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Cover letters

The only nit-pick I would make to Joel's cover letter post is that many mid to large sized companies are using systems to scan resumes and cover letters in and parsing them to find desired keywords.  It is increasingly rare that your resume or coverletter is initially evaluated by an actual person.

Of course, assuming your resume makes it past that initial gauntlet, having it interesting and focused is only going to help you.

Rob
Monday, June 16, 2003

The counter-argument I'd make to cover letters being in an identical standard format, is that most websites for companies offering jobs don't particularly go out of their way to describe how great it is to work for them, or indeed anything at all about their development environment. Fog Creek being a notable exception.

And if you're trying to get a job through an agency, half the time they don't want to tell you the name of the company (for fear you'll contact them directly and undercut them?) which makes researching the company to do a personalised cover note somewhat tricky...

Better Than Being Unemployed...
Monday, June 16, 2003

Question is if you would want to work at a place where the cover letters and resumes are not read but scanned for key words? This seems kindof retarded.

I tend to think its valuable to have a short and sweet cover letter; not over one page in length, and it should ofcourse be well written and free of typos.

I took part in hiring (Im considered a senior guy by some) and poorly written cover letters and resumes distrubs me greatly. I've even seen cover letters with the "correct buzz words" but the wrong company name on them. A total no-hire situation, correct buzz-words or not.

Patrik
Monday, June 16, 2003

I *really* don't get your passion about cover letters. Sure, having one makes a resume more attractive, but try to think from the other side. Someone is looking for a new job (this is a typical situation, not "someone is having a job but sees this FogCreek ad and decides to try") so he has a list of available vacations in his area (from the news paper, agency, networking). He sees that half of them fit his experience and might fit him as well. So what ? Do you expect him to make 10 different cover letters and lie in each of them "I picked *your* company to apply because I like it *so* much?"

Bullshit, when I was looking for a job I wasn't desperate (despite what Joel might say) and yes, I've sent my resume to all the places without changing it in any way. And got responses, interviews and offers, the way it usually happens.

Yes, I understand that if someone really likes a company X and really wants to work there - adding this to resume definitely helps and makes a better impression. But expecting from hundreds of candidates to like your company in some special way - excuse me.

Only those thinking they're elite might do this. Right, many people think Fog Creek is the place and Joel is right. Ok, but why expecting in other companies to see "I like you" cover letters ? Do we have so mane elite places ?

May be it's just a matter of place - I don't think cover letters play an important role here, in Israel.
At least, never heard of them except from Canadian and USA resources.

Evgeny Goldin
Monday, June 16, 2003

"poorly written cover letters and resumes distrubs me greatly"

What is a poorly written cover letter?  Give me an example.  All this stuff is subject to the opinion of the those involved in hiring.

Shift Left Operator
Monday, June 16, 2003

Btw, by saying "cover letter" I mean "I like you" cover letter, not a general one, with usual candidate information

Evgeny Goldin
Monday, June 16, 2003

Shift Left,

Poorly in my book includes among other things,

Spelling errors

Grammatical errors

Mixed fonts in letters and uncalled for bolds and italics, ie.
letters that look like a leaflet from a pizza takeout place.

Fact errors. Wrong name of company where you are applying for a job. I've seen this.

These misstakes can be easily avoided if you just put in some extra time, and if you avoid these misstakes its a tell you put in some time writing your letter/resume.

Patrik
Monday, June 16, 2003

For the record, Im not a professional HR dude. Im a software guy that was asked to sit in on interviews and evaluate resumes.

Patrik
Monday, June 16, 2003

I've had cover letters for jobs in Saudi Arabia that tell me how much the applicant loves Chnese Culture; a bit far to commute methinks.

A cover letter forms part of tailoring your resume to fit the job. You will not find that half the jobs you see advertised are identical, unless you're applying for WalMart or MacDonalds.You want a brief introduction that highlights the parts of your CV that fit the job.

And have three or four CV templates ready so that you can tune each for the particular job you want.

The matter was covered in detail here just over a month ago. There was in fact considerable agreement among those of us who recruit about how to set about the cover letter and resume.. If you want to ignore it fair enough, but recruiters are not overenamored of applicants who haven't read the job ad properly.

Stephen Jones
Monday, June 16, 2003

Evgeny,

>I *really* don't get your passion about cover letters.

Im not passionate about them, leave them out if you wish. What Im saying is important is that it is free of errors.

>I picked *your* company to apply because I like it *so*

I personally hate sucking up; People should think for themselves and make up their own minds. However a well written "I love the company" letter wins over a poorly written any day :-)

Patrik
Monday, June 16, 2003

[[ You will not find that half the jobs you see advertised are identical ]]

Sorry, that's hard to believe. Those I saw (and was interested in) are identical saying "Java/J2EE developer with N year experience in X, Y,Z". Most of the time, that's all. And none of them were MacDonalds. Of course, I can go and see the comapny's site but usually this adds no more to the job description.

Evgeny Goldin
Monday, June 16, 2003

[[ Im saying is important is that it is free of errors ]]

Oh yes ! I also hate inaccurate resumes so we have a full understanding in this point :)

Evgeny Goldin
Monday, June 16, 2003

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for pointing out the obvious errors that occur in cover letters.  Let me rephrase my request.  Write a bad cover letter.  I'm not talking about one with blatant errors, and foolish mistakes, I'm talking about a bad cover letter.  If you can't, then there is no such thing as a bad cover letter.  There is only the opinion of the reader.  Period.  That doesn't make the cover letter good or bad.  It means that someone is judging someone else.  What gives them that right?  The simple fact that they are looking to hire you.  Does it mean they're right.  No.  Is Joel right about his cover letter preference.  No.  He's using the influence he's built up by writing articles and creating noise to send a message about the way he wants things done.  Good for him.  So if he wants things done in a certain way, then he needs to make it known.  This should be obvious to all employers.  Why are these people not sending me cover letters the way >I< want them to be written.  Hello! It's because you didn't tell them how you wanted it done.  The employer might say, I thought all this was standard.  Wake Up!  It's not standard.  If you want a cover letter that reads as though the applicants are sucking up to you then put that in your advertisement for the job.  Otherwise just accept the damn things the way you get 'em.

Shift Left Operator
Monday, June 16, 2003

Agree.

Evgeny Goldin
Monday, June 16, 2003

Shift Left,

Point taken.

Patrik
Monday, June 16, 2003

Joel's just applying his own personal "Whack a Mole" to sift through all the resumes he gets. He doesn't want to have to weigh 100+ resumes against each other, so he's developed "punch list"  criteria to disqualify applicants, regardless of their credentials or suitability to the position.

I continue to maintain that this demand for personalized cover letters is a need for ego-stroking - the need to feel like the applicant is personally asking you for a job because they like you, as opposed to the abhorrent possibility that an applicant is looking for a way to pay their bills.

Philo

Philo
Monday, June 16, 2003

Shift Left,

Maybe my choice of words was bad. As long as the letter is free of blatant errors, its cool. You can have your own writing style and do things your way.

Patrik
Monday, June 16, 2003

[[ applicant is looking for a way to pay their bills ]]

So, don't you think that this what happens in 99.9% of cases ? People, for some reason you expect candidates to feel some kind of special about your place. Usually, it's not. Common, get real .. Most of the places are just another software shops. Expecting people to treate them differently and especially. Makes me laugh.

Evgeny Goldin
Monday, June 16, 2003

Btw, I don't think that those expecting "cover letter" will start treating their candidates in any special way. Be honest, why expecting it from applicants ? Just because you're in a position of "strong" and "giving" and they're "weak" ("desperate" in Joel's language) and "taking" ?

Evgeny Goldin
Monday, June 16, 2003

The thing is, I know if I really wanted to target a job and get it with all probability, I'd target the fucker.  I'd say that my skills are an interesting match, and I assume you do X so I'd do Y...  Because I know that other people aren't doing that.  And I could look like a fool if I misunderstand their job, but there's only so much you can get wrong in a few sentences, and as long as I'm just ignorant instead of stupid, they'll look favorably on it.

The reason I'd be happy receiving such a cover letter (it's not just that I want someone like me) is because that's the sorta thing you want people to do -- target thoughtfully.  Especially when you don't want to put too much weight on grades or other possibly irrelevant things.

At some point, you'll have to pick some comparator function to choose 1 person out of 100.  Random is the ultimate fair decider, but you'll probably end up leaving such a random company.

sammy
Monday, June 16, 2003

So what if I send a cover letter with my own handwriting? It's more personal so I'll have a better chance?

DandyDude
Monday, June 16, 2003

I agree to a certain extent Evgeny.

If the employer says they're looking for someone with skills x,y,z, I'll say what I've done with x,y,z in my cover letter.

But I ain't gonna kiss arse about a workplace that I've never even stepped foot in.  The info you get from the corporate website is usually worthless crap. 

Fogcreek would be different because Joel writes freely about his company. 


Monday, June 16, 2003

Philo wrote: "I continue to maintain that this demand for personalized cover letters is a need for ego-stroking"

This from the guy who started a whiny thread about "ungrateful users"?

Apparently those who need ego-stroking are least likely to reciprocate...


Monday, June 16, 2003

Good call!

I think my problem with those who ask for "targeted cover letters" is what I perceive as hypocrisy - Joel and others on here seem to imply there is some greater good served by writing a targeted cover letter - that putting in the letter that I'm aware they are a Microsoft shop and are working on web publishing software (with bug fixing software to pay the bills) will indicate that I am a better candidate for the job than Bill Gates, who's just looking for a way to cover his next mortgage payment.

Why not just come out and say "I prefer candidates who like me and want to work for my company because it's so great. It makes me feel good, and if they really love the company that much, they'll probably put up with more abuse than someone who's just trying to make ends meet."?

I can understand needing guidance when a Java guy applies for the job - he *should* explain why he thinks he can help out Fog Creek ("Even though all my work has been in Java, I have several personal shareware projects I've written in C#. I feel the two languages are close enough to make my Java COTS experience worthwhile for you, and my C# applications are available for review..."); but if you need an n-tier C++/C# guy and an n-tier C++/C# guy applies, WTF does he need to explain why he's applying? ("You want to turn code into money. I'm your code Rumpelstilskin")

As for my "ungrateful users", I apologize if I didn't make this clear, but the reason I posted that was because I was annoyed that the users didn't recognize that a person did the work they're enjoying and see fit to give me a little "hey, nice work - thank you" to stroke my ego. It was never intended to be anything but a complete and utter crushed ego whinefest. So there. :-P

Philo

Philo
Monday, June 16, 2003

Philo wrote, "Joel and others on here seem to imply that putting in the letter that I'm aware they are a Microsoft shop and are working on web publishing software (with bug fixing software to pay the bills) will indicate that I am a better candidate for the job than Bill Gates, who's just looking for a way to cover his next mortgage payment."

Firstly, the cover letter is the first thing a person sees, *before* finding out if the applicant is the equivalent of Bill Gates.  If Patrik sent me a cover letter that talked specifically about my company and what interested him about it, I would definitely give him preference over a cut-and-paste cover letter, whoever sent it.

Secondly, the cover letter is not the only filter people use to decide whether to hire somebody.  Joel's few paragraphs about cover letters address making cover letters that *stand out*.

The point is, a personalized cover letter has a better chance of being noticed than a non-personalized cover letter.

Brent P. Newhall
Monday, June 16, 2003

A ex-coworker of mine sent a broadcast of 400 resumes, fruitlessly; he since found contract with a company that knew of him because he'd previously been the developer who supported them when they were a client.

I'm finding few advertisements in Canada that match my experience (15 years experience as lead developer, mostly with NT and C++). On the best days I find as many as four companies who are asking for someone like me; on other days I find none. Given that I can't send many cover letters + resumes, I take the time to see what the company is looking for and what their product is, and to be explicit about how my previous experiences match what they are asking for.

Christopher Wells
Monday, June 16, 2003

Also keep in mind that interviewing candidates is a somewhat expensive operation, especially if none of those you interview fit your requirements and you have to start over.  If your starting set of candidates has already expressed interest in your company, you have a leg up because there is a better chance that any offer you make will be accepted.

I can understand Joel's desire for more personalized cover letters, and I think it makes good sense especially for a small company like Fog Creek.  As with all other practices though, it depends on context.  A large company looking to fill a job posting from monster.com would probably not want to be as picky

Mike McNertney
Monday, June 16, 2003

btw, it's not just that I'd do a cover letter to "win."  Also it's because spending half your waking hours with people is a really big thing that people don't give credit to.  It can be so incredibly bad if you don't think about who you want in your community, these people you interact with closely.

If you look at certain undergrad programs, like Princeton's (as I understand), they don't admit people based on "excellence" measured by scores and grades.  They're looking for a more cosmopolitan group.  This leads to a lot of confusion if you don't get what they're doing.

sammy
Monday, June 16, 2003

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