How Not to Write a Resume Cover Letter

Although I am not currently a hiring manager, I occasionally receive unsolicited resumes from people looking for work. I just received a resume attached to an e-mail with the following cover letter. I have masked some of the content so that it is not personally identifiable, but otherwise, I have not made any changes to spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, or content.

Hello friends,
I’m presently working at a Company named “xxxxxxxxxx” in xxxxxxxxx, xx. Ever since I started, it’s been 12 hour days, crisis upon crisis, with no end in sight. I don’t mind doing this in a pinch for a week or so, but I have obligations and responsibilities outside of work which have largely been ignored, and are now showing signs of  that.

I’m trying to make this work, but the pressure to produce is over the top. Every hour some one comes in and asks me “Is it done yet?” and reminds me that it has to get out yesterday. Usuallly, I am very able to work very well under pressure, but I have not been able to even get familiar with the databases, reports etc to discover how it’s done, so that I can research the problem. Most of these reports have band-aid approaches because everything has been in crisis. I am the type of person that needs some quiet time while working under a crisis so I can logically follow it through. So far, I have not able to achieve that balance here.

Please note that I HAVE NOT put my resume out on Monster or DICE, yet. I am trying to give this company all the leeway I can. I am just emailing you because you are a trusted source and I have worked with you in the past. Please keep my confidentiality. I realize that times are tough, but I am enclosing my resume, in the hopes that if you see something that fits my skills, that you will let me know about it. Right now, my annual salary is $xx,xxx per year.  I cannot go below that.

Enclosed, please find my resume.

 I thoroughly understand what the author of this cover letter is saying, and if I was placed in the same situation, I would also be looking for another job. On the other hand, I would take a different approach to writing the above cover letter.

Here is my advice on how this cover letter should be changed.

–Although not shown in the above sample, this e-mail was sent to a number of different people at the same time, and all these people’s e-mail addresses were listed in the To: section of the e-mail header. My advice, don’t include the names of other recipients of your e-mail in the CC portion of your e-mail. If you need to send an e-mail to multiple people, at least put the e-mail addresses in the BCC portion of the e-mail, so that the privacy of the other people is maintained.

–The first thing I read in the cover letter is “Hello friends”, which is another clear indication that this e-mail is going out to multiple people at the same time. My advice, send individualized e-mails to those people who you are contacting about potential work opportunities. Nobody likes to feel that they are the recipient of a blanket e-mail, especially if the sender is asking for your help.

–Another thing I noticed right away is the careless proofreading of the cover letter, as there are a number of minor mistakes. My advice, if you want to make a good first impression, your cover letter should be carefully proofread, and obvious mistakes corrected. I am not expecting perfection, as we all make mistakes, but there are more mistakes in this e-mail than I would expect to find in a cover letter.

–One of the first things the author does in the e-mail is to name the company they are working for, and then criticizing it. I am sure that what the author is saying about the company is true, but including a “rant” against your current employer is not the best way to impress a potential employer. My advice, don’t attack your current employer, especially by name, when looking for a new job.

–Along these same lines, the author is essentially whining in the e-mail. While the author has every right to complain about the company they work for, whining should be directed to friends and family who love and care about them. My advice, never whine in a cover letter. This is a clear indication to potential employers that the applicant may also become a whiner should they be hired, and why would an employer want to hire a known public whiner?

–The last paragraph confuses me. When I read the letter for the first time, my first impression was that the author was submitting a resume to me for consideration of any potential jobs I might have available. If this was the case, and I was a hiring manager, I would have deleted the e-mail immediately without a second thought. But after reading the e-mail several more times, and thinking about it, maybe the author is just asking for my help in their job search. Or, maybe the author is trying to ask for both. I just can’t tell. My advice, be clear in your intentions. If you are asking me to help you out, by keeping my ears and eyes out for you, that’s fine. If you are asking me for a job, that’s fine, but don’t do both in the same e-mail. Be clear in what you are asking of me, and target your letter appropriately.

–A corollary of the above point is that if the author is asking me for a job (which I am not sure), such a cover letter should only be sent to people who can influence hiring. My job has nothing to do with hiring people, so I am the wrong person to e-mail if the author’s goal is to ask me about potential employment. My advice, if you are contacting someone about getting a job with a company, you need to target someone who is involved in the hiring process. If this is the case in this cover letter, I am not the right person, which tells me the author has not done their research.

–The last paragraph also says that I am a “trusted source and I have worked with you in the past.” While I think I remember meeting this person, I have never worked with them. This generic comment may be a result of sending out a mass mailing, but it doesn’t resound very well with me, as having talked to a person once doesn’t mean the same to me as “I have worked with you in the past.” My advice, be sure you target your letter appropriately. If the letter had referred to our one conversation, this would have made more sense.

–I am confused as to why the author mentions their salary in the cover letter. If I am being asked to help them out by watching out for potential jobs for them, I don’t need to know their salary, after all, I don’t work for a job placement agency. If I am being asked to consider them for employment, a resume cover letter is not the proper place to talk about salary. My advice, don’t share your salary with anyone who you are asking for help looking for a job, nor should you share your salary with a potential employer the first time you contact them. In addition, many companies have their employees sign a confidentiality agreement when they are hired, which often includes a clause not to share your salary with anyone. I don’t know if this person has signed such a clause, but if they have signed such an agreement, they are now violating it.

–The cover letter says “Please keep me confidentiality.” Besides the bad grammar, what the author is forgetting is that if you send out unsolicited e-mails to people you barely know, that you can’t expect confidentiality. My advice, if you want to keep something confidential, don’t send it in an e-mail, as there is no such thing as confidentiality on the Internet.

–Other than the person’s first name at the end of the e-mail (the last name is not even mentioned), and the e-mail address, there is no contact information for the person. My advice, include you contact information so people know how to get back in contact with you, other than by e-mail.

Obviously, this letter was written out of frustration, and probably written in a hurry without a lot of thought. Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that I am picking on this person. In fact, my heart goes out to the author of this cover letter, as I fully understand their frustration. The point I want to make is that the approach taken in the cover letter probably won’t work, and if fact, it might backfire, should the current employer find out about it. I say this because I personally know a DBA who accidently CC’d his current boss when sending out a very similar letter (and resume), looking for new work.

I admire that this person is looking for a new job, as looking for a new job can be a very stressful experience, only adding to their current levels of stress, anxiety, and frustration. Hopefully, this person will quickly find new work that is better suited to their needs.

4 thoughts on “How Not to Write a Resume Cover Letter

  1. I agree, Brad. That letter shows that someone is in a lot of job pain, but you should never, ever send it in that form. That’s the letter you write to be cathartic, you save it for posterity, then start anew and write the one that actually gets sent. I know exactly what you mean about accidentally sending the wrong thing to the wrong audience. You can’t recover from that in many cases (as your example shows).

    I’ll add one bit of advice: that second paragraph is more than whining; it’s a disaster. It’s a huge red flag for a potential employer. !@$% happens. This to me was the killer: “I am the type of person that needs some quiet time while working under a crisis so I can logically follow it through.” That does not say “team player”, even if it wasn’t intended that way. In a crisis – and I’ve worked a 28 hour day – you just don’t get alone time. It’s a crisis for a reason, and chances are people are running around like they are chickens with their heads cut off. Maybe a small shop with less pressure is a better environment for this person.

    I wish nothing but luck to the person who wrote the letter, and hope they find better employment soon.

  2. Brad, I agree with your assessment of this letter. To further your comments, this communication reeks of desparation. Any employer worth working for is not looking to hire people who are looking for an escape route; they want creative problem solvers with a positive attitude, and the above communicates none of these attributes. I would suspect that most recepients simply deleted this email.

    Hopefully the sender is a reader of your blog and can learn from this experience.

  3. Great analysis. Better still, stars for not deleting the email, rather taking out the time to educate on the accepted protocol in the market place.

    Can you imagine; if one of the recipients of the email was – in some way – connected to the emailer’s employer and made this email available! I bet, Mr Job Hunter would be under much more “pressure” than he already is!

    I agree; “there is no such thing as confidentiality on the Internet.”

    It’s a quotable quote 🙂

  4. You can really hear the frustration coming out in that letter and was probably a knee-jerk reaction.

    I would still be looking for another job, but I would also be looking for ways to improve my current job. I would start with analysing, (yes, I am an Aussie and won’t spell it with a z), my current situation. Where is the problem? Can I fix it with some training? Can I ask someone in management for help? It might be as simple as talking to someone and getting some strategies for dealing with the issues. Luckily I have been able to be honest with my boss and when I have serious issues, instead of drowning in them I go and talk to him and get them solved.

    Hope his situation improves.

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