When Writing Cover Letters, Lose the ‘Tude

Letters crawling with creeping arrogance inflict hiring managers with terminal cases of Don’t-Hire-This-Jerk-Itis.


The job seeker couldn’t figure out how to find a C-level HR person’s name to follow up with. “I found out that… the secretary (sorry, assistant) forwarded my letter to the HR recruiter without showing it to his boss,” he wrote.

Look carefully at the facetious self-correction lurking within those parentheses. Was the correspondent trying to inject a note of levity, or was he displaying contempt for a professional’s official title … or both?

The correct answer: Intent doesn’t matter. What matters is he displayed what could easily be interpreted as a subtle strain of arrogance. Displaying any signs of an arrogant attitude such as that in his correspondence with potential employers could easily explain why he wasn’t getting hired.

We asked hiring managers a simple question, and they graciously confirmed our suspicions: Hiring managers do not like dealing with jerks. Nor do they recommend that jerks be hired. But arrogance can be subtle; we can often slip into condescension without even realizing it. To help job seekers avoid creeping arrogance, we asked hiring managers to share with us some of the letters they’ve received that display an attitude that’s dismissive, arrogant, rude or snide.


Elizabeth Lions, author of Recession Proof Yourself! was recently doing some technical recruiting for a client. A job candidate wrote her an e-mail using all capital letters, asking, “Why are you looking for talent in Portland! I am IN SEATTLE.”

First off, Lions did look in Seattle, but nobody answered her ad. More to the point, using all capital letters and exclamation marks made her feel that she was being screamed at and “deemed incompetent,” she said. Not the feeling you want to leave a hiring manager with, given that she’s the one with the keys to the job you’re after.

Luckily for all-caps exclamation mark man, Lions wrote back. It turns out that her correspondent “had no idea how he had come off to me initially,” she said. But don’t count on a recruiter being willing to investigate your intent, like Lions was. Just play it safe, and leave out the sweaty punctuation and the hollering that full-caps denote.

The old “your job requirements are stupid” trick

A woman wrote to Jillian Zavitz, applying for a job as an online English teacher with online English learning company TalktoCanada.com. While she “did not graduate from university,” the woman wrote, she was “well qualified for this position,” given that “not having a degree does not affect my abilities since my experience is more important than a degree that does not relate for ESL teaching.” Ah. Really. In other words, the company ’s job requirements are irrelevant. “It’s kind of snarky,” said Zavitz, Programs Director. “With her trying to justify why we should hire her despite the fact that she doesn’t meet the requirements and WHY her qualifications are better.”

P.S.: Don’t be arrogant in the interview, either

Once you’ve weeded out the attitude in your correspondence, don’t blow it by coming off as a jerk in the interview. Laura Williams was interviewing a candidate for a position as junior account manager at a public affairs firm — a replacement, in fact, for herself, a few rungs down on the corporate ladder. The candidate, in his early 20s, asked about the potential for upward mobility during his second interview. Williams told him her experience was typical: During her tenure, she’d received a promotion and raise about every 18 months.

His response: “Yeah, OK, that’s you, but what about somebody of my caliber? I’m likely to move faster, right?”

Williams’ response: “Ick!”

“If he displayed that kind of lack of judgment/filter when he was on his best behavior (presumably) in an interview, I wasn’t letting him anywhere near my Fortune 50 clients,” she said.