Nov. 4, 2010 -- You rarely get a second chance to make a first impression. When that first impression comes in the form of a faulty cover letter or note, it could cost you a job.
This isn't limited to spelling errors or punctuation mistakes. We're talking about weak -- or even the entirely wrong -- wording. These are real examples from letters sent recently to HR professionals and hiring managers, along with the corrected versions.
"Good afternoon -- I am a 42 year old women married with 3 children. I am definitely not a wall flower, nor do I get flustered easily."
Problem: Too much personal information. You're proud of who you are, as well you should be, but the reality is being 42 with 3 kids is not music to the ears of most prospective employers. Unless it's directly related to the position you're applying for, you want to focus on your professional qualifications, not your personal attributes. Never reveal your age or marital or parental status when applying.
Click HERE for Tory's Web-extra resume tips.
Tweaked version: Instead, something more effective would be "Good afternoon. I'm writing to express my great interest in the customer service position at your Main Street location." This new text gets right to the point of why you're writing without details that may detract from or even derail your candidacy.
"I am e-mailing you my resume for the opening. I don't have any experience in this area, but I have the desire, the will power and I am a quick learner."
Problem: Never say you have no experience. Many people want to switch careers or they're genuinely willing to try something new and different because what they've always done simply doesn't exist now. That said, your letters and communication always should focus on what you offer, not on what you don't have. Don't call attention to the fact that you have no direct experience. Exude confidence in what you offer instead of calling attention to what you lack.
Tweaked version: Try this, "I've had great success in sales and customer service, which I'm confident would be an asset in the marketing role." This shows what you offer, not what you lack.
"I need help finding a job and I think you're someone who can help me, so I'm willing to buy you lunch next week to discuss my career."
Problem: There are two problems here. The first part of the sentence -- "I need help and I think you're someone who can help me" -- is so generic. Instead, you want to make a connection with the person you're asking for advice. The second problem is that even though you think you're being generous, nobody wants to have lunch with a stranger unless it's a really good blind date. People are busy and this is a chore for them, and they're not likely to respond favorably. Don't ask someone out to lunch unless you have a very strong, clear connection, or unless it's mutually beneficial. Instead, ask a specific question via e-mail or ask for 10 minutes by phone. Make it easy for someone to help you.
Tweaked version: A better way to ask for advice would be, "I'm reaching out because I've long admired your career. I'm exploring opportunities in sales and customer service and even though you may not have such an opening, I'm hoping you'll consider sharing a few nuggets of advice with me either by e-mail or phone -- whatever is most convenient for you."
"I'm applying everywhere but I never get a response. This is getting really frustrating since I'm about to lose my home and my husband is out of work also also. Can somebody tell me who's hiring now so I can get back to work? We need help fast."
Tweaked version: "No doubt you know the challenges of job searching today, so I hope you don't mind that I'm casting a wide net to find my next great position. My experience is focused on sales and customer service and I can tell you with confidence that I'd be a great asset to an organization. Might you have just one lead or suggestion that you can share with me? I'd be very grateful for your time."
That outlines your situation but makes you sound proactive, not desperate.
Tory's Web-Extra Tips
Ask someone you trust to read your important e-mail requests or pitches before you submit them.
Don't send e-mails when you're feeling down and depressed. Your mood is likely to impact the tone of your e-mail, which is not the impression you want to convey.
If you're unsure, sleep on it. Don't rush to hit "send" in a flash. Stepping away from the computer for a couple hours -- or overnight -- may lead you to a different perspective.