The Problem With a Generic Resume and Cover Letter

Several times a year, my company is hiring for a new or open position – which means I read lots of resumes, emails, and cover letters, and choose who gets the job, or at least an interview. I wanted to write this article to offer a perspective that is rarely shown: through the eyes of someone who hires. I’m not an HR expert, or a recruiter, or a “resume expert” – what I am is someone who hires people for real jobs. And the most common mistake I see is generic resumes and cover letters. Find out why these generics are so obvious, why they’re a waste of your time and the person you’re trying to impress, and how you can truly shine in an application.

Generic Resume, Generic Cover Letter, Generic Job

It’s a simple equation: if you want an extraordinary “dream job”, you’re not going to win it with an ordinary cover letter and resume. Jobs that require top-notch talent or offer that once-in-a-lifetime work atmosphere are just that: top-notch and rare. By just filling in the blanks on a generic template, you’re providing something that speaks to how you value yourself – either you’re unique, or your entire value can be filled into a few blanks on a template. Unfortunately, the latter group isn’t who we described to be selected for dream jobs – they get picked for the jobs nobody wants. That group gets picked by the boss who loves ordinary, and that’s a boss nobody wants.

What Does a Generic Look Like?

I’ve seen shocking examples of cookie-cutter cover letters and resumes. One example was when we were hiring an industrial designer, and the cover letter read “utilize my experience in home nursing care for your job opening…” It’s clear where the blanks were to fill in, and who forgot to change them. But here’s the rule of thumb: if you didn’t write your cover letter from start to finish to address the exact person you’re writing, then it’s a generic, and it’s obvious. Why? Because you’re starting a conversation, and cookie-cutter paragraphs sound distant and impersonal. Lines like “I’m really excited about this opportunity, and hope to hear back,” could be talking about anything. What opportunity, specifically? Why are you excited? It takes more work to write a letter from scratch, but it’s worth it – when I’m bombarded with an ocean of cover letters that all sound e-x-a-c-t-l-y the same, an original cover letter written from scratch stands out immediately.

How To Really Get a Hiring Manager’s Attention

Whoever is looking at your resume – a department manager, business owner, or HR personnel – you have to engage them in a conversation. It’s just like walking up to them at a party and starting a conversation from nothing – you need to be captivating. I jump back to the idea that you must write everything from scratch – every letter, every email, and every resume. Instead of sending out 50 resumes a day, you’ll be lucky if you send 2. If you fish with dynamite by blasting your generic resume all over the place, you’re going to hear from the most careless institutions. If there’s 15 jobs you’d really love to be a part of – then write them a letter, and give them a resume they want to read. In fact, the resume is probably the least important part of the whole thing, and I’m not the only one who believes this. It’s completely true that when looking at who to hire, I put more weight personally into their cover letter and email – the resume just gives me some stats to look at.

Get their attention by introducing yourself genuinely. Go on to discuss what brought you to be interested in the position, and talk about your passions and interests. People with passion for work or hobbies are interesting, and show that they care. Offer a value proposition to the company, or a day to come in for interviews, anything – show you’re interested. These are the basics of good conversation, and a great cover letter – show that you’re interested in a genuine, organic way. Show that you’re passionate about things, and not just a bump on a log. Follow this up with a resume that proves your passions, accomplishments, and that you’re invested in the places you’ve worked. Don’t think too much about it; a resume is simply a way to give an overview of skills, but you can easily win an interview just in a great introduction alone.

Start initiating genuine conversation with your next potential employer – I’m certain the results will be fantastic. It’s tough to give up the idea of blasting your resume to 500 different places. It seems like an easy win. But at best, you’ll just land a job you never wanted with a boss that loves generic people, and hopefully you know you’re better than that.


  1. HAHAHA that’s so accurate, the section for “what do generics look like” and the nurse example, wow. That’s totally me and I’m not proud but we should be learning most of this information at school, I’m only 18 and searching online has given me most of my knowledge now than 12 years of schooling. I’m jobless and pressured my whole life for this, and now what? I have no idea what to do. Great information though