- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Bob Killian, president of a Chicago advertising firm, says e-mail applications he opens often come with cover letters that begin something like this: "I would like to start learning from a pronoun company and I feel as if Killian & Co. Advertising will give me the opportunity I am looking for."
Or: "But that's the past. I've given them a year of my life in a minimum-security work camp and I'm nearing work release status where I'll be for the next 15 months or so. I need to connect with open-minded people like myself. My crime was a 'nonviolent, victimless' one. I'm hoping this letter is reaching people who have or do smoke weed (and did inhale)."
Employers such as Mr. Killian say the cover letter, a candidate's introduction to a prospective boss, is losing courtesy, proper grammar and common sense as more job hunters send their resumes over the Internet.
"The Internet is as good as any other communications medium for sending job applications," said James Gonyea, a career consultant and president of Gonyea & Associates in New Port Richey, Fla.
"But a lot of younger job seekers lose professionalism in their online writing because they're comfortable with e-mail."
Kenneth Aubrey said a majority of the 12,000 online applications he and other recruiters reviewed last month at BAE Systems North America Inc., a global systems company with headquarters in Rockville, contained at least one misspelling or grammatical error.
"There's a lot of informality with sending applications over the Internet, but it makes it easier for us," said Mr. Aubrey, employment manager at the company. "A good majority of them would have a misspelling that just drives you nuts, because they're simple words like quality and process that college graduates should know."
Online applications have become the mode for BAE Systems and other large companies, helping job-search Internet sites such as Monster.com post 30,000 resumes daily. In October, the largest job Web site had some 16.4 million visitors, a spokesman said.
Ernie Bridges, who reads 85 to 115 cover letters a day at the Magazine Group, said candidates tend not to proofread their work when they e-mail resumes to the D.C. magazine and Web site publishing company.
"Hard-copy letters tend to be cleaner because people are taking the time to reread their work and make it more creative," said the director of recruitment. He receives half hard-copy and half-electronic cover letters. "Generally candidates sending printed cover letters are trying to make a better first impression."
Ellen Heffernan, managing vice president of Spelman & Johnson Group, a Leeds, Mass., recruiting and consulting firm to universities, said candidates also rely heavily on the spell-check function when composing online cover letters, a device that does not always correct punctuation and spelling errors.
"I see simple mistakes that candidates easily make by relying on the computer rather than proofreading," said Ms. Heffernan, who reads 100 or more cover letters a day. "There's no question that a well-written cover letter will go in our company's resume database," which holds the application for up to one year.
With an increased job crunch and higher unemployment, which rose to 6 percent, or 8.5 million people, last month, Mr. Gonyea said the challenge for job candidates mainly college graduates and young professionals is maintaining professionalism in electronic cover letters.
"It should be the same message and courtesy that would go into a letter," said Mr. Gonyea, who developed America Online's career center, posting the first online job application in 1987.
"Courtesy titles should be used, there should be no attachments, just the basic stuff a job seeker does to show that he or she is responsible," he said.
While Mr. Killian said he preferred hard-copy cover letters, the best letter he had received was an e-mail response to a recruitment ad that said, "We Need Nine Great People." The e-mail cover letter said, "Now, you only need eight."
"It was short, brief, professional and to the point," Mr. Killian said. "I knew right then that I had to interview that person, no matter what his qualifications were."

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