Confessions of an Editor: How NOT To Write a Cover Letter

I couldn’t resist. This is a section from an actual response I received after putting out a call for writers. My ad specifically mentions article writing, research, SEO-optimized content and other specifics. So what does one boy-wonder, college edutcated job seeker write in response to “New Writers and Writing Interns Wanted”?

“To Whom It May Concern,”

STRIKE ONE–This guy doesn’t know TWIMC is the kiss of death in the minds of many editors, or at least the ones I know.

“Please consider my resume for the position that I saw
advertised on your website.”

STRIKE TWO–this was a Craigslist ad. Can anyone say “form letter”?

“I have five years of research experience in Political
Economy, including macroeconomic policy, country risk,
governance of the financial markets and political risk

STRIKE THREE AND YOU’RE OUT. Country risk? Political risk analysis? What does this have to do with SEO?

I had to resist sending a reply to this one. If I did, it would read exactly like this:

Dear Applicant,

I’m telling you this for your own good, so don’t bother e-mailing me a reply full of wounded feelings. It’s a tough market out there and you aren’t going anwhere using the approach you sent me. Consider this some free advice.

Never, EVER send a job cover letter with the phrase “To Whom It May Concern”. It shows a painful disregard for any research on your part into the company you want to hire you.

Keep your cover letter on target–address the job as advertised and leave off all the extraneous crap. Nobody cares what you did your Master’s thesis on (unless it is RELEVANT), and we certainly don’t want to know about stuff that doesn’t pertain to the job at hand–unless we ask.

Your cover letter was polite, which is more than I can say for some of the dolts who responded to my ad. I don’t think YOU are a dolt, but I do think you need a lot of shaping up in your approach if you EVER want to get hired ANYWHERE. Dog catcher, burger flipper or poly/sci professor.

You applied for a writing position, but your cover letter didn’t address any of the needs of the gig. What’s worse, you didn’t follow the instructions in the ad. We ask for writing samples and web addresses of any blogs or online writing you may have done. If you don’t have any, at least say so in the cover letter.

Sorry, friend, but your cover letter and resume get a big, red F for lack of clarity, failure to follow simple instructions and using the phrase “To Whom It May Concern.”

One day you might wake up and rent a clue. I hope it’s soon.


J. Wallace”

4 thoughts on “Confessions of an Editor: How NOT To Write a Cover Letter”

  1. I’ll bet editors have all types of cover letters like this littering their desks….sad and scary at the same time, isn’t it?

    Loved your imagined reply. Hilarious!

  2. I never know how to begin a letter in response to a blind ad — TWIMC (or the dreaded “Dear Sir or Madame”) seems the only way to go. When I reply to a Craigslist ad that says merely, “Small publishing house specializing in regional cookbooks seeks experienced freelance copyeditor” and the email address is a generic “,” there’s no way to do any research. How would you propose beginning such a cover letter?

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