Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Yet another cover letter tutorial

I can't take it.  The cover letters are killing me.  I am compelled to blog!

http://www.antisleep.com/archives/2004-05-25_0251.php

gse
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

OK, but do cover letters serve any real purpose for you besides giving you a way to weed out resume spammers?

Seems like nearly all you talked about is what you _don't_ want to see.

Kyralessa
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Put your money where your mouth is - let's see your company's website.

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

That is how I write all of my cover letters.  I simply look at the company website, look at the ad then in the cover letter I state my relevant experience with the skills the ad lists and some other stuff about what interests me in the company.

It seems to have made no difference though because I still can't find a software engineer job.

Anon
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

"OK, but do cover letters serve any real purpose for you besides giving you a way to weed out resume spammers?"

Even if they didn't, that would be a good start. :)

And sure, a cover letter *can* be more than that -- if someone says "I'm extremely interested in HCI and what I can bring to your company's user interfaces", that's an internal discussion about that person's fit, that's a jump-off point for an interview, etc.

gse
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Dear Sir,

Your job doesn't particularly interest me and I've never actually yearned to work for your organisation, indeed before seeing your job advertised I'd never even heard of you.

However, I have the skills which match your particular job requirement and the necessary experience in utilising those skills that means you would not need to invest in training or even any interest in myself other than in doing the job.

I can't imagine that this job will be a shining beacon on my career path but then I can't either see that you'd want an employee that would flit off to some other job inside six months when they discovered it was pretty much a dead end.

In short if you are willing to pay at the rate which is commensurate with my experience and skills then I am willing to work for your company.

PS  Company picnics and share options are not required.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, May 25, 2004


Here's what I did recently (November).

First, I decided on a handful of the types of job descriptions that I was looking for.  (I think I had 5.)

Then, I drafted some form 2nd and 3rd paragraphs that described my project experience that applied to that job description.  (I had probably 6 of each.)

Then, for EACH AND EVERY job, I crafted a highly specific personalized paragraph that covered some details on the job description, the company, etc.

I used these as my basis for mixing and matching and tweaking for specific positions.

After 14 days and about 100 emails....

8 phone interviews, 3 in person interviews, 3 short-term contract offers, and 2 permenant job offers.  I ended up taking one of the permenant positions, but since it started 4 weeks later, I took one of the short-term contract offers.

You need to make the person/recruiter/manager feel like you're a real person with skills and experiences that directly relate to their position.

KC
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

If you're even somewhat sane, you're already in the 99th percentile of todays' resume submitters... I fully agree with the OP.

Just the other week I read a cover letter that mentioned (within a 10-line spewing of buzzwords), "expert in PDP-8, CP/M, 6502 assembler."

I mean, do these people type this and think "wow, I can't wait to get that job?" How do these people function in normal society? Do some people just operate on completely different wavelengths?!

Ron
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

And... you can be as businesslike, realistic, relating-to-current-needs, and empathetic in your cover letter as can be... 

And be utterly, totally, completely ignored, disregarded, and deemed an inadequate miserable failure.

People who write "how to write a cover letter" articles disregard the esential whimsy, randomness, and faceless cruelty of the job search process. Often, a real idiot who doesn't care about the person, only narrow line item current skills, is reviewing your cover letter and resume.

Acceptance for interviews for jobs is a mostly random thing and depends upon the biases and personality of the HR person or manager who is reviewing your stuff.

Yes, don't be a stupid dumbassed propellorheaded wankoff and namedrop obsolete 8-bit processor families in your cover letter. People like that need to be bitch slapped into the 21st century. It requires a special form of profound mental retardation to think that anyone in 2004 cares about (or knows about) CP/M (except in highly unique situations.)

But by the same token, don't expect to be completely accessible, market sensitive, and interested in the job du jour, and expect that you will necessarily get anywhere with any particular job application, either.

Sic: My bitterest disappointments in the job hunt have been in studiously reviewing the hiring party's line of business, ads, and/or web site, only to find that they absolutely, utterly did not care and had 200 hungry people lined up before me....

Prepare and make an earnest effort to present yourself well, but don't but a lot of stock in the hiring party's rationality.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, May 26, 2004

don't but --> don't put

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Incidentally, how do all the "I would never work for a boss who..." types feel about these cover letter rants?

After all, the OP is saying that he cares more about your ability to schmooze, stroke his ego, and write flowery prose than about your skills and experience.

He cares more that you like him and want to work for his company than your ability to do the job.

He's also saying he needs a roadmap to help read your resume.

Do you want to work for someone like that?

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Oh, come on.  It's easy to take potshots like that, but you're off base.  I'm a developer.  Yeah, I'm a "manager" but I still write code regularly.  I'm looking for good programmers, not ass-kissers.  I'm also preferably looking for people that have an interest in what we do.  In my experience, that can make a big difference in your "ability to do the job".

It's always chafed me that lots of companies print job ads that read like this: ".NET programmer needed.  Required skills: 5 years C++, 3 years Oracle, experience with web services and embedded systems, etc etc."  But they never say THIS IS WHAT WE ACTUALLY DO HERE.  That's the part *I* care about: I want to Create Something Interesting.  I don't much care what technology I'm using.

And generic cover letters are the companion piece to those  soulless job ads.  "It doesn't matter what you do, just what tools you're using to do it".  No thanks.


"After all, the OP is saying that he cares more about your ability to schmooze, stroke his ego, and write flowery prose than about your skills and experience."

If that's what I said, it's not what I meant.  I'm saying that my experience, based on reading hundreds (thousands?) of cover letters, is that some really jump out.  And that one's chances of getting an interview probably increase quite a bit if one writes one of those cover letters.  You don't have to like it, you can ignore it, you can say "well I don't want to work for you if that's the case".  That's fine. 

And if you're a hot-shit superstar whose resume speaks for itself, obviously you don't need to worry about any of this.  That's cool too.

But every time *I* apply for a new programming job, I do everything that I listed.  It's never something I do conciously; whenever I can, I apply to places that I'm excited about.  So maybe the takeaway should be "when you can, apply to places you actually want to work, and let that enthusiasm show". 

gse
Wednesday, May 26, 2004

I, on the other hand, just throw out cover letters without reading them.

If an applicant cannot write a concise but literate overview of their experience and abilities in the form of a resume then what more could a brown nosing cover letter add.

For an entry level position at a small company I might encourage applicants to send cover letters since their resumes wouldn't be very extensive and I would be looking for something less definable anyway. But for the more senior positions in which I have been involved cover letters are, on the whole, pretty useless.

Eudoxus
Wednesday, May 26, 2004

gse, I apologize- you're catching some built-up angst from previous managers who have insisted that a resume without a cover letter, or a cover letter that isn't tailored specifically to their company, will be routed directly to the trash. I read that into your post, and I'm sorry - you're pretty cool on it.

Of course, I think Eudoxus really hits the nail on the head.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, May 26, 2004

"Of course, I think Eudoxus really hits the nail on the head. "

Go figure -- I like that approach too. :)  But you know, the type of person who writes a non-sucky cover letter will probably also write a good resume. 

(I almost called it a "punchy" resume.  Zoiks.)

gse
Wednesday, May 26, 2004

I've been reading resumes lately for an opening at my company and there was one cover letter that jumped out at me -- in spite of not having the experience we were looking for, the guy almost made it into the call-back pile just because of a good cover letter.  It wasn't that the cover letter was kiss-ass, just that he had clearly read the job posting and was clearly interested enough to write a cover letter which addressed his relevant skills and minimized his weaknesses.

That shouldn't be enough to get a callback (and wasn't), but it sure made this guy stand out from the pile of un-proofread crap and resume spam.

Boofus McGoofus
Wednesday, May 26, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home