Cover letters, honesty, and proficiency

Let’s say you want to apply to a job for which you are very qualified. They want you to be proficient in certain areas, like Excel or Access, but all you’re really familiar with is MS Word or some other program.
In the cover letter, do you say you’re a quick study and will learn those unfamiliar programs?

I’m thinking it would be worse to be dishonest by letting the employer think you know these things when you actually don’t.

What say you?

Since the OP is asking for opinions, let’s move this over to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

I would list the programs I’m familiar with in my cover letter or resume, and since I’m a quick learner I almost always put that in my cover letter.

I think it would only be dishonest if you state that in your cover letter that you know Access when you don’t. But I don’t think you need to go out of your way to explain all the things you don’t know in your cover letter, as long as you’re honest about what you do know. It’s an employers job to read the resumes and cover letters and figure out who to interview - maybe the job application states you need Access but it was written by HR and it’s not really an absolute must-have, or maybe other areas of your resume really impress the employer.

Then, if you get an interview, I would be honest when asked about what you do and do not know, and if you’re a quick learner then you can give examples about how you’ve learned new computer programs quickly in past jobs. I find it’s always best to give great examples and descriptions of what you’ve done before.


Letting someone think something is a tough area to deal with. You have to evaluate the obligation you have to correct the error. You also have to evaluate how much responsibility you have for the error. If you say positively you know something when you don’t, you’re responsible for the resulting misimpression, and I think you put yourself in a bind because if you do get the job, IMHO, you are obligated to correct that misimpression, and that’s not a good way to start a job.

But if you simply omitted information, and didn’t actively mislead, your responsibility has diminished, and you may not have any obligation to make a correction. People rarely state the things they don’t know, and it is the responsibility of the employer to find out if you meet the requirements. If you’ve honestly listed your skills, and they continue to discuss employment with you, they might realize you didn’t meet some stated qualification, but may not care. And if they did care, they should certainly have asked you directly.

So my advice is don’t say something that isn’t true, and don’t list something that might be a disqualification, and in the end the missing proficiency in Excel and Access may not matter at all.

ETA: Beaten to the punch. And with better material advice instead of unnecessary deconstruction of the problem.

Well, the thing is I have proven pretty efficient at acquiring software knowledge, so I would say something like I was familiar with them and felt I could get up to speed very quickly, or I might say I was moderately proficient. I did this a few years ago with Excel, and they gave me a test, and it turned out I was quite proficient–even more than I thought.

But I don’t object to lying to prospective employers. I pretty much have to, when I have to write paragraphs about why I want to work for their company. “Because you will pay me” just seems so lame.

It’s not lying if you make up reasons on the spot. Well, as long as you don’t say something like “I wanted to work for your company all my life”. I don’t think anybody reads those things anyway. I certainly don’t unless it’s got a creative grab in the first sentence.