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How (not) to cover letter

I’ve seen people do some pretty incredible things when it comes to job-searching. This morning, Facebook reminded me of an incident that happened in 2011 that was so remarkable, I shared it (with no identifying attributes, of course). I quoted the applicant’s cover letter:

I am excited about the opportunity to help, support and learn more about the continuing involvement in issues relating to the business, both domestically as well as internationally.

Continuing involvement in issues relating to the business? What does that even say? It’s just a bunch of impressive-sounding words, strung together to mean… nothing. It sounds generic, and suggests that the applicant is sending the same letter to every job she applies for.

If you’re going to go to the trouble of writing a cover letter – and I believe you should – you can use it to provide some context to your application. Cover letters are your opportunity to show that you have done your homework, you have learned about the company, you have a sense of the role and its context, and you have a background and skillset that makes you worthy of consideration. You can show some passion, charisma, even your sense of humor. You can demonstrate that you know how to write. The cover letter is a place for supplemental information and maybe even a bit of a sales pitch.

In the next paragraph, our applicant added some croutons to her word-salad:

The key strengths that I possess for success in this position include, but not limited to, the following: Excellent organizational, analytical, financial planning, oral and written communication skills; Ability to work well with others; Eager to learn new things; and Self-starter.

Grammatical issues aside, our applicant has listed attributes that anyone would want in an employee. But she failed to provide support for her claims. A list tells the hiring manager nothing. Instead of claiming that you have excellent organizational skills, provide an example of a project you tackled that required organizing. For working well with others, share an anecdote about a team you worked on.

The other amazing thing that happened was that the applicant – a young woman in her 20s, from what I could gather from her resume – had her mother hand-deliver a paper copy of her resume to the company’s office. We knew this because Mom actually announced that she was dropping off her daughter’s resume in response to our recent job posting.

I know.

We could talk about helicopter parenting here. We could talk about how, even if Mom does happen to work nearby, she should insist that her 20-something daughter deliver her own resume, simply to gain the feeling of self-sufficiency and a stake in her own job search. We could also discuss how, if the job posting specifies the manner in which applicants should submit their resume and cover letter, you should please follow those instructions.

On that last point, you may be thinking, but what if my resume gets lost in the recipient’s crowded email box? Fair point. The risk is not zero. But I think the bigger concern is this: What impression have you made by having your parent deliver your resume? To me, this suggests that you don’t want the job badly enough to make the effort yourself. That you’re not mature enough to understand that it’s time for your mom to stop running your errands. It says that maybe Mom really wants you to find a job more than you want to find one yourself.

The optics of all of those options make me wonder what kind of employee you’ll be.

It’s OK if you have a connection who works at the company deliver your resume, but it’s better to have that person forward it via email with a personal note of introduction. Nobody gets extra points anymore for printing on fancy bond paper – at least, not in most industries, as far as I know.

If you’d like to know more about why cover letters matter, or you have questions about the whole job process, please hit me up! Leave a comment on this post, or drop me a message and let’s talk.

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