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Running for cover - II

I HAVE already established how important it is to see that your CV is read and that will only happen when the accompanying letter is interesting enough to pique the interest of the weary executive who has received the seven thousand eight hundred and sixtieth CV of the week. It is essential therefore that the cover letter be accurate and well written. As I mentioned in the first part of this two part series, make sure you do not make the major blunders that riddle the stacks of CVs that languish at the waste-paper recycling centres. Apart from those mentioned in the last, make sure your application does not have:

Obvious mistakes. Be aware of what the company to which you are applying does as a business. No point saying how well you program when the company has no need for programmers. Research the company carefully before you set finger to keyboard. It is very much like an interview on paper. The application advertises what you know about the company. In fact many companies have been so frustrated by congenital idiots that get called to interviews based on their academic performance since these worthies almost invariably ruin their chances by asking them what the company does. Companies have now begun (rather boringly) to mention what they do in the recruitment advertisement to the extent that the specific vacancies are lost in the plethora of information provided by the advertisement. So much so that everybody applies - regardless of the vacancy.

Supplication instead of application. I sometimes get application letters that sound a lot like those begging letters one gets in one's mail from time to time asking for generous contributions to a social cause focussed on the uplift of the under-privileged. No matter how desperate you are for a job, never make the mistake of sounding as if you were a meal away from ruin. No one likes to hire a loser, and if you sound like one you will not even get called for the interview. I remember one that went:

"If given an opportunity to serve, I will work dedicatedly to the utmost of my ability and endeavour to give my best shot (sic.)" or,

"I beg you to give me the chance to prove my metal (sic.) and demonstrate my poor best to give utmost satisfaction"

Such statements advertise the desperation of the candidate and indicate his willingness to do anything at any price - a real turn-off.

More than needed. Many desperate applicants that take the trouble of writing cover letters often enclose the most incredible details with their CV and their letter. I have been the exasperated recipient of several enclosures such as school certificates that indicate that the candidate took part in a survey, or an IQ test. One that certified that the candidate had crossed the equator - perhaps to suggest that I should consider him as a representative, south of the zero degree parallel. Family photographs are another favourite, which hold no fascination for the beholder since there is rarely any indication as to which particular blurry figure is the candidate himself. Photographs should be included only when specifically requested by the advertiser - never otherwise. Besides, if you happen to look like Dr.Frankenstein's monster the slim chance you had of being called for an interview will evaporate once they see a picture of you.

Unnecessary apologies: We, as a race, love to apologise profusely for everything (and anything). We regret the fact (and say so) when we are late and we do the same when we are early. I've even heard a speaker apologise for being punctual! However, when this self-defeating habit enters an application that document is doomed to failure. To say, for instance that you have not done an advertised job before (but would like to learn) you straight away scuttle your chances of getting your foot in at the door. After all, which organisation would deliberately hire an untrained and inexperienced Johnny-come-lately? The very cost of training you is likely to scupper your chances.

Fake encounters of the third kind. It is tempting to paint a very flattering picture of oneself, and honestly, there really is nothing wrong with that but when your claims are false or unsubstantiated, you will have signed yourself out of the reckoning. Be as truthful as possible without actually saying anything to your own detriment, and certainly do not claim for yourself anything that you cannot substantiate. Remember if you have been able to research the company for free, the company actually employs people to research you. And it is their job to find out if everything is the way you say it is. If not, even divine intervention will find it difficult to help you

Anything missing. I have often received an application giving me a reference to the enclosed CV, which is as it should be - only, that there was no attached CV. It is important to make a checklist to ensure that all enclosures requested are indeed in the envelope before your seal it.

Too much detail. It is common in our country to mention one's age and marital status - perhaps because we share this information freely with total strangers while travelling around the country by train or bus. HR executives are least bothered if you are married (unless, that is, they were looking for a spouse and you qualified - and even that is unlikely since they themselves are employed and you are not!) or the fact that your house is littered with several children, parents, uncles and many other hangers on. Unless your age is specifically requested, you are not obliged to mention it, and if you had been enjoying the hospitality of the Government at Tihar or Yerwada, you are not bound to advertise it. Provide relevant, but minimum information - specific to the job, not more and certainly never less. Hobbies and sports are really not relevant though are commonly included in CVs and cover letters. For instance, if a candidate has stated that he is very interested in cricket, I would hesitate to hire him since I would expect to have him glued to a TV, radio or his cell phone when a match is going on.

First person references. I have received cover letters that very oddly talked about the candidate as if someone else were writing to me about them. I had phrases like:

"Mr Lorem Ipsum shows a remarkable ability to learn on the job, his easy manners and charming style adds to his ability to adjust to and work in any team."

Now this is a great way to blow one's own trumpet, but I kept wondering why the candidate himself did not write to me - till I got to the end - and then allowed the application to slip into the shredder. Much better speak for yourself like yourself and be a tad modest. Nobody will give Superman a job - but Clark Kent gets one every time. Something like: "I have the good fortune to be able to work well in teams as I get on well with most people." Helps in focussing on the strengths of the candidate himself.

Spelling mistakes. I've said this before and it really bears repetition, please make sure your cover letter and your CV are proof read by three different people with good language skills. I have had applications come to me saying:

"I completed my eduction in Mumbai." - which of course speaks rather badly of his education and his attention to detail.

Finally, avoid silly messages or jokes in your sign off, and please check to see that you have signed the letter. Preferably in black or blue-black ink - avoiding green, red or yellow. As mentioned in the first part, use a sensible font and avoid cursive scripts. If your letter gets smudged, print out another one rather than send in the tatty one. Make it neat and make it look as if you have taken abundant care - all the best!

ABHIMANYU ACHARYA

abhimanyu@india.com

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