10 phrases that don’t belong in your cover letter

Think your cover letter is perfectly crafted? Check to make sure you’re not including any of these no-no’s in it.

1. “I meet the requirements for the position.” Hundreds of candidates will meet the requirements for the position. That’s not enough to get you a second look. You want to explain why you’re an excellent candidate, not just an adequate one.

2. “I’m hard-working and a great communicator.” And probably a team player and an independent self-starter, too. These are cliches that cause hiring managers’ eyes to glaze over. Worse, they don’t convey anything of substance — the fact that you’ve assessed yourself as these things will hold no weight whatsoever with employers, who prefer to assess these things for themselves.

3. “I’m a visionary leader.” But not very humble, apparently. If you’re truly a visionary leader – or a master communicator, or whatever other brag you’re tempted to make – it should be evident from the accomplishments you’ve listed on your resume. Proclaiming this about yourself comes across as, well, weird.

4. “You won’t find a candidate better qualified than me.” Unless you’ve seen the rest of the candidate pool, you have no way of knowing that. This comes off as needlessly cocky hyperbole — and it’s generally inaccurate, to boot. If you’re really stunningly qualified, the hiring manager should be able to spot that on her own. Simply proclaiming it, especially when you have no basis to know if it’s true, doesn’t reflect well on you.

5. “Dear sir or madam.” In most industries, this will come across as an antiquated, stuffy salutation. If you know the hiring manager’s name, use that instead, but if not, simply writing “dear hiring manager” is fine, and won’t make you appear as if you come from an earlier century.

6. “I’ll call you in a week to schedule an interview.” Job-seekers can’t unilaterally decide to schedule an interview, and inappropriately pushy to pretend otherwise. Some people believe that asserting themselves like this will demonstrate persistence and good salesmanship, but in reality, it just annoys hiring managers.

7. “I’m willing to work for below the salary you’re offering.” Candidates who write this generally are hoping that it will get them an interview when their qualifications alone wouldn’t have. But it doesn’t work, because hiring managers want to hire the best person for the job, have budgeted a certain amount for the position, and aren’t going to take a weaker candidate just because she offers to work for less than the budgeted salary.

8. “I’ve attached my college transcripts, a list of references, a 15-page writing sample, and my last performance review.” Unless the job posting specifically asked for these items, don’t include them. At this stage, employers just want a resume and a cover letter. Don’t overwhelm them with items they haven’t asked for and might not want. Wait until you’ve progressed further in the process, and then ASK if they’d like these items.

9. “Please contact me if you’d like to see my resume.” Job-seekers occasionally send a letter of interest in a job without including a resume, to the great mystification of hiring managers everywhere. If you’re writing to a company about potential work, you must include your resume. It’s the first thing an employer will want to see, and they have no way of knowing if you’re someone they’d like to speak further with without first seeing that.

10. “I really need a job. I’m desperate.” Hiring managers might feel sympathy for you if you’re desperate, but that’s not going to make them hire you. Your cover letter needs to focus on why you’d excel at the job you’re applying for, not how badly you need it.

I originally published this column at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 111 comments… read them below }

  1. BW*

    “simply writing “dear hiring manager” is fine, and won’t make you appear as if you come from an earlier century.”

    But I am from an earlier century! :D

    This reminds me of things my brother would write in his resume when he was new to the adult work world like “This was an under-the-counter job.”

  2. Elizabeth West*

    #9 – When responding to blind ads, I would sometimes send a short email stating my qualifications and offering to send a resume, to avoid sending it to sketchy advertisers. I was fooled once or twice and ended up sending my resume to scam recruiters. There were a couple of people who responded and were like, “Sure, send it on,” and were from an actual company. The rest were like “I have virtual opportunities, sign up for crap crap crappity crap,” etc. If I did send a resume, I have one that only has my cell/email, no address info.

    It doesn’t make sense to hide yourself like that. I know companies don’t want phone calls, etc, but honestly, how are legitimate applicants supposed trust that the job is even real? Next time, I will just avoid blind ads altogether.

    1. Anonymous*

      Sometimes employers post blind ads if they are planning on letting someone go and are looking for a replacement, but haven’t let the other person go yet…

      1. De Minimis*

        This was common where I used to live, I think in most cases these employers were very small offices that would have been overwhelmed by calls if they had given out contact info in the ad [unemployment there was often around 14-18% and any type of job fair/job opening would have hundreds of responses.]

        1. Jamie*

          That was the reasoning when my company used to run blind ads. And that’s how they found me…so it does work sometimes.

          But when I had to do HR for a while the first change I made was to list company name and it wasn’t an issue. If the ad says to send your resume, no calls, then anyone who does call is self-selecting out anyway.

          1. De Minimis*

            I think their big issue was just the logistics of what would happen if even a small percentage of the applicants decided to call [I poke around elsewhere and it’s amazing how many people out there think it’s okay to pester potential employers with phone calls regardless of what the job listing says.] I interviewed at a lot of these places and many times it was literally just one person doing all of the HR, reception, and office manager type tasks. I imagine they wanted to err on the side of caution since too many calls could hamper their ability to get work done.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Oh yeah, I didn’t think of that….which is stupid, because a company that fired me did the same thing. I saw it in the paper, though, and recognized the phone number.

      3. Greg*

        Which is also a good reason to avoid an employer. Would you want to work for a company that would do that to someone?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, if the person has been warned about the performance issues and given a chance to improve, and they’re not going to be blindsided by getting fired, I don’t think it’s a huge problem.

          1. Greg*

            But if they’re not going to be blindsided, why the need to hide it?

            Look, I suppose there may be cases where it’s justified. My experience has been that the types of employers who engaged in that practice tended to not appear on many “Best Places to Work” lists. At a minimum, I would regard it as a red flag.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Say you’ve given them, say, three weeks to demonstrate significant improvement, and you’re starting the ball rolling on hiring in the meantime in case you do end up needing to let the person go (and frankly, once you’re starting down the warning road, more often than not that’s how it ends). It would be really demoralizing to be openly advertising for their position at that stage, even though you’ve been frank with them about their prospects.

              1. Greg*

                Like I said, there may be scenarios where it’s understandable. You may have even experienced them yourself.

                But as a candidate, absent any other information about a company, would you automatically give them the benefit of the doubt, or would you spend a little extra time exploring how employees are treated there?

                1. Kelly O*

                  The interview process is a two-way street.

                  Just because you send in your resume, you are not guaranteed an interview. It also does not guarantee you would take that position if offered. Not only is the company sizing you up, but you have the opportunity to ask questions and determine if you want to work for that company.

                  You wouldn’t normally make that kind of decision with one piece of information, absent any other information to support that one thing. I guess I look at it that way – yes, it might be a concern, but there are also a lot of legitimate reasons.

                  Not a deal-breaker, and certainly not worthy of dismissing without giving it a shot.

                2. Greg*

                  Yes, of course you should be doing your due diligence for any potential employer. My point, though, is that that’s exactly the kind of thing you should be looking for. It’s on par with a boss who screams at his secretary. Maybe he’s just had a bad day. Maybe she’s incompetent. But if it happens in front of you, your antennae will automatically perk up: “Is this how he treats the people who work for him? Would he do the same to me?” To me, an employer that would secretly post for a replacement would raise the same questions.

                3. Kelly O*

                  But without any other information about why, you can’t make a reasonable determination that this is a red flag.

                  It could be someone planning on retiring who has not announced plans to others to retire just yet.

                  It could be someone relocating to another city for personal reasons who doesn’t want to make a big announcement.

                  It could be like Alison suggested – someone on a PIP that isn’t showing the signs you’d like to see, or from whom you don’t expect to see improvement.

                  There are reasons for the need for a bit of discretion outside of anything negative, much less anything that raises a red flag about the employer, the hiring manager, or the job itself.

                  Additionally there are some companies that might have issues if they put their company name in the job posting – the sheer volume of resumes received would make it difficult to weed through, just because of the company name. So the initial post might not have the company information listed to see what they get.

                  I guess I’m not making the connection between a more private job posting and an automatic assumption that employees are being treated badly.

  3. Amanda*

    Allison, when I started reading AAM, I was so grateful to have permission (more like encouragement) to no longer use that awful “I will call you to schedule an interview” line in my cover letters. I always felt SO awkward doing it but I believed that I had to. Of course, then I’d never actually call to follow up because I would chicken out…

    Even more reason that everyone needs to read this blog.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Interestingly, out of everyone I’ve seen use that line, maybe 5% of them have actually called to follow up. (Which is good — I don’t want them to call to follow up — but it’s weird that they’re pledging to.)

      1. Amanda*

        That’s because, well what do you say when you call to schedule a completely unsolicited interview? So I ended up in a sticky situation-feeling like I had to use that line, but then being too nervous to actually call. I can’t believe I ignored my instincts on that for so long but I had been brainwashed by bad internet advice and well meaning but out-of-touch older folks that NOT using pushy and aggressive methods (another gem I heard constantly was “call every day until you are told that the position has been filled”) meant that you were lazy, didn’t care if you ever got a job, and were fated to live in a cardboard box under an overpass.

        I can’t tell you what a weight off my shoulders it was and how much easier it made my job search when I learned that I didn’t have to use these salesy techniques I was so uncomfortable with.

  4. Grey*

    “You won’t find a candidate better qualified than me.”

    Maybe not, but I’d bet I can find one with better grammar skills.

    1. Grey*

      By the way, that wasn’t directed at AAM. I know she’s just quoting what we see on a lot of resumes.

      1. Kit M.*

        This is why I always write the whole thing out: “more qualified than I am.” That way, I’m safe from being accused of bad grammar or archaic grammar.

  5. the gold digger*

    How about I feel that my combination of education, experience and personal interests makes me the ideal candidate for this position. I am confident that if given the opportunity, I would exceed your expectations. without any documentation to support such assertions?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d take it out — it’s basically filler that doesn’t really strengthen the letter in any way. They know that you think that because you’re applying for the job; it’s sort of fluff that it would be better to remove so that you have a tighter, more compelling letter. Plus, it’s better to show (through your descriptions in your letter of WHY you’d exceed expectations) rather than telling.

      1. the gold digger*

        And yet my organization gave an interview to the guy who wrote that cover letter.

        Obviously, I am not worried that either the guy or the organization read AAM. If they did, they would know how to do things right.

        1. Kelly O*

          But by the same token, that one line in a cover letter wouldn’t necessarily indicate anything was wrong – like AAM said, it’s filler. He may have had an impressive resume to support that, or a recommendation from another source.

          Like anything else, you can’t take one component of this process, isolate it, and make it a BFD. Sure, one really awesome component is great, but one awesome thing with a load of awful isn’t going to stand out in a good way. It’s about an entire package that makes someone most appealing to the organization/hiring manager.

  6. Sharon*

    Regarding the “visionary leader” item, what if the job ad actually calls for that “skill”? I’ve seen ads that call for that as well as “executive presence” (in business analyst and project management positions) and “world class” . Like a world class .net programmer.

    And another thing, have you guys seen job ads for IT people lately? They all call for rock stars, ninjas and other absolutely silly stuff.

    1. Jamie*

      Those ads were there back when I was last looking, almost 5 years ago.

      I just figure anyone advertising for a rockstar, ninja, guru, technical magician, wizard, or Lord High Empress of Data are people who would be too exhausting to work with in real life.

      They are the people who make the little shooter signs with their fingers while winking at you, and the ones that tell you to smile all the time…those are the kind of people who use “my bad” to apologize when they just caused you 7 hours of work because they ignored what you said.

      Yeah. Funny enough I know someone who still calls me a programming guru despite being informed multiple times that as cool as programming is that it’s not what I do. “You know – all that computer stuff…it’s all the same.”

      Yeah – when people like that write ads for IT… run.

      1. Kelly O*

        I kind of want to be the Illustrious Potentate. Of something. I don’t know what. Maybe the Delusions of Grandeur Society.

        1. MeganO*

          +10 I had a previous boss offer to let me write my own title (in order to keep me), and mentioned something with “Jedi Master” in it. I was tempted.

          In related news, I would be delighted to present my candidacy for the Delusions of Grandeur Society.

      2. Thomas*

        Regarding your last full paragraph: I currently work in a role that focuses on networking technologies (in short, we configure routers for telecom service) and requires networking certifications (CCNA being the big one). Anytime I start talking about my job around one particular friend, his immediate response is “oh, I don’t know anything about computer programming.”

        No, my friend, you don’t. I’ve explained the difference to him on numerous occasions, and he still doesn’t get the difference between programming and IT, nevermind the difference between IT and the tech side of telecom.

      3. Editor*

        In newspapers, watch out for the ads that call for an “ace reporter” or a “hard-working reporter.” The job descriptions I’ve read for those positions are always a version of “we will work you into the ground for crappy pay.”

        One line I saw in an ad for an admin position that rang warning bells for me was, “Can you do it all?”

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You’d still want to demonstrate that you possess that quality by showing accomplishments that prove it — not by just proclaiming yourself to have it. I mean, I could write in a cover letter that I’m a “world-class mind-reader” or something, but I’m not. If you have the skill, show it — don’t tell.

      1. Anonymously*

        Those world class mind reading skills are definitely something you would have to show, not tell, to be legitimate! :)

        1. Sascha*

          “I don’t really think it’s fair for me to be a on jury, because I can read people’s minds…”

      2. V*

        I’m having a lot of trouble “proving” what I do in cover letters since it seems my job provides less tangible results–I’m a speech pathologist working in a hospital setting (swallowing assessments and post-stroke speech/language). I started one initiative and made sure to mention that in cover letters, but otherwise I just…do my job. I see patients and am competent in treating them. It’s not like the business world where you can show you saved your company X dollars or time on something. Does anyone have any experience with cover letters for this type of role?

        1. Anonymously*

          I’m not in that industry but I understand the mentality of “I’m just doing my job” when you excel at something. It’s hard to kind of brag about something but just focus on your accomplishments. Perhaps how many patients excelled thanks to your help and how they excelled.

      1. Anne*

        Something similar… there are two of us who deal with applicants before they are offered an interview. We are both female. A recent applicant insisted on calling us both “Mrs”, even after I pointedly referred to my colleague by her preferred title of “Miss ____”….

        1. Jamie*

          This would bug me. I’m actually kind of old school when it comes to using salutations, which rarely comes up.

          I am Mrs. Husbands FirstName LastName or Mrs. LastName – because Mrs. means wife of and I read too much Miss Manners as a kid to ever be comfortable with Mrs. Jamie LastName. I don’t correct people, and I know it’s a common thing so I don’t hold it against anyone…but I’m aware that it’s wrong.

          If we ever used titles at work (and I hope to never work anywhere where that’s necessary, because I think a place that used titles would also require me to have a much nicer wardrobe) I would be Ms. Jamie Keyboard-Monkey. Because at work the fact that I’m the wife of my husband isn’t relevant and so he doesn’t get billing.

          I don’t hide being married, I wear a ring and he’ll come up in conversation if you get to know me…but formally it’s not who I am there.

          I took his last name because hyphenating both our names would have required a second line on my driver’s license, so that’s enough. :)

  7. Dan*

    Re: #4

    That statement doesn’t belong in a cover letter, and it doesn’t work as an interview question either.

    “Why should I hire you instead of anybody else?” Well, um, I donno what the rest of your applicant pool looks like, so I can’t tell you. I might be the best qualified, I might not be. I’m an engineer, not a sales guy, so I’m not trained to lie (and nor am I comfortable doing so) every time I open my mouth.

    1. Sharon*

      Ah! Answering THIS question in the interview is where you bring up how you’re a visionary leader! :-D

    2. -X-*

      “I’m not familiar with your other applicants, so can’t answer the question of why me and not any of them. But here is why I’d be excellent at the job….”

  8. Cathy*

    Please do not start your cover letter with “Your search is over; I’m like bringing an AK47 to a knife fight.”

    This guy’s experience, (which doesn’t even start until page 2 of the resume) looks good, but the cover letter is such a turn-off I can’t bring myself to invite him for an interview.

    1. Sascha*

      Oh my. I mean, get their attention, but like that? Although that would work for one of my coworkers, I was having a debate with him on acceptable vs unacceptable ways to stand out to interviewers. He wanted gimmicks, I wanted substance. Le sigh.

      1. Cathy*

        The thing is, the job market for the skillset I need is so hot, and I have so few viable candidates, that there is no need for any type of gimmick to stand out. If you have the skills I need, you will stand out even if you have no cover letter and a poorly formatted resume. I read Alison’s list, and honestly, there are 7 cover letter mistakes on there that I am completely willing to overlook … this one I just can’t get past.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Just to be clear, I’d ignore some of them too — I mean, I’m not going to reject a candidate for writing “dear sir or madam!” It’s more about ways to strengthen your letter and make it as good as possible, not about things that are deal-breakers.

          1. De Minimis*

            I’ve actually wrote “Dear sir or madam” before–never thought to put “Dear hiring manager.” I’ve also done “To Whom It May Concern” which is probably not good either.

            The worst is when you do know the name of the hiring manager but it’s a gender neutral type name…[“Terry,” etc.]
            I’ve always been lucky that I’ve been able to dig up something to let me know if I’m writing to a male or female.

            1. shellbell*

              If you know their name, why do you need to know their gender?? Why can’t you just say Dear First Name Last Name? Am I missing something?

              1. De Minimis*

                I prefer saying Mr. or Ms. X…..

                Using first name and last name doesn’t seem proper to me….the only time I’m ever addressed that way is in junk mail.

                1. Anne*

                  I would much prefer that the applicants writing to me called me Dear Firstname Lastname, or even just Dear Firstname, than felt they had to dig around for a while finding out my gender in order to address me “properly”. That really tells me it’s not someone I want to work with, personally.

                2. K*

                  That seems really harsh, Anne, I have to say. I’m pro-gender neutral forms of address too, but I think most of the people who want to address a cover letter to Ms. or Mr. X are worried about being polite, not about stalking you.

                3. shellbell*

                  It is totally proper. I send a receive business letters and I’ve received cover letters like this all the time. Even if you find their gender, you run the risk of calling them Mr. or Ms. when they are actually Dr. There is no need to waste your time trying to figure out the gender if it takes any more effort than googling their name and company to see if they have a profile online.

            2. Flynn*

              actually, to whom it may concern is the recommended one around here. Dear Sir or Mdm is also fine.

              disclaimer: these are generally for government or academic jobs where you are not expected to know who is hiring you, and there will be multiple people interviewing you anyway.

              1. De Minimis*

                I’ve used To Whom it May Concern when the company does not list a contact person.

                I’m surprised at the negative reaction to what I posted earlier, I am basically just trying to appear as professional as possible.

                Thankfully I will probably not be job searching in the private sector for a long time so I’m hoping I won’t have to worry about it anymore.

            3. Jamie*

              Regarding the gender neutral names – if you get it wrong know you won’t be the first to do so.

              As a Jamie in IT most people’s default is that I must be a man – I’m not – but I’m not offended.

              I’m also not offended by Dear Jamie either – I personally don’t need a salutation, but everyone is different. However Dear Jamie Keyboard-Monkey does sound like junk mail.

              I don’t like Dear with a first and last name. JMO.

    2. TwentyKittens*

      I’m curious: what sort of stuff could take up the entire first page of his resume, if Experience wasn’t even started until page 2?

      Isn’t that what HR usually wants to see quickly?

      1. Cathy*

        1st page is “Certifications”; “Synopsis and Professional Note” (he tells me he “started programming in 19xx at the tender age of 7 years old”); “Brief Skill / Experience Set”.

        Pages 2 through 4 are “Professional Experience”.

        Page 5 has photocopies of two certifications.

        This is not that unusual for programming positions. The resumes and cover letters you see in this field are usually nothing that would be recommended on this blog. As a hiring manager in this field, you have to look past the spelling and grammar errors, and ignore as much of the odd stuff as you can. A lot of it is cultural I think, because I do see patterns in the types of information you get from people who’ve gone to school and started their careers in various parts of the world outside the U.S.

        1. Rana*

          Is there really a line in there about him starting programming at a “tender age”? Oy.

          (Also: I studied BASIC in school when I was about ten. That says nothing about my computer programming skills today.)

          1. Kelly O*

            Maybe I should add my Commodore 64 skills to my resume… Jamie, is that still worth anything?

            (Not that I want to program. I took a year of COBOL and had all I could stand, thank you.)

            1. Editor*

              I just saw an ad for a technical writing position that wanted candidates who knew COBOL. I’m assuming someplace is excavating old code and (I hope) replacing it. Or maybe not.

  9. Fitrah*

    How relieved was I to find none of these (nor their derivatives) appear in the cover letters I write :)

  10. Greg*

    My cover letter pet peeve: People who spend the first two lines effectively clearing their throat. “My name is Joe Blow, and I am writing to you to express my interest in applying for the position advertised at your firm in which you expressed your need for an experiencedzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZ …”

    I know who you are from your email (at least, I better — receiving an email from chunkylover93@aol.com isn’t going to score you any points). I know you’re writing to me. I know you’re “expressing interest” — the mere existence of the letter confirms that. Same for the fact that you’re applying for the job. Etc, etc.

    In other words, get to the point! You only have a few seconds to catch a hiring manager’s attention. Why waste it telling them stuff they already know?

    1. Rob*

      Hey, why do you have to go around telling everyone my email address? I thought you agreed to keep that to yourself! ;)

    2. Waiting Patiently*

      My friend recently was helping me do a cover letter and she kept saying “no, you need to start with ‘I’m contacting you regarding….” I tried to explain to her that they (hr)already knew I was contacting them by the act of doing the cover letter. I don’t know if she go it. Thanks to some tips here and me putting put more thought into the cover letter,
      I ended up starting with “as a Xxx for the past # of years at Abc, ive had the wonderful opportunity to work with Xxxix population with varying …. I believe in the development…” I’m hoping that is a better attention grabber than the “clearing your throat” ones….

      1. Jamie*

        If an employer has multiple positions open it’s helpful to let them know which ad to which you’re responding.

        If I were writing a cover letter I would tell them what my letter was regarding.

        1. class factotum*

          “Dear [hiring manager], I was excited to see your posting for the Chief Chocolate Teapot Designer position on monster.com because I am really good at coming up with new teapot designs – I have five teapot patents – and bring a unique perspective because of my background harvesting cocoa beans during my two years as the Head of Chocolate in Ghana.”

          See? I worked in the job title.

          1. Waiting Patiently*

            Plus the job I was applying to specifically asked to put the reference number on all correspondence. So not only did I put it in the heading but also worked it into the first paragraph.

          2. Good_Intentions*

            Class factotum:

            I do find your wording to be inclusive of necessary information but personally find that sentence far too long.

            Would it be at all possible to split it after monster.com?

            The next sentence could start with something along the lines of “My ___ years of teapot design work, including developing and securing five teapot patents, . . .”

            I agree with your concept, and I’m willing to accept that we just have very different writing styles. Consequently, feel free to take this with a grain of salt.

            1. class factotum*

              Thank you, GI. I also used a transitive verb without an indirect object. I agree it’s a long sentence. If I were actually writing a cover letter, I would have written a first draft, let it sit, then revised, revised, revised!

          3. Kelly O*

            That is kind of how I start.

            I figure there needs to be some sort of introduction – if my cover letter tells the brief story of me (to get you interested) then I need to start with what made me send you my resume.

            “Dear Hiring Manager,

            I saw your recent ad on Chocolate Teapot Aficionado (dot) com for a Tempering Administrator and would like to submit my resume for your consideration. As an administrator with ten years of experience in Tempering and Clarification, I’ve worked…. blah, blah…”

            It tells them that I’ve read the ad, done some thinking about my experience as it relates to their requirements, and starts the process.

            That’s just me, and granted I am still toiling away in the salt mines, so take it with however much salt you feel appropriate.

          4. Emma*

            Thank you for these openers. I’m tiring of my sterile/newbish intro that falls more or less along the lines of – “I am applying to the Caramel Carafe Coordinator position vacancy at Chocolate Teapots Inc, which I found on Jobs.com. This job opportunity will be a wonderful chance for me to continue providing innovative but appealing solutions to customer candy-container needs…”

        2. Waiting Patiently*

          I did include the position title in the introduction just not the first sentence.
          I went on to say later in the introduction “this is why I wad excited to see Xxx position listed on your company’s website…”

        3. Waiting Patiently*

          I agree. I just think the standard, “im contacting you or im interested in” as the first sentence is boring.

      2. Canuck*

        I understand the frustration in long-winded sentences – but I think that the cover letter should identify the specific position being applied for. Often HR is dealing with multiple positions, so you do need to inform the reader what job you are going for.

        Yes, some people will say that’s what the e-mail heading is for – but we all know (in)efficient inboxes are at managing applications….

    3. QQ*

      I always figured this was because a lot of people are hiring for multiple positions and need to know which one you are applying for.

      1. Al Lo*

        Exactly. That, and I’ve always believed it’s helpful to disclose where you saw the ad (if for no other reason than for them to track their posting strategies).

        I generally start with, ” Dear Hiring Manager, I am applying for the position of Chocolate Teapot Maker as posted on UrbanDictionary.com.” Then I start a new paragraph.

        Then again, I also tend to apply to postings by smaller arts organizations without a central online application system, where it’s solely done by emailing a resume and cover letter. If it’s through an online system that also tracks the job listing that’s being responded to, I might do it differently.

  11. English Professor in NY*


    I want you to know that your column has inspired me, and for the past two semesters, one of the assignments I have given my students is to write a five-paragraph essay — called an illustrative essay — in the form of a cover letter, and each body paragraph must contain an example of what they’ve done to make them a superior candidate. As I explain to them often, show, don’t tell.

    I told the head of the English department what I had assigned and she loved it.

    So Alison, thank you, and I’m sure my students will benefit from your advice upon graduating.

    1. Cathy*

      I’m sure you have the best of intentions, but if one of your students sends me a 5 paragraph cover letter, no matter how well written, it’s only going to hurt his chances of getting the job. Two paragraphs with a salutation and closing is about right and what pretty much everyone else does. Five paragraphs is enough of an anomaly that I would be thinking this person is somewhat odd and very long winded before I even got to his resume. That’s not the impression you want your cover letter to leave with the hiring manager.

        1. Cathy*

          Well sure, there are probably some hiring managers who do like long cover letters. I am not one of them. I don’t have an HR person screening for me, so I see every email that comes in with a subject line matching one of my open positions.

          I won’t ignore a person who writes a long cover letter, but I don’t read to the end before I click on the resume.

      1. Waiting Patiently*

        My last cover letter consisted of 4 short paragraphs which fit on one page. I’m wondering if it depends on the field or industry. I usually do 3 short paragraphs. As someone mentioned earlier (the speech pathologist) it’s hard describing what you do when you work in a particular field. And I’m sure most hr managers in the social service field see a lot of “how passionate I am and how much I want to help people”. Maybe im just having difficulty cutting out unnecessary information.

        1. Waiting Patiently*

          Plus this time I added the additional paragraph because it’s only one position and the candidate needs only 2 year experience in the agency or a degree. I just didn’t want to send out something to short without selling myself and what I could offer them .. I hope I didn’t screw this one up! Ugh

      2. class factotum*

        Not really. I got four interviews last summer and one job with cover letters that were each an entire page and broken into several paragraphs. I think the key is to make sure what you are writing is compelling and interesting.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I think five paragraphs is totally fine as long as it’s a strong, compelling letter. Of course, if it’s your typical boring cover letter that just summarizes the resume, five paragraphs might make someone’s eyes glaze over. But if it’s a good letter that actually adds something the application that can’t be found on the resume, I wouldn’t have a problem with five paragraphs.

        I’m not a fan of rules that letters must be X paragraphs long in the real world, but for a school exercise, I definitely can see the utility. Just make sure they’re writing something interesting and compelling.

  12. y*

    I once had to read a cover letter where the writer used the letters of his name to explain his attributes/attitude, kinda like an acrostic poem. So Bob was Bold, On top of things, and Badger-like (for example). This was for an entry-level position, and he had either recently graduated or was in his senior year of college.

  13. Jen*

    I completely disagree about the “Dear Sir or Madam” point. It is respectful, neutral, and applicable to academia or business or tech. It is more about the content of your letter being appropriate, current, to the point, and most importantly, tailored very specifically to the job as Alison has pointed out many times on this blog.

    I just completed a successful job search over a period of over a year+ and that’s one (not very important) point my mentors and recruiters never took issue with. And I sought feedback from a lot of different people. I think “Dear Hiring Manager” sounds a lot worse.

  14. Job seeker*

    This question is for Alison. I am a very big believer in cover letters now since reading this blog. I really believe I have a pretty good outline for one that I revise for different jobs. Last month, I asked you the question about the HR department at a certain company accepting my resume and cover letter after the job had closed on their website. I have twice sent a separate cover letter and resume for two separate positions I have applied for. I have a good friend that works for this company and she told me it would be a good idea to send a new resume and cover letter for any separate job I applied for there.

    Last week, another opening was posted on their website. I applied on-line and then e-mailed a new cover letter to apply for the new position with another copy of my resume attached. Well, my application stayed in the Submitted mode until this morning and then it changed to Accepted. The problem is same as last month the job I applied for closed and was filled last Thursday. The status of my application was only changed to Accepted after the job closed. I am wondering are they just scanning my e-mail with my cover letter and resume into my file in the system? Am I wasting my time even trying here? I do know someone that it took her two years of applying to get hired there. The problem I have is they are not seeing my resume or cover letter until the job has already been filled.

    I have read about some applicants on this blog that HR thinks doesn’t have a clue because they just keep applying. Should I just take a hint and move on? Remember,this is the second time my application was only accepted after the job was filled.

    1. Greg*

      If have a good friend there, don’t waste time stressing over whether and how your application was processed by HR. Instead, ask her to work her connections in order to get your name directly in front of the hiring manager.

      1. Job seeker*

        Would you keep applying if anything was posted that you were qualified for? Alison, I really don’t want to be like some of the posters here that have become a pest.

  15. Job seeker*

    Thank you Greg. The problem is she doesn’t work for that department. She would not know the hiring managers there. I have another personal friend that works for this health system that is a nurse practioner. We have known each other for a long time but she is in the professional group. We go way back to when our children were in school together. She can give me a good personal reference and told me I could use her. I just don’t know if I am going down a dead end street here or what I could possible do to find out. I do know this place is flooded with applications. I have been contacted twice by HR for positions there in the past. I just can’t seem to get back in the gate.

  16. Ryan*

    Hey Alison and community,

    Is it beneficial to include that I am looking for summer employment and my dates of availability on a cover letter?



    1. Greg*

      Well, presumably you’re writing the cover letter to apply to a specific summer position, which kind of presupposes that you’re looking for summer employment. But you should absolutely mention dates of availability. That’s probably one of the first things they’ll ask you anyway. And no need to go into detail about your summer plans; just say, “I will be available between June 1 and Aug. 15”, or whatever.

      1. Ryan*

        Awesome, I’m writing for two different positions which are not summer-specific. One is a great grocery store in my neighborhood and another is a gym. Are there any occasions where I absolutely should not include dates of availability? Should I ever wait to share until the interview?

  17. claai.it*

    Leonie has proven her ability as a project manager and head hunter to us in previous business cases.
    I’ll tell you something about yourselves, about the REAL reason you find me “too good to be true,” at least as
    anything but a fool, deontologically speaking:  The real
    reason, from beneath all your snarlingly-hysterical cynicism against me, has rather to do with the fact that all YOU
    onto me. An undoubtedly self-unrecognized personal bigotry, or IDOLATROUS WORSHIP of
    Amerika, as well as PCG, is “about” ALL that REALLY CAN serve to PLAUSIBLY account for EVEN your OTHERWISE CORRECT CONDEMNATION of the Roman
    Catholic Crusades, as well as your CORRESPONDINGLY DISINGENUOUS inclination to “about” as INCORRECTLY refuse to call Amerika’s current activities by
    EXACTLY THE SAME NAME; just as, if you’re going to continue rejoicing,
    over the fall of the Soviet Union, you should at least consider becoming more “credibly,”
    or “Holy” Roman Empire-promotingly “self-consistent” enough to include the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

Comments are closed.