When applying online for a position, it is almost the norm now for the potential employer to require a cover letter be attached. Usually, the application instructions will indicate the type of file format in which the cover letter is to be submitted; if there are no such instructions, Microsoft Word is one of several commonly used formats.
Cover letters are useful to potential employers for a number of reasons. First, cover letters give the applicant an opportunity to present information which supplements that contained in a resume. Second, a cover letter may be viewed as a sample of the applicant’s ability to communicate professionally in writing. Inclusion of a nicely prepared cover letter also suggests the applicant likely has skills using a computer or application software such as Microsoft Word. Additionally, failure to include a cover letter as directed will likely be taken to indicate that a candidate does not follow instructions very well or pay attention to details. Some employers view failure to include any required documents (cover letter, resume, references, etc.) as an automatic disqualification to further consideration.
To help ensure they put their best foot forward, is not uncommon for candidates to have friends, colleagues, and mentors review their cover letters and resumes prior to submission. Sometimes, this may be done by email and with the “track changes” or comments features of Microsoft word switched on, enabling their reviewers to suggest changes or make recommendations regarding the documents.
Therein, however, exists a potential booby trap. Occasionally, I have opened a cover letter file submitted by an applicant only to discover the track changes feature still active. In this situation, rather than viewing a finely-tuned and polished cover letter, I can see not only the original document, warts and all, but all the recommendations and suggested changes proposed by the friends and colleagues of the applicant as well! Oh, no!
What impression is this situation likely to leave with a potential employer? First, perhaps the applicant does not know how to use Word properly or else this wouldn’t have occurred. Second, maybe this was just accidental, but even that suggests the writer may be careless or does not pay attention to detail. Also, the text of the raw, original document reflects that perhaps the applicant’s unassisted writing skills may not be so good. There is no upside to this goof!
If I were a candidate, I would be horribly embarrassed to know the interviewer can see not only the original draft of my cover letter, but all the “beef up this part” and “fix your grammar here” comments as well!
So, what’s the moral to the story? First, if you’re going to have folks review your work (which is a good thing) and use a feature such as this, make sure you really know how to use it properly. Second, pay attention to detail and test the final product before submitting it. For example, send the “final” modified version to a friend first so they can open the file and verify that it is indeed a “clean” copy.
Featured image courtesy of Nate Steiner – flickr