It only took three words for this particular cover letter to completely sink a candidate’s chances of landing an interview.

Now, I know cover letters are debatable. A small majority of hiring managers and HR folks surveyed told us that they never read them. I personally have written that I think they are on their way out.

However, they’re not out yet, so it’s better to err on the side of caution and send a thoughtful, well-written, customized cover letter with every job application. If the employer doesn’t read it – what has it cost you but a little time and effort? You don’t want to skimp on the time and effort that you put into your job search. Conversely, if the employer does take the time to read your cover letter, you’ll be leaps ahead of the candidates who didn’t send one.

One tip that career advisors always give is to find out the name of the hiring manager for the position you’re applying for and address your letter to them directly. Dear sir or madam is pretty old-school. To whom it may concern is worse.

Which brings me to the worst cover letter I ever received. It was for a business editor to join my team here at Workopolis. I was referenced in the job posting (not by name, but by title: “reporting to the editor-in-chief”), and there was a call to either apply online through Workopolis or to send me a resume directly.

The worst cover letter ever came directly to my inbox. It was all of three words. There was no salutation or sign off. It simply read, “Please see attached.” The subject line was “Business Editor Job,” and attached was the resume. The resume attachment was a file called Bill_Smith_Writer_Jobs_Updated_Resume2012.doc. This was in 2014. (His name wasn’t actually Bill Smith, but you get the picture.)

Here’s what’s wrong with this:

    1) It’s not personalized. Since my email address is, it would be fairly easy for anyone applying by email to surmise that my name is Peter Harris and to address the cover letter to me directly. (And even if my email address wasn’t so obviously my name, my job title could easily be Googled to reveal who to apply to.) Failing to put the effort in just looks lazy.

    2) It doesn’t act the part. Since you’re supposed to be a writer, and you are applying to a career website, you should demonstrate your writing skills and industry knowledge with a savvy application. Write a short engaging note about how you heard about the position and why you’d be great at it. If you don’t know how to submit a smart application, how can you offer career and hiring advice to others?

    3) The filename is terrible. I’ve mentioned this before, but the small details matter. From ‘Bill Smith’s’ application, I get the impression that he doesn’t really care about landing an interview for this job, he applies to multiple kinds of jobs, and he has attached the resume that he uses to land a gig as a writer. He also may or may not have updated it in two years.

The more effort you put into your job search, the more successful you will be. That’s actually true of most things in life: it takes hard work and attention to detail in order to generate greater results. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

Employers can easily spot a shotgun application and they put about as much time considering its candidacy as the candidate put into applying for the role.

See also:

The biggest mistake in a cover letter
The Worst Resume Ever
The biggest mistake on a resume

Peter Harris

Peter Harris on Twitter