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Ask Brian: Confidential Job Search?

May 20th, 2008 · 2 Comments

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If you have career or job search question you would like answered on this blog, click here to Ask Brian.

Reader Sarah asks:

I enjoy reading your site and have already learned some useful tips from it. I have a random question that I can’t find an answer to anywhere on the internet: What does the term “confidential letter of interest” mean? I just read a job announcement (one I want to apply for) and it said, “please send a confidential letter of interest and resume…”

I know what a cover letter is. I guess I don’t understand what makes a letter of interest “confidential.” Does it mean that THEY aren’t going to let anyone else read it? Or does it mean I have to do something on my end. It just seems like a pointless phrase that obscures more than it clarifies!

Brian answers after the break:

This might be one where the commenters have some additional ideas that could be helpful.

I agree, the term “confidential letter of interest” is confusing. It’s not a term I’m familiar with.

The quickest answer could be as follows: Usually the employer promises YOU confidentiality so that your current employer doesn’t know you’re looking around. Your application will be accepted confidentially and not passed around their organization widely.

It could be that. They’re letting you know your application will be confidential. Just poorly worded.

But as I told you confidentially (har har) over email, the industry might matter. You let me know that the opening is in a field related to the defense industry. Well, now we’re talking about something else entirely.

There are certain industries and careers where secrecy and confidentiality are a must. There are certain jobs where you should expect heavy scrutiny… background checks, reference checks, credit checks… even interviews with your friends and family.

There are also certain circumstances where a company asks you to sign a confidentiality agreement just for interviewing with them. Even their hiring process is secret information. Google and Microsoft both do this, amongst other high tech companies where intellectual property is highly prized. So do hedge funds, where they’ll ask you about trading strategies and stuff… proprietary information that they don’t want getting out. So, it’s not just the CIA that does this.

I know in Europe, the entire job application processes is way more regimented and formal, both in language and practice. They have very specific laws and procedures relating to formal job applications, even in places like the UK.

I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that you might be encountering something similar because of the industry we’re talking about here.

If they gave you a specific way to send in your resume and letter, then follow their instructions to a tee. You can’t go wrong if you do what they say.

As far as a letter goes, send in what would be a normal cover letter, but just ape their language. Maybe open with a sentence along the lines of, “This confidential letter is to express my serious interest in the posted position of XYZ.” And close with a sentence like, “I appreciate your timely and confidential response to my inquiry and application.”

I know. Sounds dumb. But hey, if these are the hoops they want you to jump through…

Related posts:

  1. Ask Brian- Long Distance Job Search
  2. Office Hack: Confidential Network Printing
  3. Ask Brian- Should I Give Up On My Job Search?
  4. Ask Brian – Job Search During the Holidays?
  5. Ask Brian- Can Formal Be Too Formal?

Tags: Ask Brian

  • “Sarah”

    Thanks Brian – I think you clarified it about as much as is possible. I’m sending in my “confidential letter” now (over email, which is what they requested). *fingers crossed*

  • Michelle

    The site allows job seekers AND hiring employers to remain completely confidential if they chose to!