You’re nearly finished your online job application. Resume: impressive. Cover letter: customized. Writing sample: seals the deal. And then you see an empty box that asks if you have anything additional to say.
Is it a requirement? Is it a trick?
According to Muse career expert Lily Zhang, there are three times when including something here will help your application—when there’s no place to attach a cover letter, when you’re making a massive career change, or when you really do have additional information to add. But as Zhang also says, “…no one is tossing out your application because you didn’t fill in that little box. In fact, most of the time, it’s totally OK to leave it blank.”
If you don’t fit into any of the scenarios Zhang outlines, but you still have something you really want to say, it’s time for some tough love: Filling out this box incorrectly can actually hurt—even sink—your candidacy. Read on for three things you should never, ever write in the notes section.
Oh, and yes—I’ve seen them all.
1. Your Undying Love for the Company
Apologies in advance if you’re sick of career advice via dating analogies. But I don’t know how else to explain that there’s a difference between telling someone you’re genuinely interested and have noticed her and telling her you’ve followed her on social media for months, have prayed for the day she’d say “yes” to a date with you, and oh, “happy early birthday” to her mom.
When done right, your cover letter evidences the fact that you didn’t discover the company that morning. For example, a line in your cover letter about how inspiring you’ve found the progression of the brand demonstrates longstanding interest. So it’s totally OK if your application doesn’t scream “This organization is the most amazing place ever!”
In fact, it’s better to hit a more balanced tone (think: “This company is awesome, and here’s the value I could add…”), because hiring managers often look for candidates who can innovate and move things to the next level. An overwhelming ode to your obsession with the brand can make it appear as though you wouldn’t have a fresh perspective or new ideas to bring to the table.
2. An Inside Joke
You follow the founders on Twitter and Instagram and you receive the daily e-newsletter, so you feel like you’re BFFs with everyone at the company (or totally would be as soon they wake up and hire you). The thing is: You’re not.
Some people blur creativity, a desire to be memorable, and a plan to echo a brand’s sassy social media voice—resulting in something that sounds rather presumptuous (and not in a good way). If you throw out an inappropriate joke (think: “I’m a few mimosas in, but that’s how I work best. Good thing I know everyone at [company name] loves brunch as much as I do!”), the hiring manager may think you’re not taking the process seriously and skip over reviewing the rest of your application altogether. (And, yes, even if you come to the additional information section last, it’s often displayed prominently on your application so that the reviewer knows why someone with experience in a totally separate field or an address across the country applied for the job.)
A safer approach? Don’t put anything in writing that you wouldn’t walk up to a founder or hiring manager and say as a means of introducing yourself.
Nerves happen. You question yourself, you wonder if your application is good enough, and you want the hiring manager to know that your potential extends far beyond the confines of a resume, cover letter, and little boxes with character limits.
Moreover, when the deadline to apply for your dream job falls during a week when you have two major projects at work—forcing you to rush through it—you want the person reading it to know that you could do better if you had more time. Or maybe you’ve come down with some winter plague, and you want the hiring manger to know you were under the influence of cough medicine.
Do not use the additional information section to send an “I can do better and here’s why…” disclaimer along. First, it will color the hiring manager’s opinion. She might have otherwise responded positively to your application, but instead, she’s reading it through a lens of: The candidate herself admitted her application sucks. (And what pile do you think those resumes land in?) Not to mention, it makes it look like you lack confidence in yourself and your work.
Additional information sections are like evasive driving maneuvers. If you need to use one and you know what you’re doing—go for it. But don’t do it just because you think it looks cool: Playing it safe may be your best bet.