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Cover letters

Joel, an interesting "hot topic" that I know has been discussed before.

It would be great to be able to write a good cover letter for a position I'm really interested in. However, this seems to be only possible if you find the position advertised directly and can do some research _before_ you send your resume in.

If you find a job via an agency, they seem to go out of their way to tell you as little as possible other than the basic requirements, which are usually wrong and misleading. I tend to find the agency only discloses the company name after they've received my resume, which is a bit late to do any sort of customised cover note.

Better Than Being Unemployed...
Monday, January 26, 2004

Although not as good as a custom cover letter, you could simply go with one comparing your own skills and experience with what you believe the important qualities for the job to be, based on the short job description you've got.

If you get an interview, you'll be able to verify if your guess was right, and either way you'll be able to discuss it with the prospective employer and try to convince him.

Renaud Martinon
Monday, January 26, 2004

Interesting point about the lack of need of an attached cover letter in the days of email.
Certainly in the case of FCS, sure. But what about all those places where the e-bit is tossed long before it reaches the reviewers desks, and only the attachements are printed out (spare me the "you don't want to work there")? Maybe if you are lucky the secretary also prints out the email, but why take that gamble?

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, January 26, 2004

I think you need to think in terms of two scenarios:
1) HR-type person (or in rare instances, actual hiring techie-type person) opens email and reads it. They're either looking for reasons to delete it or reasons to save it. Either way, they'd best be looking at your ten-second "hire me now" blurb. (cover letter as email body)

2) Bot receives mail, shoves body and/or attachment in big bit grinder, resume goes into factory. I think most of the time in these situations, they plan to ditch all cover letters, so oh well.

The *problem* in both scenarios with attaching a cover letter as an attachment is the potential that the wrong attachment gets saved or processed. That's why I would recommend against attaching the cover letter.

Philo

Philo
Monday, January 26, 2004

How about pasting the "cover letter" into the email body + attaching one document to the email, containing both, cover letter and resume?
Another topic: Most companies expect the resume in MS Word format. Do you think you might have any chance if you send it as a PDF (given they didn't spell out "MS Word", I know that in this case you should just adhere to what they asked for)?

Stephan
Monday, January 26, 2004

One place I applied to *specifically* asked for resumes in PDF format, which I thought was odd because I always thought of PDF as being somewhat of a specialty format requiring either the expensive Acrobat Writer, or some somewhat obscure tools.

I would say, when in doubt do the typical thing (MS Word) and back it up with either plaintext or HTML "just in case."

WordPad or whatever they're calling it nowadays should open a .doc just fine.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, January 26, 2004

Dear Mark,
                  There are plenty of tools that will produce .pdf's for free. Presumably the company was worried about macro viruses. .rtf is the standard. The one thing to avoid is MSWorks - it produces files with a .wpd extension that MS Word can't read!

Stephen Jones
Monday, January 26, 2004

Generally, when you apply for a job via an agency, there's no cover letter involved.  When we fill jobs through an agency, the process look like this:

1.  We call our contact at the agency with the job description.
2.  Contact at agency provides us with a few dozen resumes (just resumes) that, in their opinion, match the job description,
3.  We sift through the resumes and pick maybe 5-10% to call for an interview.

The cover letter is really only applicable if you're contacting a company directly.

Tim Lesher
Monday, January 26, 2004

A few months ago I applied for a job directly. It was something I was really interested in and the cover note reflected that. It explained why I liked the business, what I could contribute and some suggestions for the way forward.

I got offered an interview but the position was then canned the next day due to a budget clampdown. :-(

Better Than Being Unemployed...
Monday, January 26, 2004

It seems there are as many "correct" ways to write a cover letter as there are companies offering employment opportunities.

Dave B.
Monday, January 26, 2004

I usually send resumes in rtf format unless the company requests a specific format.

There are so many flavors of the Word format that you can easily get into trouble with it. 

And of course there is always the chance that the reader is a Mac Zealot.

Jim Howard
Monday, January 26, 2004

I tried sending resumes in pdf for a while. I got a large number of replies saying they couldn't read the resume, could I send in Word?

I would expect the same type of response if I used rtf.

I have never had a complaint sending in Word format. I'll have to check, but I'm pretty sure the default format since Word 97 can be read by all versions of Word since 97.

Word isn't a PC-only thing; Word is available for the Mac too. ;-)

Basically I think while there are formats you can send that geeks would approve of/be impressed by, there are so many companies where the resume is screened by a non-tech that sending in anything but ASCII or Word is risky.

Philo

Philo
Monday, January 26, 2004

The difference is that Word can't read PDFs.  If a stupid HR monkey (not that all of them are stupid), gets an RTF, they'll never realize it's not a .DOC.  It'll have the little MS Word icon on it, they'll double-click on it, and all will be fine.

Richard P
Monday, January 26, 2004

As Richard says a .rtf icon will look just like a .doc icon.

Some sysadmins have been known to block .docs sent as attachments.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

I've been the hiring manager before, and I can tell you that when I worked for companies with an HR group that got to the resumés first, we never saw the cover letters, since they were stripped out of the stream before they got to the engineering department.  When I worked for a smaller company without the HR assistance, a cover letter was just another excuse to toss the resumé if it had problems such as the ones Joel describes. Some of the cover letters were hilariously bad. On the other hand, I'd always consider a resumé that came in without a cover letter. Likewise, 9"x12" envelopes and fancy laid bond paper didn't make a difference, since the original resumé would be photocopied or scanned and then filed away, and all us interviewers would ever see was what came out of the copier or printer. When email became the standard for applicants, an MS Word attachment with the resumé, on a short, polite, and grammatically correct note indicating the position applied for, was exactly what I wanted. "Dear Mr. So-and-so (or Sirs, or Attn: Hiring Manager), Please consider me for your [whatever] position, as recently advertised [in the newspaper, on your website, on a passing bus]. Attached please find my resumé in Microsoft Word format. Thanks for your kind attention, Joe Applicant [list of several contact methods]" was perfect.

Others may disagree.

Colin R.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

My resume always goes (or, rather, went) as a Word '97 document.

In the cover email, was the statement "I've enclosed my resume as an MS-Word document, please let me know if you'd like a different format."  Never received any requests for a different format.

I looked at several 'resume processing' packages for a previous company (before they started laying off rather then hiring), and all of the software would easily import Word docs.

RocketJeff
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Oh, and to be a bit more on topic, my email 'cover letter' followed a simple format:

Paragraph 1: Statement about where I found out about the job

Para 2: *brief* points about why I fit the poition listed and/or why I wanted to work for that specific company

Para 3: My 'word doc' statement (see my message above this one) and my contact information. The contact info was on the resume - but it's repeated here for ease of locating it.

RocketJeff
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

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