cover letter swindles

If you’re a job seeker one year out of college and you write this in your cover letter, I’m going to be very, very skeptical:

My work experience has honed my natural ability to lead, teach, and manage personnel to produce positive results and I have become an expert in streamlining organizations. I can learn and fully understand issues and cultures at an incredible rate of speed.

Either you’re extremely unusual and I’d expect to see that reflected via highly unusual accomplishments, or you aren’t able to accurately self-assess. Or you’re trying (ineffectively) to swindle your way into a job. These last two aren’t good.

{ 61 comments… read them below }

  1. Joey

    Alison,
    You’re pretty generous to be skeptical. I’d be convinced that resume is trash. Or entertainment.

        1. Kelly O

          If we had a “like” button, I’d use it here.

          Scratch that, I’d press the “instinctively laughed so hard I may have gotten unwanted attention in the office” button

      1. Anonymous

        While searching for some ideas on ending my (newly redesigned!) cover letter, I found these examples on dummies.com. WOW!!!!! LOL!!!!!!! These all sound awfully pretentious:

        You need a competitive edge to get ahead in a competitive market today. Here are some solid cover letter closes to help you score that interview.

        I look forward to speaking with you personally to discuss your specific needs and my ability to meet them. I’ll call your administrative assistant next week to see what time would be most convenient for you.

        I’m excited about employment opportunities within your agency and hope to explore contributions I can make. I’ll e-mail you within the week to see when your calendar is open.

        I hope to play an active role in the future prosperity of your organization. I’ll contact you next week to talk about this job or other positions where your needs and my talents meet.

        As a resume is limited in the information it conveys, why don’t we meet in person? If you need additional facts before arranging an interview, call me at 888-888-8888. Otherwise, I’ll e-mail you next week to confirm your interest.

        My salary needs are in line with the position’s description and what I bring in abilities. I’ll e-mail you Tuesday to see when we can explore specifics.

        Perhaps we could meet and jointly explore the many ways I could save your organization considerable time and money. I’m flexible on timing during business hours or afterwards. I’ll check your availability next week.

        Seriously??????????

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      The meanest thing to do would be to get him on the phone and ask questions like, “So give me an example of what results you’ve produced with your ability to fully understand issues and culture at an incredible rate of speed.”

      1. Anonymous

        I hate to always be the contrary opinion, but we don’t know this person’s age, do we? (maybe AAM does but she is keeping secrets!)

        Reason is, I know someone who just graduated and has little work experience. Except for those eight years working his way up to Sergeant in his unit in Afghanistan. I’d say he is a recent graduate with proven ability to lead. He can also understand issues and culture pretty quickly. (He wouldn’t write a letter like that though!)

        I guess what I am trying to say is, not all recent graduates are young and inexperienced, like they were in MY day. Man, I think back to how much I thought in knew in my thirties and even forties….so embarrassing! I think I am finally getting a handle on how little I know, now that I am nearing retirement.

        1. Elizabeth

          I think it’s a pretty egotistic way to phrase it, no matter what age or experience level the writer is! In my opinion, it works a lot better to phrase skills and attributes in terms of your experience. For example, your friend might write, “My time working in Afganistan honed my ability to understand cultures that are different from mine. By using what I’d learned about local customs, I was able to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect between my unit and the local people.” Just saying he’s incredible, without offering any evidence, would raise eyebrows – and not because everyone’s so impressed with him.

        2. Steve Berg

          A job seeker who just recently earned a college degree but also had years of experience before enrolling would be sensible enough to cite that experience along with the claim. But if he/she were not sensible enough to cite that experience–well, there you have it: not sensible.

          1. Laura

            I agree with this completely. I graduated with my degree as “mature” student, but my resume reflects the fact that I also have years of work experience. A person who actually had experience streamlining organizations would be able to either show that in their resume or provide an example in their cover letter.

            To me, this just smacks of college students being told to sell themselves as incredible and visionary (among other things) when they really need to get themselves a position where they can learn to be those things.

        1. ThatHRGirl

          Ok let me be clear… I didn’t phone screen the person as a joke. I did have genuine interest in him due to other parts of the application/cover letter (and because the particular job didn’t require a whole lot of experience/education to begin with) – he just had one obviously plagiarized/exagerrated statement in their cover letter and I asked for real-life examples. He stumbled through an answer and then basically admitted he fudged that sentence. I respected his honesty and passed him along to the hiring manager anyways.

    2. anon-2

      If the purpose of calling someone in for an interview is self-amusement — that shows complete disrespect for an individual, and also reflects that one isn’t taking his/her managerial responsibilities seriously.

      I have only been unemployed once — and finally began getting positive results when I demanded respect — which included walking out of interviews with buffoon managers who only called me in to get their jollies. I interviewed with a front-line manager who had called me in “just to see what I’m all about.”

      I told HIS boss that he was wasting a lot of time. He was trying to staff a temporary project with a team of five, had been interviewing candidates for three weeks, and hadn’t selected anyone yet. I told her “call the client, you AIN’T GONNA MAKE IT.” (thinking, “PHEW!”)

      Much to my surprise they called me back for a second interview but I didn’t think I should go there… even being unemployed, something was not right….

        1. anon-2

          I disagree. anon @ 1:09 pm appears to be suggesting it.

          Yes, people make some horrible mistakes when applying for jobs. Bad cover letters, awful expressions, and so forth.

          I’ve seen a few in my times as well. And I’ve had candidates come in and interview, and have encountered a few odd things along the way, to be sure.

          But I have been on the interviewee side of the desk, and have seen stranger and weirder things, to be sure.

          Someone may have had advice to promote him/herself as a visionary. So be it, but this thread has become one where some seem to be taking pleasure in pointing out the negative in that approach.

  2. Diane

    You should google that introduction and see whose cover letter that was plagiarized from. Sorry, “adapted.”

    1. Talyssa

      And “expert” with only a year of work experience. And the phrase “natural ability to lead” ever by anyone. Even by someone who everyone in the world says is a natural leader. Its just a creepy thing to say about yourself.

      I would say based on assumed age of this person and what is practically purple prose for a cover letter that this is a combination of total lack of accurate self-assessment with really bad job searching advice or misinterpreted job searching advice about selling yourself.

  3. Nichole

    Acceptable if applying for a PR position maybe, if he or she can back it up reasonably effectively (enter AAM’s highly unusual accomplishments). I’ll be watching for this person’s slick website and e-book full of bad career advice that costs twice as much as similar e-books full of good career advice.

  4. Jamie

    I know here on earth it’s a horrible, HORRIBLE idea, but in some alt universe we could solve the problem of extolling our own virtues without looking like an self-adoring jackass in cover letters by using quotes like they do on book-jackets.

    Personally, I’m pretty self-aware and have a fairly good grasp on my strengths and weaknesses – but it’s awkward for me to outline that to strangers in a cover letter, without being self-deprecating or (worse?) sounding arrogant.

    I would so prefer to just send in quips from people who have worked with me – just like a book jacket or Amazon.

    “Workaholic tendencies you can easily exploit. Efficient and dedicated – but can be moody. The moodiness is in perfect correlation to the exploitation – so if you can manage your ratios she’s a good hire.”
    – Former Boss

    “Quiet, well versed in Windows NA/SA and DBA. While she is generous with sharing her technical knowledge, she has little patience when explaining the same thing for the 900th time in a week. As she’s matured, she rolls her eyes far less than she used to, so only your most observant users will feel patronized.”
    -Current Co-Worker

    “What a b**ch! Do not hire her – she expects others to do their own work and has a scary obsession with numbers being correct and decimal points being in the right place. She seems to think those who have accounting duties should have a grasp of basic math. Unreasonable and demanding.”
    -Former Co-Worker

    “We like her. Replaces the paper-towel roll in the ladies room when needed, and will take out her own garbage. Will even break down her computer boxes. Always says thank you.”
    – Cleaning Service

    1. X2

      You’ve inspired me! My senior year English teacher wrote I’m “the most individually-minded person” he knew who “wasn’t a sociopath” in my yearbook, I should work that into my next cover letter!

      (I’ve always wondered just how many sociopaths does he know…)

  5. khilde

    I vote that this is someone who doesn’t have the ability/maturity to
    self-assess very well and who may lack the maturity to realize how it comes across. Sometimes people are pretty decent performers, etc., but think they have to use long, pompous sounding phrases to get that across. Again, I vote for someone who’s just clueless versus sneaky.

  6. Ask an Advisor

    And I thought these delusions of grandeur only happened in grad school essays, which should be like longer, more in depth cover letters IMO. I had one guy claim to be “an acknowledged expert” in a field peripherally related to the program to which he was applying without giving any evidence.

    Ugh, don’t tell me you’re an expert because you don’t get to decide if you’re an expert or not. I want to know what you did to become an expert and that experience and your accomplishments should speak for themselves.

  7. Diane

    @Jamie: I actually have gotten a resume that used a quote from a former professor. This was for a part-time entry level position, the candidate was still a student and she had a FOUR PAGE resume! It took my breath away. The worst/best part: I showed the resume to my boss in a “get a load of this” way and he was impressed by the whole thing and made me bring her in for an interview. She showed up in jeans and running shoes with sunglasses on her head and a “when can I start?” attitude. I actually enjoyed being in her little world of self-delusion for a while.

    1. Jamie

      In a weird way I’m jealous of the enthusiasm. Self-delusion can be awesome…while it lasts. Get a few years in the game and you can’t enjoy it, because you know what happens when the bubble bursts.

      Oh, and this…
      “She showed up in jeans and running shoes with sunglasses on her head and a “when can I start?” attitude.”

      Change the attitude from “when can I start?” to “CRAP, what now???” and you just described how I come to work every day. At least I waited until I was hired to put my pumps back in their shoeboxes.

      1. Diane

        Well, yes, waiting until you’re hired is the key. I found it amusing because our office is not casual (although most in our industry are) and although it’s for a part time job…it’s still an interview! Most of the candidates were students so I wasn’t expecting suits but at least put on a pair of pants that aren’t jeans or pull on a skirt!

        I’m jealous of the self-delusion as well. I’m currently looking for a new job and it can be a struggle to keep myself reminded of my skills!

  8. Eva

    This example is pretty egregious, but AAM, whenever you post snippets of clueless young people’s applications, I am always reminded of the mistakes I made when I was first starting out and start to wonder which ones (if any!) you and others made.

    For instance, I recall including in a cover letter the information that the workplace was 1 km from my home as the final of my reasons for applying. When I received a rejection notice, I asked for feedback, and the hiring manager was nice enough to call me and tell me that, apart from my not being the strongest candidate, she had some suggestions on how to improve my application. I don’t remember her other suggestions anymore, but I can still close my eyes and hear her exact sentence, “The length of your commute is not relevant to an employer.”

    Of course I hadn’t thought my short commute would benefit them, but I’m ashamed to say it was a genuine wake-up call for me at age 21 to realize that an employer didn’t take an interest in me as a person the way friends and teachers do (at least not at that early stage in the application process). The recognition of my immaturity on this score truly stung. I don’t remember how I reacted, but I fear I was polite at best and not sufficiently grateful to the hiring manager for teaching me this valuable lesson. Hiring managers out there, know that some of us do remember you fondly, even if we don’t respond too gracefully to your feedback!

    I’d love to hear about your own awkward baby steps on the job market, AAM (and others)!

    1. Malissa

      That’s interesting about the commute. I’ve had more than one potential employer comment that I lived an awful long ways away from the work site. Granted one of them also asked me about my husband in the interview…..

      1. Piper

        I’ve had employers question commute length multiple times in interviews. I live in an area that’s very spread out and jobs in my field are few and far between, which often means a very long commute. And it’s definitely been a huge topic at more than one interview for me (“are you okay with driving 45 minutes one way? are you sure? really, really?”). And I’m convinced it’s in been a factor in hiring decisions.

        In fact, I used to work somewhere and was involved in the hiring process and they ruled out candidates who were otherwise qualified but lived what they deemed as too far away (more than 20 minutes). I find this stupid, especially given how crappy the field is in this area.

        Because of this, I actually have mentioned a shorter commute as an advantage in cover letters before since employers around here seem so preoccupied with that.

        1. Kelly O

          See I have encountered the “commute is an issue” issue more times than I’d like to think about, especially in larger metro areas.

          I saw an ad recently that I thought would be a good fit for me, and wasn’t too horrible as far as commute time goes. When I got a little bit into the application process, I got an email back telling me that a 30 minute drive was too far for the employer and that I was out of the running.

          Mind you, I live in Houston. And this job is downtown. So I guess good luck finding that person who can be there in traffic in ten minutes (or whatever your arbitrary number may be.)

          1. Laura

            I’ve had this come up often enough in my location (live in NJ, apply often to jobs in NYC when I’m hunting) that I just completely removed my physical address from my resume.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      The one I always remember is that when I was about 21, I applied to a job that would administer the company’s new “bulletin board system” (this was in 1995, when the Internet was just starting to become mainstream). I’d never used the Internet but I figured it couldn’t be too hard. I bought a book on BBS’s and read it the night before my interview and then tried to fudge my way through. They (wisely) did not hire me.

    3. fposte

      What, you think my cold inquiries for entry-level retail work in one-person shops, sent by letter from across the country from a person with no experience, *wasn’t* a surefire job strategy?

      Thank God for temping.

    4. anon-2

      In my humble opinion — and in my field of computers, a candidate with a very short (or NO) commute wouldn’t be a disqualifying factor. It would be to the candidate’s advantage.

      It wouldn’t be a sure-fire entry ticket, but I cannot understand how it would be to a prospect’s detriment to mention that.

      Then again, I’ve seen a lot of screwball management in my 38 years in the workforce, so….

  9. Anonymous

    I don’t blame your young and naive candidate for writing that, but I have to agree with Eva above. I was looking back at some of the resumes and CVs that I wrote for my first job and I’m actually embarrassed that I sent them out like that. As someone who is just starting out in the workforce, I don’t think that the candidate was trying to do anything but try and prove himself for the job.

    And just phone screening someone “for the heck of it” is completely disrespectful, especially to a candidate who probably really didn’t know any better. I once had a phone interview and I thought it was a complete BS. The interviewer sounded very immature, started and ended every sentence with “um, ugh” and couldn’t answer any questions related to the job. Never even heard back from them again. It was a complete waste of time and I felt taken for granted, especially finding out form linked-in that those same positions were filled with people who had 5+ yrs of work experience and graduated from ivy league schools.

    1. Jamie

      I would agree that interviewing someone “for the heck of it” is disrespectful, but I can’t imagine that happens with any frequency.

      People who are interviewing don’t want the baggage of having one more person calling them to inquire – so I can’t imagine anyone conducting interviews or even phone screens for sport.

      Regarding your experience with the phone screen – that sucks and I know when people are job hunting and it doesn’t go well it feels brutal – but was probably a matter of disorganization on the part of the interviewer than anything to do with you.

      I’ve been thrown in the position of having to screen candidates for jobs I knew nothing about, because so and so was out sick or whatever. And I’ve also screened candidates based on criteria given to me, that changed radically as the process went along. So the early candidates could be angry their time was wasted as they weren’t qualified – but they did fit the qualifications at the time.

      For the sake of humanity I wish companies would vet their own needs and requirements before posting jobs – and schedule so the proper people conduct the screenings. It would save a lot of aggravation on both sides.

      1. Anon

        Oh, for pete’s sake. The phone interview comment was a joke. Please do the world a favor and learn to relax. I don’t care how – meditation, yoga, booze. Whatever works for you, find it and do it. Mankind will thank you.

        (This post was approved by those who understand sarcasm.)

  10. Guy

    I wrote something almost exactly like that in my cover letter and I got hired. I’m also recent grad, and soon I’ll be starting my first day as Assistant Director of Hyperbole.

  11. Charles

    I see a lot of ‘inflated’ resumes, with claims that are a little suspicious – but to put something on your cv that is this outrageous, is bound to make any educated company HR person think twice. I guess the market is so competitive, people will do anything to look good on paper. Thanks for the post!

  12. Long Time Admin

    It reminds me of the incredibly arrogant intern letter turning down the job as summer pool manager.

    1. Reidun

      I would do anything to have a summer pool manager job right now!(recreation/aquatics is my field)

      Silly interns.

  13. David Michaud

    Even in the event the claims were true, I lost respect at “rate of speed”. Rate of speed = Acceleration. Thus, “I can learn and fully understand issues and cultures at an incredible acceleration.”

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