If you're looking for a job, don't blow it with your application letter.

If you are looking for a job, please remember that you only get one chance to make a good first impression. And in a highly competitive field, a negative first impression may eliminate you from further consideration.

As the CEO of a public relations and design company, I receive several job applications and requests for “information interviews” every day from prospective or recent graduates.

You want to get to the interview...From the first word I read, I am assessing the writer as a potential employee. And I am amazed at how poorly most people present themselves in these requests.

No, I’m not talking about the spelling errors (please spell my name correctly), thinking that my first name is Thornley and my last name is Fallis (if you don’t know you are writing to, don’t bother) or just plain bad writing.

I’m talking about the fact that easily half of the information requests and job applications I receive are clearly generic form letters.

Here’s an example of an “information interview “request that I received today:

Dear Mr. Thornley,

Please allow me the opportunity to introduce myself. My name is XX XX and I am currently looking to break into the communications industry in an entry level position and was wondering if I could possibly set up an informational interview with you to learn more about Thornley Fallis and the great work your firm does. I’m a recent graduate of the University of YYYY with a Master’s Degree in Modern Middle Eastern Civilization and International Relations. After graduate school I went on to complete an internship at the ZZZZ Institute. I have previously held roles as a journalist, public relations and media relations representative as well. My resume has been enclosed with this message for you to review my qualifications and I look forward to your correspondence. Have a great day!

Best Regards,

XX XX

Take out my name and my company’s name and that letter could have been addressed to any potential employer.

Please, if you are going to approach me as a prospective employer, show that you actually took the time to learn something about me and personalize your letter. And no, putting my name in the salutation is not sufficient.

Don’t ask me to meet with you to tell you about my firm. If you simply Googled my name and the company name, you’d get a great profile of me and the people I work with. Show me why you fit with my company by telling me why we interest you and how you think you would fit in. Not generically. With specifics.

Remember, I may review five applications in one day. I probably only have time to interview at most one of those people. If you write a generic letter, you can be sure that someone else will have written a killer letter that talks directly to me. And that person will get the interview.

  • I would ask you to hire me, but I’m taken for now.

    Maybe next time.

  • Amen, Joe. I find these letters so tiresome. First of all, they think my sole proprietorship is a major conglomerate, apparently. Then they send me a five-page resume riddled with typos topped by a generic cover letter. Sheesh.

  • Great advice, Joe! It sometimes seems so hard to convince students who want to work in a business devoted to targeted, relevant messages that the form letter is a squandered opportunity. The letter you received requests an information interview, but submits a resume for consideration. How disingenuous is that!

    But you still may want to consider talking to XX XX; I don’t believe Thornley Fallis has a particularly strong expertise in Modern Middle Eastern Civilization – that I know of.

  • Lucky for the interviewee pictured that he dressed like the interviewer. Though I’d be concerned that the interviewer is waving a pen around, but has no paper to write on.

    And what about interviewee? Isn’t it good form to take notes during an interview? How about the rolled up shirtsleeves? Or the need for a haircut?

  • Am I more likely to get a job at Thornley Fallis if I wear a dark blue, button-down shirt like Michael and Chris? 🙂

    Seriously, good post, though I would have liked to have read it a few months ago when I first moved to Toronto.

  • Dave and Parker,
    Good Eyes! You caught me. Yep, that picture is a staged picture of Michael O’Connor Clarke and Chris Clarke. And yes, Chris already landed a job at TF. Although not because he dresses like us. Probably because he was an example of the person who figured out what we were interested in (through a real information interview with you Dave) and then showed us through Student PR that he was perfect for our practice.

    But I’m delighted that my “point and click” photo skills have finally reached the point where people are criticizing the composition of my photos, not pointing out that they are chronically underexposed or out of focus!

  • Good post Joe. It takes very little time these days to tailor a letter. As well, we all know that the “information interview” is really a job interview. It may be time-shifted if there are no openings right then, but it’s still a job interview. On our most recent episode of Inside PR (#56), we talk about the “information interview.”

  • Sulemaan

    Nice post. But I wonder if it falls upon deaf ears. The people who it would be aimed towards are probably unaware that this blog even existed. Case in point, the individual whose letter you used as an example.

    You may have do so already (in which case please disregard) but why not send them an email with a link to this post? Consider it your good Samaritan work for the day Joe…

  • Anick Losier

    Great post Joe… although I would add that it goes both ways. I can’t tell you how many generic letters I’ve gotten from consultants and companies that didn’t even know what my organization does! Seems to me that a few hours spent on a web site could make a world of difference.

  • In this day and age, with as much social media and research materials at our finger tips, there is no reason why someone can’t be prepared and know more about the person they are interested in working for.

    First rule of journalism is to know your story. Do your research and be prepared. Same thing with freelancing. Know your market and the publication you are selling to.

  • Danielle Pelton

    Good Advice, I’ll take it into consideration when I’m looking for jobs and internships next year.

    As much as a lot of this should be common knowledge it isn’t. I think as part of a well rounded education university’s should provide students with information like this and make it easily accessible. I never used the career center at my school until my roommate started working there .Now I use it all the time.

  • Good post Joe, can you tell me more about your firm…perhaps I can come meet with you 🙂