A couple years ago at Ragan.com, I deconstructed what I speculated was The Worst Cover Letter Ever. The overeager undergrad misspelled the company's name, mischaracterized its industry and uttered successive groaners like this one, about her internship:
When I am given a task, I get it done better than expected. The men at the radio station referred to me as “Chicago” and “sassy”—and never failed to give me stories that required contacting the hard-to-get sources. I always got them to talk, and I always got them to “spill it.” Sassy, they said, is for the ability that I have when it comes to asking the “tough questions.”
I know: "pretty horrible," right?
But even though I concealed the young fool's name, I was vilified by many kind-hearted Ragan readers for attempting to teach a letter-writing lesson, as one reader put it, "at the expense of someone's hope."
Well I've learned my lesson.
So now that I've got my mitts on a cover letter that may be even worse than the one that put the "piss" in epistle, I won't bother using it to teach any lessons.
I'll just run the goddamn thing:
Good morning, Jessica! This is just the PR firm I was looking for! Don't worry. This will be the last cover letter and resume you read for a position that you are trying to fill. You won't have to glance over any more boring, awkward submissions! You're welcome. I'm the best candidate for a position in your firm and there is no need to look any further. No, seriously. Don't believe me? Check this out:
-If the psychology of advertising was a team, I would be its number one fan and cheer like mad for it. Big foam finger and all. I like psychology so much that I majored in it at Saint Mary's College of Notre Dame in 2010. That's passion.
-I'm freakishly organized and love office materials. You need that paper you were looking at yesterday and forgot where you put it? I know exactly where it is and will retrieve it right quick. BOOM!
-People say I have a great attitude in the office and I'm easy to work with. In fact, I won "Best Smile" in high school. Smiling's my favorite! It's pretty much impossible to hate on me.
-I'm wicked good at successfully multitasking. For instance, I'm taking care of my daily duties as Director of Marina Operations at the moment, sipping on coffee, but also filling out this resume! Can you say talent?
-When shit hits the fan, I'm the girl you want around. I'm calm, cool as a cucumber and, above all else, resourceful. I do whatever it takes to solve an issue as quickly as possible and always have a back-up plan or two. Sorry about the language in this bullet point. I hope you weren't offended.
-I'm never on time for things… I'm always ten minutes early. My middle name is Promptness. True story. Ask my mom.
At this point, I'm sure you don't even have to look at my resume because you know you want me to start ASAP. You know that not only am I a hard little worker elf, but I also have a shining personality! But, just in case curiosity gets the best of you, I've attached my resume. Just let me know when you would like me to come in and start. I'm flexible. Can't wait to start working with you! Enjoy the rest of your day. 🙂 (Yes, I did just slip an emoticon in there. And yes, you kind of liked it.)
Cindy L. Mudge
Okay, I can't help myself. I realize this letter is too imbecilic to offer us line-by-line lessons. Where does one start? With her love for office materials, or the way she plays favorites with facial expressions?
But there is a tremendously important communication lesson here, and one that even the communication pros violate all the time: There's only so much you can do with any one communication opportunity, and if you try to do too much, you wind up looking like an asshole. (Sorry about that language. I hope you weren't offended.)
In this cover letter, Ms. Mudge—not her real name, don't worry—tries to go from total stranger to star employee in 400 words. She senses that she's up against an impossible writing task, but instead of finding a more realistic goal for her communication—oh, like showing she's halfway sane—she tries for the impossible and blows rivets in every direction.
She would have been much better off saving her energy for ascertaining that the company she was applying for—Ragan again—isn't a "PR firm," but rather a PR trade publisher. Had she learned some things about Ragan's culture and its business, she might have written an equally irreverent but much better targeted cover letter.
No, she probably wouldn't.
But for kids of all ages who aren't hopeless nitwits, the lesson remains: No matter how urgent the need, a cover letter, or any other communication effort, can only achieve so much.
Overreach, and you'll fall flat on your face.