That Cover Letter Gets Swung At, Again

Last week we posted (with the original writer’s permission) a cover letter written for a job at a marketing agency.

As we said in the original post, the letter got John Hood an interview, but not a job, and though the letter worked the first time, he was looking for suggestions to make it work better on the next attempt.

The original post got tons of comments but then we received this email from a former editor-in-chief and marketing communications consultant.

His words to Mr. Hood are harsh, but we’re printing them because we think he makes some good points.

That said, the original letter did serve its purpose—to get an interview—so we hope nobody is too devastated by the criticism.

Said criticism:

Briefly, I thought the letter was, from start to finish, affected, pompous, and, at my most charitable, marginally professional. Really was turned off by the phony breeziness of “swing by for an interview” and the cliché legalese of words such as “aforementioned.” I disagree that his voice would be okay for a columnist. Not one I’d seek out and read regularly. His letter has the tone and usage of the guy who is the biggest boor at the cocktail party. By contrast, a much more plainspoken, professional, and earnest tone would get the writer much farther with me. Tell me in simple English what you can do for my firm, that sort of thing. This letter is trying way too hard to come across like Oscar Wilde.

Let’s focus on just one sentence. The writer says that he feels impelled to “throw my hat into the proverbial ring forthwith.”

Let’s look at this more closely.

“Hat into the ring” is a cliché. Immediately I’ve gotten the impression that this guy has no talent or creativity.

Adding “proverbial” doesn’t in any sense uncliché the phrase. This just sort of compounds the striving for attention with shoddy editorial goods.

Finally, the “forthwith.” Do any of us ever use words like that in ordinary conversation? Doubtful. Adding the “forthwith” just makes the whole phrase sententious.

With this one sentence the author is doing the editorial equivalent of grounding into a triple play. Three outs.

Thank you for your consideration. I continue to be mystified by cover letters like this. What do they think they are accomplishing?