The Worst Cover Letter in Eight Years

I’ve been an executive recruiter for eight years.  I have read probably hundreds, if not thousands, of cover letters.  Up until a day or so ago, the worst I had received were a blank cover letter (the resume was sent without the sender writing a word!)  and one that said, and I quote, “Here’s my resume. Call me.  123-456-7890.” Then I received the following cover letter. (The underlined phrases are hyperlinks.  I have removed any identifying references.)

Dear Bruce Hurwitz

It’s been awhile since we’ve touched bases so I’m following up. If you recall I’m for looking Internet Marketing opportunities.  Attached a copy of my resume which details my 35 years of my on-line (SEO,SEM,PPC & Social Media) marketing experience in word format as well as a PDF of my LinkedIn profile such you may have quick access to my credentials. I upgrade my LinkedIn profile constantly. My references are there too. Click on the LinkedIn icon below to see the latest updates and references.

Should you come across an opportunity that matches my skill sets I would love to hear from you! I can be easily be found by searching the term “Director of XYZ” on any internet platform (Google, Bing, AOL, MSN) in the world usually #1 in the returned search results. Very familiar with Google local search with many top listings here’s more.  Google Local Search. I do LinkedIn profiles as well. Want to be listed first in your vertical? Achieve LinkedIn Top Listings  I can help.

Search is losing traction to Social Media. I have experience with SM as well. My list of social media services I built for clients over the years.  My Social Media Services.  If you want to know more about Social Media here’s a good presentation that cover’s the basics Social Media Presentation with Nielsen Data  

I’m just a click away, looking forward to hearing from you. If you have questions I have answers.

 Best regards

“Mary”

Let’s play a game. How many typos and grammatical errors can you find?  I found 12.

So why is this one so egregious?

The purpose of a cover letter is to get the recipient to read the resume.  Both the cover letter and resume represent the sender.  I don’t know this woman.  She lives thousands of miles away and it is doubtful we would ever meet.  So all I have to gauge her professionalism by is her e-mail and its attachments.

General rule of thumb; if the cover letter is sloppy the person’s work will be sloppy.  Guess what?  Executive recruiters do not submit sloppy people to their clients.  So the cover letter failed to accomplish its goal.  I did not bother to even open the attached resume, let alone read it.  (I also was not comfortable clicking on the hyperlinks.)

But forget about the errors and look at the content.  It is 2011.  I readily admit that I am not very good at math, but 2011 minus 35 is 1976.  There is no way that this person has 35 years “on-line marketing experience.”  While she may have computer experience dating back to the late 70s, there was no “on-line marketing” until well into the 80s.

So added to sloppy is inaccuracy regarding experience.

Note the claim of a first place Google rating.  Guess what.  Not true.  “Mary” came up second!  Very impressive, except that it is her website which happens to be the search phrase.  It would be pretty difficult not to come up on top.

Moreover, a high Google listing is not necessarily a good thing.  All it means is that the person, company, product, what-have-you, has the most references on the Web.  For example, a year or so ago a woman here in New York purchased eye glasses from a company she found on the Web.  Problem was, the company was run by a crook.  The reason for the high ranking was that there were many on-line complaints about the owner.  The victim admitted that she did not bother to do anything more than simply click on the first link that appeared.  She assumed that a high ranking of Google was a positive reflection on the company.  It wasn’t.

So, if “Mary” had said that she had a top Google ranking if “Internet Marketing Specialist” or “SEO Consultant” was the search term, that would be impressive.  Having her website come up on top means very little.  Guess what?  If you Google “hsstaffing,” my website, it comes up Number One!  Big deal.

It’s a similar story about the implications of appearing at the top of a LinkedIn search.  “Mary” has about 2,600 first degree contacts.  When she does a search, the basis is those 2,600 individuals.  Since the search phrase “Director of XYZ” is rather special, she will most certainly come up at the top, or near the top, of a search.  However, my network has over 25,500 first degree contacts.  A search of my network shows that I have 17 first degree contacts with the term “Director of XYZ” in it; 877 second degree contacts; 189 Group contacts; and 966 third degree and all others.  Since she is now a second degree contact, the highest rank she could be is eighteenth.   But the term is so rare that it only appears in eight percent of my network’s profiles.  In a search of the term “Internet Marketing Specialist” or “SEO Consultant,” which are more likely to be the terms used by someone searching for someone who can help them with their Internet presence, “Mary” does not come up in the first 100 responses on my network.

In other words, if you use a rare phrase for a Google of LinkedIn search, you will come up at or near the top of the results.  But if the phrase is so rare that no one will be likely to use it – and no one is likely to use the phrase she suggests – it means nothing.  So her claims of professional success are meaningless.

Remember, recruiters work for their clients, not their candidates.  It’s not my job to find a job for this woman.  It’s my job to find the best candidates for my clients.  I would not be doing my job if I did not read cover letters and resumes with a critical eye.  Granted, I usually will make a few corrections.  After all, we all make mistakes.  But when it is this bad, it cannot be ignored.

To reiterate:   When you apply for a job, you are not standing in front of the recipient of the cover letter and resume.  You do not physically represent yourself.  The cover letter and resume are your representatives.  If they are sloppy the only conclusion a recruiter can draw is that you are sloppy.  And recruiters do not submit sloppy candidates to their clients.  Period.

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Go BFOQ Yourself!

On a number of occasions I have said, and written, that an employer can refuse to hire someone because of their appearance.  As I recently discovered while being interviewed for an upcoming article, technically, I’m wrong but also, technically, I’m right.

Years ago I was in Barnes and Noble heading toward the Customer Service desk.  As I approached I realized there was a commotion going on.  There was a young woman, probably 18 or 19, screaming at the store manager because he refused to give her a job application.  “You’re discriminating against me!” she yelled.  Clearly, the manager was not having any luck getting her to listen or leave so I decided to help.

“I’m an executive recruiter and career counselor,” I told them.  They both stopped and looked at me.  “And you are absolutely right, he is discriminating against you.”  I paused long enough for the manager to turn white.  “And it’s perfectly legal.”

“Have you ever been in a bookstore before?” I asked her.

“Of course I have!”

“Have you ever seen anyone who looks like you working at a bookstore?”

“No,” she said, her voice quieting.

“And there is a reason why.  An owner or a manager has the right to determine his corporate image.  You are not it.  He’s not discriminating against you because you’re a woman, because you’re young,” she was wearing a cross so I added, “because you’re Christian.  He’s discriminating against you because you are covered from finger tips to your neck and I can only guess how far down, with tattoos, and there does not seem to be a place on your face where there is room for another piercing.  Think of it this way, have you ever seen anyone with bad teeth working in a dentist’s office? Bad skin working for a dermatologist?  An obese person working at a health club?  A smoker working for the Cancer Society?”

“So where can I get a job?”

“Grocery story stacking shelves, maybe working the checkout.  I really don’t know.  A tattoo parlor.  But certainly not a professional office or a place attracting professionals and families.  Look at the faces on the children walking bye.  They don’t know what to make of you.”

At this point she was practically on the verge of tears.

“Look.  You made the decision to do this to yourself.  It’s not as though you were burned or injured in a car accident.  It was your decision and you have to live with the consequences.”

With that she left and the manager came over to me.  “I wanted to kill you,” he said with a smile on his face, “but thanks.”

That’s the background.  Here’s the story with the interview.

It’s a piece that should be (it’s not definite so I’m not naming the publication, but if you visit the Media Center page on my website, they’ll be a link when it’s available) coming out next month on discrimination against the obese.  My initial reaction was what I told the woman at Barnes and Noble, you can be “discriminating” based on appearance without “discriminating” in the legal sense.  The obese are not a protected class, I said.  And that was my mistake.

The obese and the very tall or short are protected persons.  On the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website, there is a page, “Pre-Employment Inquiries and Height & Weight,” which is clearly designed as a “Don’t contact us about this nonsense” warning.   “Height and weight requirements tend to disproportionately limit the employment opportunities of some protected groups and unless the employer can demonstrate how the need is related to the job, it may be viewed as illegal under federal law.  A number of states and localities have laws specifically prohibiting discrimination on the basis of height and weight unless based on actual job requirements.  Therefore, unless job-related, inquires about height and weight should be avoided.”

In other words, don’t bother them if you are too short, tall, thin or fat to do the job.  So a short person, who can’t life boxes that are five square feet in size because they are bigger than he is; a tall person who can’t fit in the existing work area because the ceiling is too low, the thin person (I can’t think of one for this so you fill it in!)…, or the fat person who isn’t getting an interview to be a flight attendant, should not bother the EEOC.  It’s not discrimination!

So what’s BFOQ?  Bona Fide Occupational Qualification.  If it’s related to the person’s ability to do the job, the rejection is not discrimination.  You can discriminate on the basis of age in hiring police officers or fire fighters.  Do you really want a 65 years old running after the mugger or trying to carry you out of a burning building?  Even pilots can’t captain commercial aircraft if they are over 60!

The beauty of BFOQ is that it has to be plain and simple, not some legal spin.  Returning to my original thinking, the bookstore manager can reject the tattooed woman because she was scaring the children and, I hasten to add, making the mothers uncomfortable.  (Personally, just looking at her – especially the piercings and the one in the tongue – made me nauseous.)  So while it might not be for “corporate image” reasons, it was definitely because she would not be able to do the job.  You can’t sell books or attract customers if people are uncomfortable looking at you.

But I repeat, that was her decision.  (And I am not going to get into the issue of whether or not someone who would do that to herself has psychiatric issues and therefore should be protected under, for example, the Americans with Disabilities Act.)  My reaction if she had burns, or was a disabled vet, would be entirely different.  In that case, I would say hire the person and use it as a learning experience for children and their parents.