more things not to say in your cover letter

In our continuing Things Not to Say series, here are more things not to say in your cover letter:

“I strongly believe your search can end today.”
Um, wow. You haven’t even talked to anyone yet to learn about the position. This kind of hyperbole doesn’t just make you look arrogant; it also makes you look naive.

• “I meet the requirements for the position.”
The opposite of the one above! The problem with this is that hundreds of candidates are going to meet the requirements. You want to explain why you’re an excellent candidate, not an adequate one.

• “The position is tailor-made for a person with my qualifications.”
If you’re going to make extravagant statements like this, you need to be really, really sure that you’re an especially strong candidate. (In this case, the person was not and it appeared to be part of a form letter that the candidate sends out with every application, not customized for this particular job. This is exactly the kind of thing that by definition doesn’t belong in a form letter.)

Writing two paragraphs about salary (one about your salary history and bonus structure at your past jobs, and one about how salary isn’t the most important factor to you).
This is weird.

{ 86 comments… read them below }

  1. Lisa J*

    The second one is about as useful as an objective statement on a resume, and the fourth one…this person doesn’t even pay attention to the things that come out of their own mouth, so why should I hire them thinking they’ll pay any more attention to me?

    And I’m not even a hiring manager.

  2. Liz T*

    How’s “I believe I’d be a perfect fit for this position?” I used that yesterday for what is essentially my dream job.

    1. Kimberlee*

      I don’t really like this one either. I mean, I’d by no means hold it against an otherwise awesome candidate, but if we’re talking gut reactions, it has the same sort of presumption as #1… that even though you’ve not even spoken to anyone at the company yet, you’re somehow confident that you’d fit perfectly. You know? But again, not a dealbreaker by any means.

      1. moe*

        I get what you mean and actually have the same reaction now that I think about it. But I’ve been trying to rewrite this in my head so it doesn’t sound presumptuous, and everything I come up with is either too wordy/unsure or just weird.

        How would you convey this excitement about a “perfect fit” job without coming across this way?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The old writing advice to “show, not tell.” Use your letter to explain WHY it’s a perfect fit; if you do that, you won’t need to use the label because it’ll come across on its own (and if you don’t do that, the label won’t carry any meaning anyway). (And of course, if you end up not able to explain why it’s such a good fit, then you’ve got to go back and question whether it is!)

          1. moe*

            May just be me, but I tend to think writing looks a little disjointed when there aren’t any conclusory type statements at all.

            Perhaps I’d need to see what you’re talking about–I don’t participate in candidate review anymore, and it’s been ages since I’ve seen a good cover letter! It’s an art for sure.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Liz, I think this one works if and only if you really are remarkably aligned with what they say they’re looking for. And this is key: That has to be something that will be visible to them as well as to you. Too often, I see this type of statement from people who don’t actually appear to be an incredibly great fit, and I suspect it’s because a lot of the time they’re thinking “This job would be perfect for me,” but that’s different from “I would be perfect for them.”

      But if your background and demonstrated skill set really are exactly what they say they’re looking for — without fudging it — then I think it’s a reasonable thing to say.

      1. KayDay*

        I said something like that in my cover letter for my current job–the job description was an almost line-for-line match with my now previous job, but a step up in the level of responsibility. I think I said “A perfect fit” or “A great fit,” since I was A great fit, but not necessarily THE only great fit.

      2. Jamie*

        This is key. Every so often I’ll run across a posting that is somewhat aligned with my weird hybrid of a job (never totally) and I’ll think, “good luck finding someone with that combo” because I’ve been doing this long enough to know its rare.

        If i were looking and you were posting a job needing someone to head your IT department who will also manage cost accounting and the ISO QMS you’re darn tootin’ I’d hit the good fit on paper bit hard in my cover letter. Because I know they’ve had to have had discussions of plan B if they couldn’t find someone who had the trifecta.

        Because I know that anyone posting for one of the three would have more qualified candidates, but it’s a much shallower pool for the less common hybrid positions.

        So the jobs for which I may be the strongest candidate are fewer so I’d be crazy not to point that out (in a polite manner) in my CL.

    3. Joey*

      Hey Liz,
      Don’t use it. That’s so common to see it doesn’t grab my attention (at least in a good way). My first thought is ” how do you know you’re perfect for it when all you know about it is what youve seenin the job posting?”.

      (Okay my first thought isn’t exactly those words it’s more “whatever, dude”)

      1. Liz T*

        Well, it’s too late. Thanks all for the advice. I agree with you all, but fortunately I think the rest of the letter was pretty strong (and explained WHY it’d be such a good fit for them). I shouldn’t have written “perfect” but I was just so excited about the job.

    4. fposte*

      It’s not one that stops me, but it’s on the low side of neutral. I think it generally turns up in the first sentence, where people tend to be warming up for the specifics, so those sentences mostly translate to “yes, here is an application” anyway. But it’s a little on the side of “I am a detail-oriented self-starter” in being a self-assessment rather than conveying information with which I can assess the applicant.

    5. Editor*

      Maybe instead of saying you are a perfect fit for the job, you could turn the statement around to express your own feelings about fit. That way, there’s less entitlement and more of an expression of excitement. I’ve tried to think of some alternatives (people should feel free to critique them):

      “If I had to write a job description for a job that I felt was a perfect fit for my skills, it would be very close to what you have posted. I am eager to find out if I’m really as good a fit as I imagine.”

      “Your job posting sounds like it is exactly what I am looking for because so many of the skills you are asking for fit my background. I would love to learn more about the job.”

      “This position sounds like my dream job, and I never imagined I would come across a job description that seems like it was written with me in mind. I think I can provide (x) to (potential employer), and I look forward to learning more.”

  3. Unknown Genius*

    Can you write in a cover letter why you left a previous job or it’s better left for interview?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Why do you want to address it so early? It’s hard for me to think of a reason that that would strengthen your candidacy at this stage (it’s usually more of an explanation in response to a question than something that adds to your value), but there could be a situation I’m not thinking of. Details?

  4. Unknown Genius*

    When I graduated in 2009 I was an F1 student and I got one year OPT (Optical Practical Training) and I worked full time and left in May 2010, now I am U.S. Citizen and trying to get back in the work place. I was thinking it’s a good idea to tell employers in a cover letter.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ah, then yes — there’s an example of a time when it could make sense! Don’t spend a ton of time on it though — one or two sentences and then move on!

        1. HR Gorilla*

          Hi, Unknown Genius…I work in the HR department of a national retail optical chain, and we’re always looking for great people. I’m not sure what aspects of the optical industry you’re interested in, but if you like, message AAM* with your contact info, and I’ll be happy to take a look at your resume.

          *Alison–is this okay with you?


  5. Marie Wiere*

    Great post! Sad but true! I am always amused by candidates who have “don’t miss out on a great candidate” in their cover letter and others who don’t send a resume, requesting I contact their references to learn more about them.

    1. K.*

      Wait, what? People actually do this – don’t send a resume to a prospective employer? I know plenty of people who will ask “Do I REALLY need to send a cover letter if the description doesn’t request it?” because they loathe writing them (as do I, although I do it), but a resume? That’s insane.

      1. Marie Wiere*

        Yes seriously! Though to be fair this is not usually done by professionals. Typically its applicants for non-professional positions who got their previous jobs through connections, have little experience and or don’t realize how much the economy has changed things.

  6. Tater B.*

    Re: Salary Requirements

    I’m sure you’ve addressed this, but can you give a sample sentence or two on that? I always feel so awkward when the job listing requires that. Lately, I’ve been using this: “I am totally great and amazing….but if you can’t offer me $50K with medical and dental, feel free to use this letter as scrap paper while you negotiate with another potential employee.” LOL

    For the super-literal: no, I don’t actually use that sentence. Ellipses in a cover letter? As if!

      1. Jamie*

        And this point is where I wish all people in every industry who are even tangentially involved in the hiring process would be required to subscribe to AAM before hiring.

        I’m typically against government involvement in most things, but I would support a law that made following Alison’s advice mandatory.

        Every job hunter knows they need $X in order to consider the position. Every employer knows they are willing to pay up to $Y for the postion. If employers were upfront about the $ for the position it would save everyone time if they knew if X=Y or not. Hunters wouldn’t waste time applying for jobs they’ll never take and companies won’t have to interview candidates they can never afford.

        The secrecy and salary dance is my biggest pet peeve when it comes to hiring.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Despite my libertarian leanings, I am fully in support of a law requiring my approval before anyone can engage in hiring-related activities, and severe penalties if they do not.

        2. Anonymous*

          When I Did my initial phone interview with HR for my current job the first thing the HR person told me was the salary structure and what I would be making. I was impressed by that and by each person I interviewed with. Now, 9 months later, it’s one of the best jobs I’ve had in my career.

      2. AD*

        I’ve never put it in a cover letter (and never been asked), but I did bring it up on a pre-interview phone call once. It turned out that I was beyond their range, and I felt that I had saved everyone a lot of trouble. However, they had gotten in touch with me about the position, not the other way around, and in that case, I feel it is DEFINITELY on them to name a number.

  7. J*

    Also, never use the phrase “I’m sure you have many applicants for this position, but I’m the only one who ______” because you never know.

    I had someone write a cover letter one year saying he was the -only- applicant I had who had started a non-profit in Africa during college. He wasn’t.

    1. Piper*

      This is akin to the interview question that so many interviewers think is the greatest thing ever: “What makes you better than all of the other candidates?” You cannot win with this question. You have no idea who the other candidates are, you only know what you bring. But I’ve answered that way before (not in those exact words and also actually explaining what I bring to the job) and interviewers hate it. They keep pushing for you to say exactly why you’re better than all of these other candidates whom you know nothing about. Reason #5387 that job hunting sucks.

      1. Malissa*

        I hate that question! I usually preface what ever answer I give with, I don’t know how I would know that, but I can give you a few reasons why I’m a great candidate.

      2. "I'm God's answer to your prayers" Charles*

        OMG, yes. Piper, I have been asked this question so many times; perhaps, I am being snippy when I answer: “Well, I can’t really tell you about the other candidates; But, here’s what I have to offer . . . “ And they still press for me to talk about other candidates! I continue holding my ground in that I really do not about the other candidates.

        One interviewer was so insistant (and I guess that my irritation with her showed) that I finally said that if she wanted me to, I could look over their resumes and give her feedback. “Oh, we can’t do that . . .”

        Is this some sort of “stress” question? Are they looking for me to bad mouth others? Are they looking to see how much I can guess at what my competition is? It just makes them look stupid in my book.

        Perhaps, AAM and others can shine some light on my so many interviewers press this issue?

            1. Laura L*

              This whole exchange literally made me LOL. Good thing today is my work from home day.

              But, Charles, I do think your God’s answer to my prayers. Keep up the good work.

        1. Jamie*

          Thankfully I’ve never been asked this question. How on earth could I answer that without the data required to have an informed opinion?

          What a ridiculous question.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Charles, my best guess about why anyone asks this type of asinine question is that they’re just a crappy interviewer who has no idea what they’re doing.

      3. Dan*

        I was attempting to transfer to a different location that my company had recently acquired. Sort of sucks when it’s *that easy* for the new guy to pick up the phone and call your old boss. I mean, we all finesse a little bit, don’t we? I just had this assumption that my old boss would be 100% totally candid.

        Anyway, new boss asks me, “Why are you better than everybody else?” I told him that the experience and knowledge I developed would be better than a significant majority of anybody he would ever interview. (That wasn’t an unreasonable statement to make.) He poked and prodded asking stupid “but what if I find an exact duplicate…” types of questions. I told him to hire us both, because when you get to that level, you can’t afford to pass two people up. In that industry, that experience was always needed, and I knew it.

        I ended up not getting he job. I was fine with that, ended up with something way, way better. I once bumped into that guy later and told him how great the new job was :)

      4. Broke Philosopher*

        yes! I hate that. I got “why are you the best candidate for this job?” a couple of times. I really was tempted to be honest, saying that I hope that I am, and I have these skills, experiences, etc., but I don’t know who the other candidates are. but as you said, the sort of employer that is going to ask something like that is not going to take kindly to that sort of honesty.

      5. ChristineH*

        Oh my goodness, YES!!! Unless you’re in a group interview, I cannot see how on earth to answer that type of question! Maybe in some rare instances, you have enough knowledge of others in your industry/network in similar roles as you’re seeking, thus allowing some possibility of differentiating yourself. Except maybe at the executive level, I don’t see that being the case for most job hunters.

  8. The gold digger*

    I wrote a letter once that started with “I am perfect for this position.” Then I listed three bullet points supporting my assertion. I faxed the letter to the hiring manager. He called me 20 minutes later and I had the job in two weeks.

    I think I must have used up all my job-getting luck for my life with that instance.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, if you’re really right for the job, you can pull this off! The trick is in knowing if you are or not (from the outside, with limited information), but when you are, this can totally work.

      1. fposte*

        I think it also is more effective with an unusual combination of skills. “I do use both Word and Excel!” No. “I do scubadive, program in Python, and have a history degree!” Yes.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Even if I’ve worked with the person before and know they’d be great, I’d still want to have a conversation with them to make sure that THEY totally understand what the job is all about (and culture, and boss, etc.) and are still enthusiastic.

          Different for temps, etc. in some cases though.

  9. Dan*

    I once got an interview for a job where I was a perfect job ad match from head to toe. I didn’t feel the need to say how awesome I was in the cover letter (one could read my resume and figure it out on their own) but mentioned to the hiring manager how strange it was that I had so many skills matches.

    Turns out the fit and pay sucked, and I never ended up working there.

  10. J*

    AAM, have you ever considered having a fun “Write The Worst Cover Letter EVER” contest with your readers? The challenge would be to fit in as many possible gaffes and facepalms in a one-page cover letter as possible. We could display the winner as the model of what not to do.

  11. Anonymous*

    What I usually do in cover letters is break the job description down into numbered paragraphs and respond to each requirement, point-by-point. If the resulting letter becomes too long to fit on one page, I make a separate document, as described in the next paragraph.

    If I get an interview, I then write these broken down job requirements on the left-hand side of the table. Then I fill in the right-hand side of this table with an explanation as to how I meet each of these requirements. I hand a copy of this document to each interviewer.

    Not only it helped me get my current job, but the hiring manager told me how impressed he was withthis approach!

  12. CJ*

    Oh, I have some good ones:

    –the candidate who opened with her dire situation of homelessness due to divorce (broke my heart on a human level, but on the HR side just baffled me)

    –the candidate who included a photo in his PDF attachment that was obviously cropped from a party (someone else’s arm was on his shoulder, and he had red-eye from the flash). Underneath the photo was a listing of his accomplishments, starting with “Christian father of three”

    –the candidate who wrote “In the past I have taken jobs just for the money, but all of my supervisors will tell you that I am a hard worker.”

    Oh, how I miss screening résumés!

    1. Jamie*

      That last one is awesome. I take every job for money, but never thought to out it in my CL since I assumed that was a given.

  13. Kris*

    How about, “I don’t really want this job. It is just a stepping stone. The job I really want belongs to the manager I will work for when hired. I will have it within a year.”

    I had a freind that I had to talk out of putting something like this in a cover letter. He thought it would make him sound confident. I thought it made him look like a concieted jerk.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “I will have it within a year.”

      That is awesome. You shouldn’t have talked him out of it. When someone is that far gone, you have to just stand back and watch the show.

      1. Sophie*

        Lol I would have loved to see that. Actually I did an interview a few months ago with a great candidate, he was very funny and I liked his sense of humor. When my manager asked the hated “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question, he responded, “Will your job be up for grabs?” I died laughing and wanted to hire him on the spot. My manager was not amused.

  14. Lindsay H.*

    Ahh, yes!

    I have seen a cover letter handwritten on a piece of notebook paper and photocopied.

    I have also seen an application written in glitter pen.

    I had an interviewee stop in unannounced, with flowers, and proceeded to tell me about how her apartment was recently broken into and her undergarments were cut up. To really punch home that last part, she brought in a pair to show me.

  15. Mike C.*

    So can we go the extra step and smack around all those so-called “business experts” that are trying to sell the idea that individuals are brands to be sold and sold in the most obnoxious manner possible?

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this crap as “advice” for those who are just looking for a job!

      1. ChristineH*

        I attended a presentation on personal branding last year at my university. I thought it was really interesting, but I’ll admit that some of the concepts were a bit over-the-top. It’s definitely the buzzword of late though.

      2. EM*

        I’m somewhat fascinated by this concept. I see it as an artificial way of living authentically.

      3. EngineerGirl*

        Every time I hear of “personal branding” I think of cowboys and cattle drives.

      4. OR_Native*

        I keep seeing an announcement for a workshop on this held by the career center at the university I work at. It makes me cringe each time I read it.

    1. Sophie*

      Lol my manager lets everyone know as often as he can that he is a “personal branding” expert, as evidenced by his many blogs and high profile on facebook. Just one of the many reasons I try to avoid him as much as possible.

    2. Kelly O*

      Dude, seriously the whole “personal branding” thing drives me bonkers. I know some really smart people who think you have to have a personal brand, with business cards, letterhead, and matching Twitter and blog background themes.

      I realize I am in charge of my career, but I am not a company. If I were, my stockholders would be screwed.

  16. ChristineH*

    I’ve seen those type of phrases in the numerous career advice articles and sample cover letters, so I’m betting that’s where a lot of this comes from.

    From reading all of the responses, it sounds like the best bet is to be sincere in both your resume/cover letter and on interviews. Expert advice and samples can be useful, but they should only be used as GUIDELINES. Just be yourself and state the FACTS of what you can bring to the employer.

  17. Sophie*

    I’ve got one to add…I read a cover letter a few days ago where the first sentence was “Ideas are the seeds of change.” The rest of the letter (4 lengthy paragraphs) went on about how technology is changing in an ever-changing world, and how awesome email is. I’m not exaggerating. Sadly, he met all the requirements for the job posting, but if I have to interview him, he ain’t getting far.

  18. anon-2*

    I once applied for a position — where I *was* the perfect fit. It’s in an obscure area of computing, and I had not just the requirements, but the experience.

    And so – I indicated “I’m not out searching for a position, but because the situation as described fits my experience, even moreso than the position I’m in, I thought it would be worth applying for.”

    In other words, interested, but not anxiously so.
    Yeah, I got the job.

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