan*

    “I’m the best candidate for the job”… the Oracle’s apprentice.

    As you said, let your accomplishments do the talking. Being respectful and humble will pave your path.

  12. IV*

    I always begin with I’m a strong candidate for your consideration- then explain why that would be.

    Once I have sold my experience, education and relevant personal traits (attention to detail in a legal role as an example) as being very well suited to the job posting… I feel more confident in ending with a ‘excellent candidate for your consideration’- after all, I’ve just written a letter establishing precisely why I feel I’m good!

    But yeah. “I’m the best” always comes across as egotistic and at the same time uninformed and naive. It wouldn’t make a good impression.

  13. Kim*

    Thank you! I’ve been refusing to put this on my cover letters for years for exactly the reason you listed, but always worried that I was being overly nitpicky (if everyone else said they were the best, was I diminishing my worth by not claiming the same, even if falsely?) — glad to hear my stubborness validated :)

  14. Pigbitin Mad*

    Guess what? I never put that on my resume and I am still unemployable even though I know that in any applicant pool, I must be in the top 5% at least. Of course when there are 2000 applicants it doesn’t really matter. Point is, it really makes no difference what you do. The only time I got a response to a letter I wrote was when I filled it with four letter words (where I criticized the employers seeming inability to spell check). Mind you, I was not a serious applicant. I did not send my real resume or use my REAL address. However, I did want to test my theory. WORKED LIKE A CHARM.

    1. Anonymous*

      And timewasters like you are exactly why we don’t want to call you back, let alone invite you to work with us. Idiot.

      1. Pigbitin Mad*

        You miss the point. My Pollyanna letters received no response whereas the ridiculously over the top rude letter is the one that got the response.

        1. Anonymous*

          Your rude letter is also most likely being scanned and emailed around your industry. I’ve seen some terrible letter that way, but the description you give of ours sounds like it would top them all! Seriously though, you need to look at each job opp with a bit more optimism and stop with the games. You may have not gotten that particular job no matter what, but now you are not likely to get any job with anyone who read what you wrote.

          1. Pigbitin Mad*

            Well, since it was not in my industry, I doubt I would care. Plus I did not use my real name or my usual email address. Third, I was merely ticked off that employers demand the utmost perfection from candidates when they wouldn’t always pass the same scrutiny themselves. People need to get a sense of humor. And it is pretty obvious nobody on this board has one. That, if you ask me, is the big problem with hiring in this day and age. Recruiters all act like their S#!T don’t stink. And I am pretty pissed off about that.

        2. fposte*

          Let’s just say that you have a different point than other people. For most the goal isn’t to get a response but to get a job; responses are only valuable if they’re getting you closer to a hire. If a response of any kind rather than hiring is the point, then there are many ways to get that. Even more if you don’t mind riding in cop cars.

        3. jmkenrick*

          I think their point is that if you think it’s funny to send fake cover letters that are rude to the employee, you might lack the social skills that would make you employable (and make you a poor judge of whether or not you are employable).

          I get that this might not be the case (I don’t know you,) but that’s how I read the Anons’ comments.

  15. Lauren*

    This made me laugh! I’m in the middle of applying for a job that seems to be the perfect match for my interests & skills, and I found myself typing almost that same sentence…but in the middle of it, I erased it, thinking “AAM would kill me!!”

  16. Kimberley*

    I work in Career Services at a major university in the midwest AND let me assure you that I nor anyone in our office has EVER advised a student or alum we coach to write such insipid drivel in a cover letter. In fact, my counsel has been and continues to be, your cover letter isn’t about you BUT what you can do for the employer. A well crafted letter demonstrates skills and experiences that are applicable to the job not empty platitudes and false promises no matter how well intentioned.

  17. jmkenrick*

    This reminds me of a guy who told my friend that they had a unique connection and he was the best for her after she refused his dinner offer.

    Um, wouldn’t she know better than him?

  18. JfC*

    Sometimes in a cover letter I’ll put something along the lines of “As I will demonstrate, this position is an ideal match for my skills and experience.” Is “ideal match” veering too closely to “best candidate.” Also the line’s maybe a little hoaky. I’m just out of school so I’m not very practiced at talking myself up.

    1. fposte*

      That’s a reasonable claim, though, since you’ve seen the qualifications and you know your experience; it’s not like saying that you’re better than everybody else. You could even try loosening your style up a little more, because it sounds like you might still be thinking about essay writing–try the exercise Alison suggests above of pretending you’re writing an email to a friend about why you’d be great at the job.

      I’d also note that most cover letters could lose the “I am an excellent candidate” part of the phrase and only be stronger for it. I already know you think you’re a good candidate, because that’s why you sent the application in; I want to hear the part that starts right after “I am an excellent candidate because…” Often it’s just there because of the difficulty of launching into the letter and you can take it right out when you’ve finished your draft. It’s not a problem per se, but it looks like a lot of people may be struggling with how to phrase something that could just be left out entirely.

  19. Susan*

    Oh boy. Now that’s a really cocky thing to say, and you’d better be really confident that you’re an awesome worker. Still, it’s probably best to tone it down and just mention that you’re a good match for the job and let your skills show that you are indeed the best.

  20. SB*

    Sorry this is a comment on an old-ish post, but I’m reading backward after having just become aware of this blog.

    Anyway, I happened to catch a glimpse of my ex-husband’s resume one day, and in the Objective section at the top, he wrote something like “I am seeking a position as a bartender at Name of Bar because I am a rockstar.” (Not an actual rock star, mind you, he was just that full of himself.) He didn’t get the job, surprisingly. ;-)

  21. Nicolette*

    The problem is, most internships and jobs I have applied to ask you to describe just that – why you are the best or most qualified candidate. Particularly in cover letters this seems to crop up, and it can be downright uncomfortable. Still, coming off as apologetic or frightened is likely just as irritating to an employer, I would guess. As a student nearing graduation with experience under my belt, but not a seasoned veteran of the industry by any means, what do you say?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You definitely shouldn’t come across as apologetic or frightened. And you should describe why you’d excel at the job — just without claims that you’d be “the best,” since that something you’re not in a position to know.

  22. David*

    Three years later, here’s a quote from an online job app I’m filling out:

    >* Please explain how your previous experience and background makes you the best candidate for this career opportunity.

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