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Cover Letter New York Times

Opinion

What do a fragrance designer, New York City cop, bed-and-breakfast manager and youth hockey coach have in common?

Each of them recently applied for an account director position at my public relations firm, along with 500 others whose experience and skill sets ranged from vaguely on-point to off-the-charts irrelevant. Auto collections manager? Home health aide? Visual merchandiser? Count them all in.

It’s not that my postings on Indeed, LinkedIn and other career sites weren’t explicit in outlining desired qualifications. I added instructions urging candidates to contact us only if they had backgrounds in journalism, P.R. or law. There was nothing to suggest I was looking for a fiscal benefits analyst, emergency medical technician or brand ambassador, but they showed up anyway.

In part, the disconnect stems from a revved-up labor market that encourages job hopping and inflated credentials. It also reflects the vast online jobs marketplace, where restless applicants shoot off their résumés like one of those T-shirt cannons at a football stadium, firing without aiming. Not a single candidate bothered to look us up and refer to what we do in the cover note. Instead, they all invoked grand boilerplate statements meant to impress the hiring gods.

Here’s how one actress stated her case: “Not only do I believe in Ripp Media’s ability to deliver human and intuitive touchpoints through physical and technological interaction, but I can contribute to this strategic investment for the modern enterprise by bringing my diverse experiences …” It was like reading Mad Libs.

I’m all for people crossing the professional divide. America’s work force is going through tumult, as even the superskilled see their jobs eliminated or made obsolete by technology. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a steady decline in the average tenure of wage and salaried workers — most recently at 4.2 years, down from 4.6 in 2014.

Many of those hitting me up hadn’t been at their current job more than four months. Moreover, hardly any tried to connect the dots from their world to ours. They assumed that because they’d done surgical sales or analyzed customer accounts for a dental supply company, they could do anything. P.R. account director? Sure, sign me up.

Online job sites appear to enhance success because of the magnitude of potential targets, coupled with the ease of applying, perhaps while scrolling through one’s phone in between texting and watching TV. But when something is so simple, fast and prepackaged, it tends to feel inauthentic and impersonal. Goodness knows, employers are human, too.

Although I listed my phone numbers in my ads, I got a total of two calls from applicants. Everyone else preferred the automatic approach, and it showed in their one-size-fits-all letters and résumés. I imagined them swiping on Tinder with the same abandon as they responded to my posting. They probably also stay glued to their GPS when driving down dead-end alleys.

Perhaps that’s why so many showcased accomplishments that sounded machine-made, as in “liaise with field managers to create metric reports in line with KPIs.” There were also digital marketers lauding their ability to “increase channel awareness and implement impactful distribution modes to engage target audiences.” I was more drawn to the waitress who described her duties with the clarity of E. B. White: “Explain dishes on menu to patrons and make recommendations; take orders and relay them to kitchen; calculate meal costs and add taxes to final bill.” She was elevated to the “maybe” pile.

It didn’t take long for the résumés to blur, and I did what any overwhelmed employer would do: started scanning Google and social media for advance clues before making contact. I didn’t dismiss a candidate for sporting a nose ring or hoisting a drink in every photo, but those things gave me pause. I discovered one prospect had been arrested for marijuana possession and another for assault and battery. Checking out Facebook selfies and family albums may sound invasive, but it let me ask myself, would I want this person sitting across from me or along for a client meeting?

When I did ping hopefuls, they were grateful that their credentials had been reviewed by a real person. The hockey coach and cop sounded like great guys — I wish I had something to offer them, along with the actor who can riff in Nigerian and Jamaican accents.

After naïvely hoping we were one view away from the ideal candidate, I pulled the ads when Indeed’s algorithm flagged as a match a writer whose top credit was an article about whether man buns are a turnoff. Now I’m wondering whether the waitress might take a writing test, or whether I should engage a recruiter.

The United States jobless rate fell to 4.3 percent in May, a low not seen in 16 years. The Department of Labor should track a new category — the Wishfully Otherwise Employed. They’re out there in force, waiting to jump into something new. If only they’d look before they leap.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: How Not to Get a Job. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Your cover letter should be short — generally no longer than three or four paragraphs, said Debra Wheatman, a career expert at Vault, a jobs Web site.

In your first paragraph, explain why you are writing — it may be that you are answering an ad, that you were referred to the company through networking, or that you learned that the company is expanding, said Wendy S. Enelow, author of “Cover Letter Magic” and a professional résumé writer in Virginia.

In the middle paragraphs, explain why you are a good candidate, and show that you are knowledgeable about the company. Then convey a clear story about your career, and highlight specific past achievements. This can either be done as a narrative or in bullet points, Ms. Enelow said.

You can also highlight qualities you possess that may not fit the confines of a résumé, Ms. Wheatman said.

She once worked in human resources at Martha Stewart Living, and recalls reviewing applications for a chef in a test kitchen. One woman had a career in manufacturing, but her cover letter described how she had grown up in a family that was passionate about cooking and where she had frequently made meals from scratch. The woman got the job despite her peripheral work experience.

Finish your letter by indicating that you will follow up in the near future (and make good on that promise). Sign off with a “Sincerely,” “Cordially,” “Thank you for your consideration” or similar closer, followed by your name and, if you like, your e-mail address.

Q.Where should your cover letter appear, in an e-mail or in an attachment?

A. You can include your letter in the actual text of your e-mail message or place it above your résumé in an attachment. If you put it in a separate attachment from your résumé, you run the risk that a harried hiring manager will not click on it at all. If you place it in the text of your e-mail message, it should generally be shorter than if you use an attachment, Ms. Enelow said.

Then, if you really want to make an impression, make a hard copy of your cover letter and résumé and send it to the hiring manager by regular mail. Attach a handwritten note that says, “Second submission; I’m very interested,” Ms. Piotrowski said. “I’ve had clients double their rate of interviews simply from doing that,” she said.

Ms. Enelow calls this “double-hitting,” and says she has seen it work remarkably well. She said a senior-level client of hers got an interview and was hired because the hard copy of his cover letter and résumé reached the company president, whereas his electronic application was rejected by someone in human resources because it did not meet certain rigid criteria.

Q. What are some common mistakes in cover letters?

A. A cover letter with typos, misspellings and poor sentence structure may take you out of the running for a job. If you cannot afford to pay someone to review your cover letter and résumé, enlist a friend or a family member with good language skills to do it instead.

Another misguided thing people do is to make the cover letter all about them: “I did this, I’m looking for, I want to ... I, I, I.” Structure your letter so that it stresses the company and what you can do to help it reach its goals, Ms. Piotrowski and others said.

Another danger is including too much information — for example, very specific salary or geographic requirements, Ms. Enelow said. It is also unwise to point out that you do not meet all the criteria in the job description, she said. You can deal with that later, if you get an interview.

Hiring managers are looking for ways to exclude you as they narrow down their applications, she said. Do not give them that ammunition.

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