I'm an idiot episode 672: how to handle a cover letter mistake
February 19, 2013 5:27 AM   Subscribe

I applied for a job in my field recently at company B and just noticed that I left in a sentence from a previous application in my cover letter that mentions the name of the company I'd previously applied to (company A). Whoops. I'm in a fairly small field and company A is one that people have mixed feelings about mainly because they have lots and lots of money and publicity. Should I drop the company I'm currently applying to an email acknowledging my error or not? If I do, any suggestions on how to phrase it other than "I'm an idiot, please forgive me.)

Additional information:
This is a fairly small field and people know one another. So far as I know, applying for multiple positions in the same field is common and expected - but screwing up a cut and paste is still pretty obnoxious on my part. Company A is well known and not much liked by the people at Company B and in fact the person who knows me at Company B really really dislikes Company A. Unfortunately, I don't know the guy at Company B well enough to contact him directly. Is there a gracious way to acknowledge my stupidity? Or should I just bang my head into the wall a couple of times and hope that Company B will just laugh at me a bit and still consider my application?

And yes, I know I should have checked this. Please try to avoid telling me what an idiot I am. I am already aware of that.
posted by sciencegeek to Work & Money (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm applying for 5-6 positions total. The work I do has a clear annual hiring season, so I'm applying to multiple positions within a few weeks timeframe. I could theoretically make it seem as if this were last year's application, but not as if it were an application from a couple of months ago.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:47 AM on February 19, 2013

Don't bother. Your resume has likely already been tossed. Sending a note will only cause them to remember you as _that person_ longer.
posted by bfranklin at 5:48 AM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

I would re-submit a new resume and corrected letter, saying "I sent you an early draft of my cover letter in error; please refer to this instead. Apologies for the confusion" etc. Make the subject line the same as your original application, with UPDATE at the front.

This a) doesn't highlight your mistake in case no one noticed it, but b) lets anyone who did know that you also caught it. This is more likely to work if you applied very recently - could be that no one's even read your stuff yet. Good luck!
posted by hilatron at 5:53 AM on February 19, 2013 [43 favorites]

Yeah, nothing you can do at this point. You're no longer in the running for that job.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:06 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you have nothing to lose by following hilatron's script.

There's no telling whether this error will be the end of you, or not. I personally would assume I had disqualified myself at that company and pin my hopes elsewhere. But you just never know. I have actually made *worse* mistakes and still been hired. That doesn't mean making mistakes like this is okay, only that hiring managers are unpredictable.
posted by tel3path at 6:12 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work in HR. It happens. Use hilatron's script above. You have nothing to lose.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:16 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

So many variables:

1) How long ago did you send this email? If it was yesterday, resubmit per Hilatron's suggestion. If it was long enough that whoever reads these kinds of emails has had time to read them all, then I think you're SOL.

2) Is the job still open/being advertised? If so, it's possible all the emails relating to it are being dumped into a folder, or in some way being "filed" until the application deadline has passed, at which time whoever is charged with reading and acting on them will start slogging through the submissions. Resubmit per Hilatron's suggestion.

3) Did this email go to a specific person? If so, it's likely they already have seen the error. Nothing to do at that point, as their first impression of you is already in place. Unless it's possible they've received $Some_huge_number of emails regarding this job, in which case they may have filed them like in my example above, and have not seen it or read it closely yet. So, resubmit per Hilatron's suggestion.

3) Did this email go to a generic address like "hr@company.com"? Then I sincerely doubt anyone has seen it yet. Resubmit.

Good luck! At any rate, you'll have an anecdote for your kid's Career Day some time in the future.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:22 AM on February 19, 2013

Tel3path, please, give us all hope and share your misadventures and how you recovered from them!
posted by canine epigram at 6:28 AM on February 19, 2013

So far as I know, other than Company A, none of the positions I apply to will have an actual HR department. These are all small operations; they is horticulture, not a corporate environment. I sent the application in two days ago, and since yesterday was a federal holiday here, today is likely the first day that anyone would be reading my email.

I plan to try Hilatron's suggestion and hope that the person reading the updated letter will be somewhere between understanding and neutral. If not, such is life. I screwed up and hopefully will be able to laugh at this sometime in the future (especially if I do still manage to find a good job).
posted by sciencegeek at 6:38 AM on February 19, 2013

I have seen many cover letters with this mistake and have tossed the resumes because of it. I have never had anybody catch, correct, and apologize for the mistake. I imagine if I did, I would be inclined to consider giving them a second look. Nothing to lose. From my perspective, there are not enough people in the business world who own up to simple mistakes. They are stopped dead in their tracks by them, or go into fierce cya mode. So maybe you will stand out from the pack for continuing to try!
posted by pazazygeek at 6:40 AM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

From my perspective, there are not enough people in the business world who own up to simple mistakes. They are stopped dead in their tracks by them, or go into fierce cya mode.

I agree, and people who own up to their mistakes are so much easier to work with, as are coworkers who understand that everyone makes mistakes and that things are better when people own up to them.

I'd go ahead and send the correction as hilatron suggested.
posted by sweetkid at 6:46 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I once called a member of a hiring committee by the wrong name, repeatedly, during a job interview. To my utter surprise, I got the job.

Many factors go into deciding who to hire. You just never know what will play for and against you. Glad you're following Hilatron's advice.
posted by Milau at 6:57 AM on February 19, 2013

Resubmit the letter. If you're feeling cheeky, call up their HR department and ask them to remove the old application. Trust me, no hiring manager has seen your resume yet, unless the job itself is in HR.
posted by Yowser at 7:05 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would go with hilatron's response. As a hiring manager, I have tossed resumes for that error - BUT - I never had anyone try to submit a correction. In thinking about it, I would probably give someone another chance with a correction (it would depend on their other qualifications). The worst thing that happens is nothing. I don't think anyone would think worse of you for submitting a correction.
posted by RogueTech at 7:46 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't just e-mail. Call and make an actual connection with the person to whom you submitted the application. You'll have a greater chance of success that way.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:54 AM on February 19, 2013

Best update ever:

I just got an email from Company B asking me to come for an interview this week. This was before I had a chance to rewrite the email.

Phew. Thanks for all the good advice. I'm still an idiot for screwing up the letter, but I'm an extremely lucky idiot.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:54 AM on February 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

That is amazing, and fantastic - congrats!
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:58 AM on February 19, 2013

I would acknowledge the mistake during the interview. Many people can't admit or try to cover up their mistakes. Flat out admitting it shows a level of honesty, integrity and confidence that I would look for in an employee.
posted by cnc at 12:13 PM on February 19, 2013

Yes, I'm planning on mentioning it and apologizing.
posted by sciencegeek at 12:43 PM on February 19, 2013

Awesome, glad you got the interview! As far as acknowledging the mistake goes, I would only do so if it seems like there is a natural opportunity to bring it up, maybe as an ice breaker. Otherwise, don't let it haunt you during the interview. You're obviously qualified and your prospective employer is understanding of this sort of thing.

I had a similar experience — I accidentally addressed a cover letter [e.g. Dear x] to the HR recruiter of another company in the same small field. I didn't notice this mistake until after the interview (similar to you, I applied for a large volume of jobs during an annual hiring season). I ended up getting the job — so all is not lost! Good luck!
posted by ageispolis at 1:37 PM on February 19, 2013

Update number 2: I'm about to leave for a second interview with these guys.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:19 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

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