When Looking for a Job, Put Your Dating Cap On
Everyone is pretty familiar with the rules of dating. They go something like this:
1. Play up your positive features: nice car, great figure, fun job, likes to travel
2. Downplay your shortcomings: scary without makeup, regularly wears SPANX, embarrassing amount of credit card debt, has a tendency to stalk exes
All joking aside, everyone knows that the dating game is played by revealing many of your positive attributes early on, while avoiding any discussion about your flaws until the other person has definitely decided that they like you. Many dating horror stories involve people who revealed highly personal or unflattering information on a first date.
Similarly, I often see cover letters written with the purpose of explaining away something the candidate perceives as a glaring fault in their work history. One candidate explained that he did not have regionally relevant experience because he was moving across the country with his girlfriend who was starting a Ph.D. program. Another candidate had decades of experience but chose instead to focus on an explanation for the several years she was unable to work due to a debilitating injury received in a car accident.
Given that most hiring managers spend only 5-20 seconds looking at each resume they receive, writing cover letters that address a candidate's shortcomings can actually serve to point out those flaws to someone who may not have otherwise noticed them. Cover letters are like ads on dating sites: they're meant to grab attention, highlight the positive, and make someone want to meet you in person.
Next time you write a cover letter, read back over it and ask yourself: Am I revealing anything that could be potentially perceived as negative? Your cover letter doesn't need to share your whole life story bumps and stumbling blocks included.
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