I review dozens if not hundreds of cover letters and resumes in a given semester. I work for a large organization, non-profits don’t pay enough for people to complain about wearing “golden handcuffs,” and the work is hard and sometimes thankless. So, there’s turnover.
I don’t mind the hiring process. In fact, I rather enjoy it. I meet lots of interesting people and try to help them get to the next stage of their careers, so it is gratifying work. Once enough applications come in, I print them out and put them in a huge stack on my table and proceed to read cover letters first and then the resumes. As I proceed, I move each application into the YES, NO, or MAYBE pile.
There are two surefire ways to get me to move an application immediately to the NO pile.
Here is an actual cover letter I received.
To Whom It May Concern:
Thank you for considering me for this position. I hope to hear from you soon.
Seriously? This applicant did absolutely no work in the cover letter. He or she expected, I guess, that the resume would stand on its own. But that is not the case. Ever.
This one strikes me as too cloying and it’s just bad English:
“I would like to express my gratitude for taking the time to consider me for the position of [title].”
As a first sentence, this one seems a bit overly confident for my taste:
“As a Student Affairs professional with over 4 years of experience working in higher education, I would make an excellent addition to the [organization] as a [position].”
Here’s a really bad one:
“My name is […] and I am interested in an entry level position. I have had experience handling a variety of positions where accuracy and productivity is a must…. I would appreciate an opportunity at your convenience for an interview to pursue my current goals.”
Here’s another actual letter I received:
“My name is […] I’m writing accept this letter as my formal application for your [incorrect position title] vacancy. As a prospective applicant I have attached my resume. I believe that my credentials are perfect to meet the specified job requirements.”
Here are some good beginnings for cover letters – or at least ones that made me interested enough to learn more about the applicant:
I know that writing cover letters is not easy. They can take hours. Here are some tips:
If you have more tips, I'd love to hear them!
For many years, as a dean at three Ivy League colleges and now as an AVP at a university with an extraordinary mission, I have had a front row seat to the obstacles to success that college students and their parents confront every year. Even at so-called elite, highly selective colleges such as Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, where I spent some of my career, students struggle on a daily basis to remain healthy, happy, grounded, and to stay in school. I am dedicated to helping them.