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September 11, 2013 8:50 AM   Subscribe

The history of the most baffling element of the employment dance - The Cover Letter. (The Atlantic)
posted by The Whelk (132 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite

 
An article that is as lame as the concept that it reviews as essentially lame.

(hate hate hate the nasty cover letter thing)
posted by sammyo at 9:00 AM on September 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's interesting to see how Google has made document research and word or phrase frequency charting easier, and in turn made pieces such as this a lot less valuable. Google news archive search + Google Ngram + a few facts about employment trends + interesting historical anecdote + 1,000 words = article.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:07 AM on September 11, 2013


Oh jesus fuck. Don't get me started on cover letters.

Judging on my callbacks, my cover letters suck; a friend-of-the-family Engineering VP offered to help me spiff mine up and send me a couple "good" examples. They were filled with so much utterly useless blather -- no fleshing out of the resume, mush-mouthed meaningless managementspeak, mindless puffery poorly disguising desperation -- that I threw my hands up in despair. These are the *good* ones?

Whatever happened to that Mefafilter thing where people could submit resumes and coverletters for editing?
posted by notsnot at 9:08 AM on September 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Judging on my callbacks, my cover letters suck; a friend-of-the-family Engineering VP offered to help me spiff mine up and send me a couple "good" examples. They were filled with so much utterly useless blather -- no fleshing out of the resume, mush-mouthed meaningless managementspeak, mindless puffery poorly disguising desperation -- that I threw my hands up in despair. These are the *good* ones?

Whatever happened to that Mefafilter thing where people could submit resumes and coverletters for editing?


I think you're looking for a Resume Ipsum generator, in the style of the Dating Profile Ipsum and so many others.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:10 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


i have never seen one that was not awkward and horrible. The entire concept fills me with existential darkness. WHY ARE THEY EVEN A THING. Seriously some kind of ritual scarification as a job interview process would be less painful.
posted by elizardbits at 9:14 AM on September 11, 2013 [35 favorites]


Some social media companies now require tweets as proof of competency, not long-form writing.

This shall be the downfall of modern civilization.
posted by elizardbits at 9:15 AM on September 11, 2013 [15 favorites]


Yeah, the history in the article is mildly interesting but the real meat is just crappy generalizations "many companies are rethinking their stance on cover letters!". But cover letters are such a stupid concept it's fun to bitch about.

I had the same experience as notsnot, when looking at all the examples for "good" cover letters, I was appalled at all the ridiculous blather that counted as a good cover letter. Are HR people actually turned on by obvious bullshit about being a self-starter, detail-oriented, etc., etc.? It's such conclusory language, it proves nothing. Except that you're willing to engage in the bizarre ritualistic behavior of the cover letter, which I guess has some predictive value for you as an employee.
posted by skewed at 9:15 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've always found cover letters a reasonable part of the job application process, but at the same time, I have only ever applied for writing jobs.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:16 AM on September 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


WHY ARE THEY EVEN A THING.

Part of getting employed is showing you know the rituals. Being able to write a cover letter that's blandly inoffensive, interesting but not too personal is part of the ritual showing you speak the local language and understand how to be blandly inoffensive, interesting but not too personal, so you are therefore worthy of corporate consideration.

It's the same reason you do things like talk about how you work too hard as your flaw (well, that's falling out of favor) and find ways to inquire about work-life balance without actually asking because then they might think you don't ACTUALLY want to work all the time. It's showing you know the steps of the dance.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:20 AM on September 11, 2013 [17 favorites]


it proves nothing. Except that you're willing to engage in the bizarre ritualistic behavior of the cover letter, which I guess has some predictive value for you as an employee.

We're looking for the kind of person who can unquestioningly perform absurd, pointless rituals and mouth back the same empty nonsense everyone else repeats ad nauseam so we can continue our Kabuki performance of productivity where in we pretend to work and you pretend you need us to work so we can continue the hollow lie that our positions are anything more than busy work aping some long-distant idea of factory life.
posted by The Whelk at 9:20 AM on September 11, 2013 [85 favorites]


Some social media companies now require tweets as proof of competency, not long-form writing.

- This shall be the downfall of modern civilization.


Social media companies, or requiring tweets? I think the existence of the former was a bad sign, before they required the latter.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:22 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


In one of the cover letters I was given, the applicant offered to work for a month, for free, to show what a go-getter he is. Wouldn't that be a turn off - one, desperate and two, proof that he's a turd because his work is what he's willing to charge?
posted by notsnot at 9:22 AM on September 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


It would be an enormous plus because it shows the hiring company that they will be able to abuse the worker financially (unpaid overtime, etc) in the name of "valuable work experience".
posted by elizardbits at 9:23 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Pro tip: never work for a company that lets you work for free, no matter what you offer in your cover letter.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:27 AM on September 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


What I meant was - maybe that was some reverse mind fuck. If they take you up on that offer in your phone interview, just "Thanks for your time. Good-bye." *click*
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:28 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Luckily, for all but the higher management positions, many companies are using web-based job application systems, which eliminate the traditional cover letter altogether. Hell, many of those systems barely allow inclusion of a traditional CV/resume.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:29 AM on September 11, 2013


Hell, many of those systems barely allow inclusion of a traditional CV/resume.

Ugh, those can be annoying too. I already did all this crap for my stupid resume, now I have to re-enter it all into their specific format? Bleh.
posted by kmz at 9:30 AM on September 11, 2013 [17 favorites]


Gisa job
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:31 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I want upper management hiring policy to be identical to the automated phone questionnaire I had to take to stock shelves at CVS


"Is stealing wrong? Press 1 for yes and 2 for no."
posted by The Whelk at 9:31 AM on September 11, 2013 [36 favorites]


Some social media companies now require tweets as proof of competency

I'LL SHOW YOU THE LIFE OF THE MIND LOOK UPON ME
posted by octobersurprise at 9:32 AM on September 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


Sorry, but why are cover letters dumb? When I was first starting out in the job market, I had only my university degree on my resume. I had to rely on cover letters to explain why I'm interested in each company and why I'm qualified for the job. I didn't use any templates (though I reused some of my own sentences from letter to letter) and I wrote from the heart. This got me several interviews and ultimately a pretty great job. (My boss specifically said that my cover letter caught his eye.)

Caveat: I am a software developer in the Silicon Valley, and I was mostly applying to startups. YMMV.
posted by archagon at 9:33 AM on September 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


"Please hire me i need money to buy food and a job to get money i don't want to starve"
posted by The Whelk at 9:33 AM on September 11, 2013 [39 favorites]


I mean I would just link them to probirdsrights or the carrot facts one and wait for the corporate offers to pour in.
posted by elizardbits at 9:33 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cover letters are definitely anachronistic, but I still like what they represent even though they don't deliver. Communication ability often trumps other talents so sniffing out whether someone can write a competent self introduction makes sense on the surface, except that it has become a formula. Books containing many sample cover letters are published, so the shark has been jumped a long time ago.

Since the purpose is to sniff out someone's communication ability it seems like we should be switching away from the cover letter instead toward the thank you note. Part of the hiring process should involve requesting a follow up letter summarizing the interview discussion along with a succinct case for why the candidate should be hired.

That sounds useful and I would much rather do this than to craft some letter that trumpets my talent and interest to a party I have not yet even met. A cover letter is by definition insincere given the norms surrounding it.
posted by dgran at 9:35 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I guess they're at least a screen to show that the applicant knows the name of the company and the position that they are applying for. I've definitely failed that test before (doh).
posted by ghharr at 9:37 AM on September 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I got an interview once (for a job I wanted but would probably have been out of my depth in) by submitting a cover letter which (humorously, if I do say so myself) stated that while I was somewhat under-qualified and lacked experience, the odds were most of the other applicants were probably lying, so why not give the honest guy a shot? I didn't get the job, but the interview was a hoot. Maybe the HR person just wanted a larf.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:42 AM on September 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


I actually didn't get a job because I refused to write a cover letter. My résumé had been passed to them by a "friend" who worked there and they called me in for a pre-interview interview--The interview equivalent of the cover letter in which I was informally asked questions that would presumable be asked formally at a future time. My "friend" let me know that I should submit a cover letter, now covering nothing since they had my information already and I said that they'd have to take me as I was. They didn't.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:43 AM on September 11, 2013


archagon: Sorry, but why are cover letters dumb?

The annoyance at them is broad, as is this article. Sometimes, as you pointed out, you have experiences and knowledge that can't be fit into a usual resume. But many times, it's just another thing to check off on a list of required items to provide, and digital cover letters might even get pre-filtered by a computer program that is looking for certain words or phrases.

But if you get a real person reading the cover letters, it could be your chance to stand out and really sell yourself, explaining you live in the area or will be moving to be close to family, things that often earn bonus points for applications. Or you can tell them you're a lion tamer and a wrestler of sharks, who won't take NO for an answer, unless the question is "will you work for free?"
posted by filthy light thief at 9:45 AM on September 11, 2013


I have a phone interview in one hour and 15 minutes. It is for a (really good) job, the posting for which requested submission of a CV and cover letter. I was hung over and in a bad mood the day I applied so I just sent an email saying something to the effect of "please see my attached resume."
posted by gagglezoomer at 9:45 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wait, what the hell is wrong with cover letters? I honestly had no idea this was a thing. A dry list of jobs you've had and tasks you've performed doesn't actually give a good idea of what kind of worker you are, or why you'd be good for the particular job you're applying for.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:46 AM on September 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Dear [HIRING MANAGER],

I am contacting you regarding [POSITION] in [COMPANY NAME]. Specifically, I am interested in the position based on your excellent track record in [RELEVANT FIELD], including [EXAMPLE FROM NEWSPAPER] and [EXAMPLE FROM MAGAZINE].

My skills and experience in [SUMMARIZE RESUME] would make me an excellent addition to the [DEPARTMENT] team and help [COMPANY NAME] further their goals in [INDUSTRY]. I would appreciate an opportunity to speak with you in person, and discuss how [COMPANY NAME] and I would be a great match.

Sincerely,
[GUY THAT FORGOT TO REPLACE FIELDS WITH ACTUAL INFORMATION]
posted by griphus at 9:46 AM on September 11, 2013 [169 favorites]


Due to a combination of poor job choices and bad luck I've had to look for a job way too often of the last 10 years. In my experience the best cover letter, and by letter I mean email, is only 4 or 5 sentences. Tell them which job you are applying for, and give them the one or two key reasons why they should interview you.

That's it. Any more and nobody is going to read it anyway.
posted by COD at 9:46 AM on September 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


cover letter's made sense before the telephone was invented, or for writing jobs.
posted by garlic at 9:54 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the argument I've always heard (and unfortunately had to buy into to get each job I've had) is that the resume is broad, the cover letter is narrow. Here's a bulleted list of what I've done, now let me tell you how I can leverage that for you.

That said, they are utterly formulaic and dry as hell. And no one wants to change it because, in this context, the squeaky wheel (the applicant that submits a non-traditional application package, and thus the weirdo) does NOT get the grease.

I once helped review resumes for a graphic artist supporting state/local government consultants. Someone sent a packet with a homemade dog biscuit she made as a hobby/side gig. I thought it showed creativity and a different way of thinking about standard things. My supervisor disagreed and binned it because it wasn't the way things were done and showed she wasn't serious.

Until we break free of da Vinci's precedent, we'll continue to pick from the best of a bunch of milquetoast candidates because everything else is "weird."
posted by OHSnap at 9:55 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am literally at the moment trying to assemble a cover letter for job applications today and you guys and your despair are not helping
posted by nicebookrack at 9:57 AM on September 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


I am writing this cover letter to inform you, possible employer, that I am a totally alive human being and nothing else. I experience time linearly, as we all do, and I both have and express thoughts, feelings, desires, and sensations. I merely wish to perform the tasks set before me, and not use this company to unearth the tomb of my ancient and deathless master, who does not exist.
posted by The Whelk at 9:58 AM on September 11, 2013 [80 favorites]


The best cover letter would be a 6-sec vine of you standing outside the offices in a trenchcoat holding a boombox.

trust me im a proffesional
posted by elizardbits at 9:59 AM on September 11, 2013 [39 favorites]


A photo of a shibe in a suit and tie

so business
wow professional
good doge good employee
yes sirs
posted by The Whelk at 10:00 AM on September 11, 2013 [28 favorites]


Elizardbits, I offered once in a cover letter to stand outside their office with a boombox

They did not find me quirky and personable enough to warrant a reply
posted by nicebookrack at 10:01 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


On today's cover letter: I am considering writing the whole thing in iambic pentameter, just to include "P.S. I wrote this in iambic pentameter so please hire me" after. Also I will list my dexterity at herding cats. Great idea, right? Right?
posted by nicebookrack at 10:05 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


They really should just make you go through an obstacle courseo f modern office duties, like making coffee correctly, having opinions about celebrities, tolerate the sound of someone eating like a minotaur, how to share Onion links, and stretching one hour of paperwork to five days.
posted by The Whelk at 10:06 AM on September 11, 2013 [30 favorites]


I had no idea that cover letters still existed; I haven't seen one since about 1998. I don't think that my company's application system accepts them or if they do, the recruiters just bit-bucket them before they reach us. I work in hiring people fairly often and I've only ever seen resumes.
posted by octothorpe at 10:07 AM on September 11, 2013


The Whelk: are you in my office, like, right now?
posted by OHSnap at 10:08 AM on September 11, 2013


When I hired people back when people hired people I loved cover letters. They were extremely useful for immediately weeding out the cranks and creepos from the cool weirdos with similarly diverse resumes. Otherwise you just end up picking the best resume and getting some bland Type A superhero and who wants that?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:09 AM on September 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


What is great is when an agent tells you a company is interested in you, you express interest and then suddenly they're all "oh and you need to include a cover letter" - I thought selling me to them was your job?

It beats the horrible online form where you basically retune your resume...

Oh, and do not cover everything in ponies.
posted by Artw at 10:09 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Probably only useful to the library/archives/information science crowd on Metafilter (actually, not a small contingent at all), but:

Open Cover Letters

Hasn't been updated much recently, but it gives solid (redacted) examples of only cover letters that actually worked, meaning that the candidates got hired for the positions. Covers a wide variety of positions.

I teach an LIS class, and I make sure they're aware of this site. While knowing how successful cover letters have worked in the past can't make up for resume gaps or lack of experience, it goes a long way toward showing that you can't get away with a form letter when you're competing against 200+ other candidates.
posted by Hadroed at 10:09 AM on September 11, 2013 [45 favorites]


Griphus - you may joke but I'll probably steal that next time.
posted by Artw at 10:10 AM on September 11, 2013


"I am an expert at the XKCD tech support method and am emailing you from my iPhone with a Dropbox link to my resume PDF, thus proving that I am well-equipped to tackle all computer problems you can throw my way!"*


*has actually included stuff to this effect in futile cover letters
posted by nicebookrack at 10:13 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


The last cover letter I wrote that got me a job was a list of my various internet handles for easier googling. I have had some weird jobs.

(Metafilter didn't require this, because they had every mundane detail of my life and opinions two clicks away.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:13 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Griphus - you may joke but I'll probably steal that next time.

That was my actual cover letter from my last job hunt, reproduced from memory. Except for the newspaper/magazine thing because I wasn't applying anywhere that had a media presence.
posted by griphus at 10:13 AM on September 11, 2013


I've actually got a cover letter up in the other window that I'm mercilessly flogging into something usable, so...I fully plan on using all of this information. Especially the [COVER LETTER] griphus so graciously provided.
posted by RainyJay at 10:14 AM on September 11, 2013


nobody is going to read it anyway

i have never seen one that was not awkward and horrible.

I have been involved in academic recruiting (dozen or so positions over four years) and corporate recruiting (last four years, major employer, hundreds of applications each year). I am a real person and I have read thousands of cover letters. It takes me a few seconds to scan a transcript, a few minutes with the c.v.. I read the cover letter carefully.

Most are, indeed, awkward and horrible. However, when I find one that shows me something that a transcript and a thin c.v. don't (this is campus recruiting, so the applicants have little or no relevant experience), I take that as a major plus. This can be something -- a project or an experience -- that has no place in a c.v., or simply evidence that the person is an intelligent being with personality. I'll push for interviewing or following up on someone with a nicely written, useful cover letter over straight A's on a transcript every time.

But then again, I'm not an HR person. I actually know what these people are going to be doing and what they need in order to be successful. More importantly, I'm going to work and collaborate with these people for years, so, you know, I try to push for hiring actual humans.
posted by bumpkin at 10:15 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


The last cover letter I wrote that got me a job was a list of my various internet handles for easier googling. I have had some weird jobs.

So glad I don't work in social media or anywhere where this would be legitimately required, and so running away fast anywhere else where anyone asks for that.
posted by Artw at 10:19 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I try to push for hiring actual humans.

Blatant anti-android bias.
posted by The Whelk at 10:19 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I applied for a job via LinkedIn and sent the recruiter a nice, juicy cover letter. Imagine my surprise when he called me the night before my interview and asked me to write "a little essay" that described my qualifications in-depth. I said, "you mean, like in my cover letter?" He then had to go find it and read it because...he doesn't usually read cover letters.

This is an HR recruiter for one of the largest commercial aviation companies in the world. But I'm sure that if there had not been a cover letter, read or un-read, I wouldn't have had an interview.

I will say this, it seems that only the HR people are reading the cover letters, the hiring managers and interviewing folks are only reading the resumes.

FWIW
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:24 AM on September 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's been surprisingly difficult to snag writing jobs with "Teresa Nielsen Hayden said nice things about my 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' fanfic on her blog once!"

It wasn't even porn "Buffy" fic so I don't see what the problem is here
posted by nicebookrack at 10:24 AM on September 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


I want upper management hiring policy to be identical to the automated phone questionnaire I had to take to stock shelves at CVS

"Is stealing wrong? Press 1 for yes and 2 for no."


"I'm sorry, you pressed an incorrect button. Your screening is now terminated. Thank you, and have a good day."
posted by filthy light thief at 10:28 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Always remember to lie about your hobbies and interests.
posted by Artw at 10:29 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


DEAR FUTURE EMPLOYER,

THE CRIES OF THE WIND AND THE MURMUR OF THE SEA AND THE WORDS WRITTEN OUT IN THE STARS OF THE NIGHT SKY SPEAK AS ONE THAT IT HAS ALWAYS AND EVER BEEN MY DESTINY TO MANAGE THE ACCOUNTS PAYABLE DEPARTMENT FOR YOUR GRAND ENTERPRISE. ACCEPT ME INTO YOUR CORPORATE BODY. FOR TOO LONG HAVE WE BEEN SEPARATE; LET US BECOME ONE, AS WE WERE ALWAYS FATED TO BE. LET ME SERVE AS PART OF YOU. ALL I HAVE EVER DESIRED IS THIS. EMPLOY ME. YOU MUST. YOU MUST. YOU MUST.

I WILL NOT ACCEPT YOUR REFUSAL.

REFERENCES AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST.

BOUND TO YOU FOREVER,
PBO



y'all can steal this if you want
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:31 AM on September 11, 2013 [121 favorites]


I've been applying for jobs for two years now. Just got one, by the way, and one that sounds like fun -- I'm basically a history detective, the only researcher at the Douglas County Historical Society's archives, which is both a huge break from 20 years of being a journalist and playwright and also something that I feel like I have been preparing to do for 20 years.

I'm very good at writing cover letters. Thanks to the marvelous Actor's Fund, I took a series of extremely well-designed courses in applying for work. They told me precisely what employers expect on a resume and a cover letter, and how to increase your chances of being hired. I tailor my cover letters to each and every job, identifying from my resume precisely how my skills fit the job I am applying for. I use key words from the job application, because they've said what they want, and I am saying back to them precisely what they want, which is me.

I have, in the past two years, gotten exactly three interviews as a result of sending in resumes and cover letters. And this third one, the one that hired me? I've been volunteering with the organization for a year, and that's what got me the job.

All the pantomime we go through in applying for a job? It presumes that people who are hiring have some sort of system they use, and, if we can crack that system, we can get an in. But the system that we have been taught is, for the most part, not the system that they use. A huge number of jobs that are on the market have, in fact, already been filled with friends or internally within the company, but because of federal law or company policy, they have everybody go through a dumbshow of applying and being rejected, just as a matter of form. At other jobs, they get 50 resumes within the first 10 minutes of posting the ad. They looks at a fraction and select a few that seem likely candidates, and hire whichever one of these the impulsively decided was best. Many companies are run by incompetent bosses and so hire people with no backbone and little experience, so having a resume that's too good, and a cover letter that's too well-done, works against you, because the last thing they want is somebody who is going to challenge them. And some hire out of pity -- it's not your skills or competence they want, but a sense they are rescuing you.

There are a billion entirely irrational reasons that people hire other people, and the greatest likelihood of getting hired is that you're already known and trusted. The best way to get a job is to find the company you want to work for and wage a year-long campaign to get involved with them, and then wait for your opportunity. It's the only thing that has ever worked for me. I mean, I've gotten jobs just through applying, but I wasn't really a good match, and the fact that I was hired sort of bewilders me, and I credit it to the fact that the people hiring didn't really know what they were looking for. My cover letter writing skills might have worked there, but I sort of wish they didn't.

It is, for the most part, the equivalent of rubbing a rabbit's foot before you pull the handle on a one-armed bandit. It's a superstitious ritual. Because whether or not you get hired through this process is a matter of pure luck, and nobody is comfortable with luck, so instead we create these ritual that make us feel like we're in control, like there is some proper arrangement of papers that will catch somebody's attention when they are in the process of clicking on your email and clicking the button to delete it.

I mean, I wish this world ran in a predictable way, and I wish my cover letter writing skills actually helped. I wish there was a system that made sense, and meant that people who did things well and mastered the form would get a leg up. But it's about as related to getting a job as selecting the dates of your children's birthdays is related to winning the lottery.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:32 AM on September 11, 2013 [35 favorites]


Always remember to lie about your hobbies and interests.

I definitely do not collect spores, molds or fungus.
posted by griphus at 10:32 AM on September 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


It's been surprisingly difficult to snag writing jobs with "Teresa Nielsen Hayden said nice things about my 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' fanfic on her blog once!"


*deletes cover letter on spec script, fumes in chair*
posted by The Whelk at 10:33 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Always remember to lie about your hobbies and interests.

Hobbies and interests:

Working hard for the money
So hard for it honey
Being treated right.
posted by The Whelk at 10:35 AM on September 11, 2013 [21 favorites]


Previous duties included:

-Taking care of business.
-Working overtime.
posted by griphus at 10:36 AM on September 11, 2013 [32 favorites]


I definitely do not collect spores, molds or fungus.

I have never even *seen* an ancient tome or communicated with a sinister presence!
posted by Artw at 10:36 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Skills:

NOT dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight.
posted by The Whelk at 10:37 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


so, griphus and The Whelk, you are available for resume and cover letter consulting via memail, right?
posted by vespabelle at 10:37 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


HAHA THE WHELK, I WAVE THE PINNACLE OF MY FANDOM CAREER IN YOUR FACE!

though each year at Yuletide I secretly hope to write the next "Wait Wait Don't Eat Me" or "Texts from Cephalopods" and thereby become legitimately Internet famous
posted by nicebookrack at 10:37 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nicholas Brendon owns a copy of my first book nicebookrack BUWAHAHAHAHA
posted by The Whelk at 10:40 AM on September 11, 2013


AGH TASTE MY HATE
posted by nicebookrack at 10:42 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are some good cover letters in here, but they could all be improved by appending "BTW, I am a cat."
posted by gilrain at 10:43 AM on September 11, 2013 [17 favorites]


so, griphus ... you are available for resume and cover letter consulting via memail, right?

I'm hella busy with wedding shit right now so it may be a little bit before I can actually look at what you send me, but sure, why the hell not.
posted by griphus at 10:45 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I strongly advise against "I can produce [creative material] that's so much better than the shit you currently produce." Which is a cover letter I have actually gotten, hiring game designers,
posted by restless_nomad at 10:48 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I haven't written a cover letter since I was a teenager so my advice would sound like an elevator pitch: In a dystopian world of few jobs, one Vespabelle must fight the other candidates of the District to become the pinnacle of achievement: Employable
posted by The Whelk at 10:48 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I strongly advise against "I can produce [creative material] that's so much better than the shit you currently produce." Which is a cover letter I have actually gotten, hiring game designers,

Maybe your current production was a little shitty? Now you know you're not just getting another yes man.
posted by DynamiteToast at 10:49 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I strongly advise against "I can produce [creative material] that's so much better than the shit you currently produce."

So...sending a copy of my local paper with the typos, misspellings, and violations of AP style corrected in red pen would NOT be a useful supplement to an application for a copy editor position there. Dammit.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:51 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


To: Human resources, Chicken Farmers of Nova Scotia
Re: General Manager (Chicken Farm)
I am writing to you in response to your posting of December 11th, seeking an individual with strong administrative background for the position of General Manager with the Chicken Farmers of Nova Scotia. I am enclosing my resume, and I am certain that you will agree that I am more than qualified for this job.

As my resume shows, I have been working in the Chicken Farming industry since June 26th, 1971. Back then I was a clean-faced boy of seventeen, with a passion in my heart and a purpose in my step. I didn't know a thing about chicken farming, and being young and foolish, I didn't believe that I needed to.

I thought that my revenge would come easily, and so at first I learned only from my mistakes. I was filled with the fires of fantasy, and I imagined myself a Chicken apocalypse that would wash the surface of the globe, leaving behind only carnage. I blundered from farm to farm, and it wasn't long before they knew I was coming. It was only through the faking of my own death that I escaped their wrath. But it made them wary.

And so my resume indicates that following my "death", I moved from chicken farm to chicken farm, often staying for no more than a few months. I can imagine that it is difficult to consider someone who seems so unreliable, and that is why I feel I must be frank with you. I cannot promise that I will stay with your company for longer than a month. In the past I have stayed as long as a year, but I want you to be aware that there have been instances where I have been forced to tender my resignation much sooner. The chickens seem to get smarter every year, and often I find myself in the awkward position of leaving employers in the lurch.

It is important that you understand; The chickens cannot know what I am up to. It is only through infiltrating the chicken farms of the world, that I can truly hope to discover their plans. It has taken me a long time to come to this conclusion. At first I was content to work at hatchet jobs, taking my revenge on one feathered throat at a time. But they are innumerable, and there are Chicken Farms in every province. I realized that I must stop them all, that it was my mission. So I move from farm to farm, learning more about their plans, putting the pieces together. I stay only until the chickens begin to suspect me, and then I must move on.

I am not a monster. There have been chickens along the way that have earned my respect, that have seemed almost decent to my foolish heart. But my heart is indeed foolish and blind, and I have long ago learned that its advice is useless in the real world. It is only common sense, cold and hard, that can possibly see me through this. It is only my intelligence which can save our planet. If not my own soul.

I hope that my honesty has aroused something like trust in you, and I hope that you will provide me with employment on your farm. You may contact me by email or telephone, night or day.

Respectfully,

Joey Comeau.
(From Overqualified. Read it!)
posted by Iridic at 10:54 AM on September 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


So...sending a copy of my local paper with the typos, misspellings, and violations of AP style corrected in red pen would NOT be a useful supplement to an application for a copy editor position there. Dammit.

Hahaha as if local papers hire copy editors anymore.
posted by headnsouth at 10:56 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Favourite job interview in fiction (read it half an hour before this post):

A bald man with strange tufts of hair over each ear interviewed me.
“Yes?” he asked, looking at me over the sheet.
“I’m a writer temporarily down on my inspirations.”
“Oh, a writer, eh?”
“Yes.”
“Are you sure?”
“No, I’m not.”
“What do you write?”
“Short stories mostly. And I’m halfway through a novel.”
“A novel, eh?”
“Yes.”
“What’s the name of it?”
“‘The Leaky Faucet of My Doom.’”
“Oh, I like that. What’s it about?”
“Everything.”
“Everything? You mean, for instance, it’s about cancer?”
“Yes.”
“How about my wife?”
“She’s in there too.”
You don’t say. Why do you want to work in a ladies’ dress shop?”
“I’ve always liked ladies in ladies’ dresses.”
“Are you 4-F?”
“Yes.”
“Let me see your draft card.”
I showed him my draft card. He handed it back. “You’re hired.”

Charles Bukowski, Factotum
posted by holist at 11:00 AM on September 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


I KNEW the paper's "positions available" postings were just cruel tricks to taunt me, specifically!
posted by nicebookrack at 11:00 AM on September 11, 2013


Maybe your current production was a little shitty? Now you know you're not just getting another yes man.

I'm sure this was just snark, but I actually want to expand on it a little bit because I think it's actually an important and maybe non-obvious thing about applying for creative positions.

A company that produces creative material - video games, books, ads, whatever - has a creative vision. They're looking for people who can extend or deepen that vision, but who will essentially support it. This is necessary because whatever they're doing is a team endeavor, and requires everyone to be on the same page to produce successful material. (If it weren't a team endeavor, why would you want them to hire you? You could just do it on your own.)

So coming to them with the attitude that their creative vision is bad and yours is better is not just offputting, it actually means you're a bad fit for the job. No one wants to deal with the rogue designer who only wants to work on his own side-projects and sulks about contributing to the expansion. No one wants to edit the guy who thinks his editor's an idiot. If you really think your vision is better, either you need to find a place where they share your vision, or you need to commit to understanding and appreciating the status quo and support it wholeheartedly while you try to bring people around to your point of view.

Otherwise, you know, just go indie. There's lots of room for that in most creative fields, even if the money blows.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:12 AM on September 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Just had my students read the best cover letter ever in class today.
posted by fogovonslack at 11:13 AM on September 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


Well, I guess lawyers are out of touch with the times, then. Each year I review a stack of resumes (emailed and printed), with cover letter, grades, and writing samples from aspiring young law students.

The resumes show students being terrifyingly well-traveled and multilingual and yet somehow generic. The cover letter is the key way to differentiate them - "I can't punctuate or communicate clearly", or "I am interested in [work you don't do]", or "I am interested in [keyword from posting] and no elaboration." goes in the no pile, while "in my volunteering with [otherwise overlookable line item in resume] I realized the importance of [your practice area] in improving the lives of the poor. Since then, I've taken [relevant classes] and done an externship with [relevant nonprofit or government agency]." gets a closer look.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 11:17 AM on September 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


To the American Association of Reverse Psychologists:

I'm writing to gloat about how I don't want your stupid grant writing position. It's not that I'm not qualified; I simply don't need it and don't want it.

Get me? You jagoffs could. not. pay. me. enough. to conduct record-breaking development campaigns by using social media to communicate your organization's mission to vastly more people while tailoring your message to the concerns of individual funding bodies and donors. Hell, I'd like to see you make me an offer!

Wait - I would not like to see you make me an offer. No-sirree.

Savvy? DO NOT try to call me at the number listed on the attached resume. Not even during conventional business hours.

Slap all y'alls' dicks on the stovetop,

-Iridic
posted by Iridic at 11:24 AM on September 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


SO BUISNESS - Sorry, everyone. Stole this from Super Mr. The Whelk. Totally going to use this.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:27 AM on September 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Always remember to lie about your hobbies and interests.

In my line of work, I have to read a lot of resumes for ambitious lawyers, and the interests section is routinely amazing. You get stuff like, "travel, reading, elephant polo, knitting, and being a member of the European Youth Parliament," or, in some cases where it's clearly a robot in human form, a long description of one time where they made cupcakes, something meaningless like "maintaining contacts" which I guess is like making friends(?), and also travel, because everyone puts travel.
posted by Copronymus at 11:31 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't get me started.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:43 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


"I like travel" = "I own a passport and have used it", I guess.

As an exotic foreigner I have no need for such a statement.
posted by Artw at 11:44 AM on September 11, 2013


According to the Prep Bible- travel, fitness, and education are the things that are Okay to spend money on and US corporate/law culture is largely WASP culture.
posted by The Whelk at 11:51 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


A huge number of jobs that are on the market have, in fact, already been filled with friends or internally within the company, but because of federal law or company policy, they have everybody go through a dumbshow of applying and being rejected, just as a matter of form.

Maaaaan, so true. I just recently knocked myself out honing what I thought was the perfect cover letter for what I considered a dream job with a dream organization. I have a weird collection of skills, interest, and experience, and they were for once a perfect match for the job, and I burnished that motherfucking cover letter so that it drove this point home.

And then the organization sent out a "this position has been filled" mass email literally half an hour after the posting formally closed, meaning the whole thing was a charade so they could go forward with someone they'd already decided to hire.
posted by COBRA! at 11:51 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ugh, I am also going through cover letter hell at the moment.

The cover letter's job, I was taught, is just to get them to read your resume. The resume is for getting a callback and phone screen. The phone screen is for landing the onsite interview. Finally it's the interview (and skill screening) that lands the job. Don't judge cover letters by whether you got the job, only by whether someone called you back. That's all they can do.

But noone actually reads resumes anymore, instead they feed them into a database and look for keyword bingos. So why bother with covers at all? As resume screeners they're obsolete.

I hate cover letters so much that in the past I've resorted to briefly putting up an online resume and waiting for others to do the matchmaking for me. Unfortunately that doesn't work very well anymore: scammy tech agencies just scrape the resume sites daily, scrape the job postings, and spam you with the vaguest connections, all without human intervention. Then you're stuck writing a cover letter anyway, to explain to Mr. $HEADHUNTER_ID why your resume matches $JOB_ID, in response to their spam boilerplate about the great match. This email isn't read either. The responses are farmed out to an army of call center agents who's job is to call you up and ask for you to send them your resume again, this time to a specific address where the username is an encoded user/transaction identifier for the candidate form they have open, to ask which of their jobs you're responding to so they can verify they're using the correct job record, and to pose a few generic screening questions from their call script while they enter your responses into an app that forwards them, along with your anonymized resume, to the actual company's HR address, where a script digests that form email into their candidate database so their internal algorithm can screen and select which ones to forward to the manager...it never ends. And remember to bring extra copies of your resume with you to the interview, because the people you'll be meeting have never seen it before.

I think the reason most jobs are filled by personal referrals is that there's so little value added by HR screeners these days. Good recruiters exist, and the connections they set up are amazing. But when the market is down, trying to separate them out from the chaff is like experiencing the job search avalanche from the hiring end. You get three dozen agencies offering to pitch you for the same job based on two or three keywords your resume had years ago.
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:57 AM on September 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


I avoid talking about my hobbies because it kills my chances dead.

You'd think that a love of Baroque music and collecting old textbooks would be desirable features in an employee - it at least indicates I'm unlikely to come rolling into work still drunk from a wild night. But I think people want to have things in common with their employees and so they scorn me.

I have tried learning about sportball to fake things in common with interviewers but it is too much work.
posted by winna at 11:57 AM on September 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


"I like travel" = "I own a passport and have used it", I guess.

Also, "I am an upper-middle class person who enjoys upper-middle class things, just like you, presumably upper-middle class hiring manager".
posted by Copronymus at 12:00 PM on September 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


First time doing this, but I had to:

Metafilter: Slap all y'alls' dicks on the stovetop
posted by friendlyjuan at 12:08 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


In the academic job search committees I've been on, we have to give candidates a numerical rating based on how well they meet the criteria listed in the job posting, and we have to glean that information from the cover letter itself, not the CV. If you don't put it there, we can't rate it, and if you're not one of the five or ten highest rated, you're not moving on to the second round. I hate, hate, hate the process, but apparently it keeps us from getting sued because math.

I didn't get my current job the first time I applied because I thought of my cover letter as an introduction to and overview of the material on my CV. The next time I just wrote a fucking list: You want A? I've done A. You want B? Done that too. Here are some bullet points so you don't get confused by ambiguous line breaks. Got the job.

On the other hand, once we had someone get very far in the interview process, even though she submitted an almost unreadable, error-filled cover letter, because we didn't actually specify that you should submit a professional, polished application packet. This was for a writing instructor position.
posted by bibliowench at 12:09 PM on September 11, 2013


I want upper management hiring policy to be identical to the automated phone questionnaire I had to take to stock shelves at CVS

"Is stealing wrong? Press 1 for yes and 2 for no."


So, true story, my wife worked retail for years after I did and always failed these tests because she was too honest. Like one time the manager straight up called her and said "We'd really like to hire you but you failed the screening test, so maybe you could take it again and be less honest?"

Because her problem was she was trying to be honest, so she'd answer "Yes, I have occasionally thought about stealing" because who the hell hasn't pondered taking everything you can carry, flipping the security camera the middle fingers, and laying rubber in the parking lot. Or she'd answer "Yes, I occasionally have bad days and am a grouchy pants." And of course, you don't do that.

So she'd have to get me to take the screening because I will go BEEP BOOP YES I AM A ROBOT DRONE STEALING IS WRONG CHEERFULNESS IS MANDATORY and I took enough psychology that I know my way around a personality inventory, so I'd breeze through in a few minutes and they'd get the greenlight to hire her.

Which is what I mean upthread about knowing the ritual dance, because it's a quick and easy way to sort out either those who actually are cheerful robotic drones or those smart enough to SAY they are cheerful robotic drones from those too honest or too dumb to figure out how to pass that kind of screening.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:21 PM on September 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


I had a Target hiring manager say to me, in tones of genuine astonishment, "You did so well on the test. How did you do that?"

That was when I decided I'd rather wait a little while longer for a desk job than work at Target. I need more cynicism in my life.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:23 PM on September 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've Heard Tales of those sorts of tests being rigged against people being smart enough to answer the question correctly instead of honestly, and failing candidates who had too many "correct" answers.

If it's true, it means that honest people who are, by some twist of fate, both pure as the driven snow and aware of this feature, are then forced to lie to get the job.
posted by griphus at 12:25 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've seen cover letters ignored in the corporate hiring process. Your resumé determines whether you get interviewed or not, and then the interviews determine whether you get hired.

Post-interview thank you letters also get ignored, and actually are kind of embarrassing to receive, since so often the candidate has already been rejected by that point, but doesn't know it yet.
posted by w0mbat at 12:39 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am in the process of applying for yet another Children's Librarian position. I have been getting interviews with my bare-bones cover letter, but not sealing the deal. Now I'm wondering if I could throw an interview my way by seeding it with a good cover letter. I honestly though the letter was to say "hi, here's my résumé." Maybe this one will say "and I like knitting, too."
posted by Biblio at 1:04 PM on September 11, 2013


On the plus side, I help hire people for a living and have only ever looked at a cover letter once. So there is that.
posted by Carillon at 1:09 PM on September 11, 2013


If this thread has convinced me of anything, it's that I never want to look for a job again.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:32 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


When involved in hiring webdevs I've basically looked at:

1) does the last position look cool and involve relevant skills?
2) how about the ones before (increasingly less likely I'll look at them the further ago they were)
3) of you really haven't done anything I'll look at your education. What, I'm screening interns now?

After that it's down to complaining about the layout and making fun of any hobbies. This mostly does not affect the decision making process but helps pass the time.
posted by Artw at 1:38 PM on September 11, 2013


(I have never seem a cover letter in a professional capacity so clear that is someone else's job.)
posted by Artw at 1:39 PM on September 11, 2013


Gentle denizens of the marsh,

We are roaring in response to your your pitiful chatter about the need for more security in your habitat. Your insignificant request was carried to our mighty ear via a particularly tasty vole, the flavor of which pleased us greatly. Search no further. You have found the king you seek.

As detailed in our enclosed resume, we have killed more than 400 assorted boars, rhinos, baboons and other violent herbivores. Hundreds more potential rivals of our own kind have fallen beneath mighty swats from our massive forepaws, and our jaws and teeth have crushed the skulls and rent the flesh of countless terrestrial predators, young and old, including several unlucky humans. We have also occasioned to kill birds in flight and to dive into rivers and lakes to emerge victorious from pitched battles with dangerous fish and tricky reptiles.

If you dare question our capacity for horrific violence we will provide a list of references, including several mates whom we impressed prior to rutting with bloody feats of single combat and urinary displays of unmatched vigor, who will provide testament to our legendary virility and assiduous attention to protecting our get.

In short, you could do no better than to invite us to lord over your environment and protect your borders. We look forward to meeting you and discussing your submission to our rule.

Your new majesty,
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 1:41 PM on September 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


I read all cover letters first. I tend to hire interns in software so the bar for writing skills is pretty low. A lot of applicants i see would probably better off not writing a cover letter, because it gives me reasons to throw them out. No cover letter means one less place to make mistakes or be weird and awkward.

Whenever I see a half decent or funny cover letter I try to get an interview, even if their resume or experience is not quite up to snuff, just for the break in tedium. Unfortunately this rarely occurs.
posted by captaincrouton at 2:04 PM on September 11, 2013


I don't get all the mystification and hate about cover letters.

The resume tells why you are perfect for this KIND of job. The cover letter tells why you are perfect for this SPECIFIC job. It should demonstrate point by point that you have the exact qualifications they are asking for.

A good cover letter saves the poor schmuck with a stack of 200 resumes on their desk from having to read yours closely enough to ferret out the relevant qualifications.

Not including a cover letter, or including one full of meaningless platitudes, says that you don't care about making this task easier for them, and greatly increases the chance your resume will end up in the NO pile.
posted by ottereroticist at 2:15 PM on September 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


To Whom It May Concern,

Horrible greetings, and terrible tidings, O hideous reader of the resumes, O frightful tender of the resources most human! For the keening wail of a thousand hissing snakes fills the stinking air. This is the omen you have been waiting for! Or rather, you are that to which the omen presents itself.

For you see, O vizier of the she-goats, you now hold in your hands the very first in what will be a surreally long series of communiques from none other than me, your newest and most powerful employee! Do not bother setting aside a desk, or calling security. What is done has been done, and it has already been done, and it cannot be undone, not even by very powerful wizards who have read many spellbooks, grimoires, dweomers, and Robert Greene tomes.

Indeed, if you look above the wall of your cubicle, you will see none other than my own grinning face, and my own flicking tail. For, I am already here! Your life up to this point, and the rest of your life afterwards, is a mere formality.

Go on, take a look! Stand on your meaty walking-haunches and use your twitching creepy-peeping-eyes to looking-see my maniacally winking face.

I will wave at you with my clawed hands and gesture at you to continue reading this cover letter, for you have much to learn about me, your newest, ultimate co-worker.

References available upon demand.

An ape screeching in pain from inside a hidden and soundproof room,
Your latest hire
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:21 PM on September 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


tolerate the sound of someone eating like a minotaur

That's where they are chasing people through the labyrinth of cubicles until you hear them crunching bones between their powerful jaws, right?
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:30 PM on September 11, 2013


Nine years ago I applied for—and got—a bookkeeping job. Two weeks after starting the gig I was promoted to the marketing department.

In my meeting with the company president, he told me they had really hired me for my cover letter, which didn't discuss my relevant bookkeeping skills so much as my work ethic and hobbies. The guy saw a potential in me beyond my resume, and it set me on my current career path. It was totally worth the ass-breaking work.
posted by feistycakes at 2:31 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am pretty sure all the jobs I have gotten, I have gotten off my cover letter. If you can write a Metafilter comment, you can write a competent letter. If it sounds awkward, then do a better job. Now that I hire people, I refuse to hire people who can't write cogently. You need to be able to organize your thoughts.
posted by dame at 2:52 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Writing this as someone who applies to maybe three jobs a week and gets at least one call-back.

I *hate* having to fill out those long online applications that basically just asks you to retype out your resume in their format. However, although it's a pain to fill out, it does weed out those who simply apply for 50 jobs a day. In similar manner, spending the very little time it takes to fill in a cover letter shows that you have put more consideration into the position and opportunity.
Often times there is an HR person who gets the application, cover letter / resume, etc first. So you write the cover letter assuming this person may not know all the jargon of the position, that they are looking for things like how you heard about them (after all they want credit for finding a candidate through x post on x site), and very basic things like years of experience, availability, and some general notion that you know the company and product, industry. Add a personal touch like saying "I heard about x in the news recently and am excited to discuss joining the team" or "I've been using [x product] for several months, I would love to work for a company with such quality products".

In any case, I just see the cover letter as a necessary evil to narrow down your competing candidates.
posted by hillabeans at 2:59 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cover letters aren't all that bad (and I'm saying this as someone who went through the job search process at the beginning of this year after being laid off). The cover letter that got me my current job was 7 sentences long and written in the body of an e-mail with my resume attached. I kind of like the jobs where you send an e-mail to an actual address as opposed to going through their online application system. Feels like someone actually reads it in the former case.
posted by pravit at 3:20 PM on September 11, 2013


I once hated the cover letter, for all the reasons outlined above.

Then I learned about the T-Format cover letter, and now I know that my cover letters tell the first person to read my application that I am a great fit. All the buzzwords they want to see are clearly, concisely applied to my job history. More on it.

I often find about one thing in the jobs I apply for that is a really poor fit for me. With the T-format cover letter, I'm not afraid to put "I'm not perfect" opposite that missing skill/experience. Or "I'm a fast learner."
posted by IAmBroom at 3:20 PM on September 11, 2013 [36 favorites]


Anyone else use the "it is with tremendous enthusiasm that I submit you this... Blahblah" introduction? My wife and I both used it all of the time with great success but I don't remember whether I came up with it, or her, or if we found it in a book somewhere. Corny as fuck, worked well enough.
posted by lordaych at 5:16 PM on September 11, 2013


IAmABroom. I love that T-Format cover letter. So simple and direct.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 5:30 PM on September 11, 2013


They did not find me quirky and personable enough to warrant a reply

THEY ARE MISSING OUT ON AWESOMENESS THEN
posted by elizardbits at 6:51 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I KNOW RITE?
posted by nicebookrack at 8:12 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


People hate cover letters because every single stage of the job search process is alienating, confusing and, depending on who you talk to, either by far the most important part or completely useless. Just look at this thread and you've got actual people who make hiring decisions who throw cover letters away unread alongside others who read them first and think they're vital. I'm sure you could find the exact same range of opinions about interviews and resumes. Hell, I'm sure there's someone out there who thinks the most important thing is the thank you note. Worse, there's absolutely no way for the applicant to tell which specific things a given hirer will care about, so the only solution is to somehow care about each part equally and massively and, inevitably, blame yourself when you don't get the job because clearly it would all have worked if only you'd picked the right weight of resume paper or used fewer contractions or whatever.

Cover letters (and any other piece of the process) might serve a useful purpose, but good Lord is the whole thing together a painful mess.
posted by Copronymus at 8:46 PM on September 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


As my career advanced, the length of both my cover letter and resume shortened. This was inverse to the demand I experienced. I expect one day I'll have nothing but an empty piece of paper (or email, or attachment; whatever.) Only then I will know I made it.

But in all seriousness, I hate the cover letter. For those of business not good at self promotion, it's an uncomfortable thing to write. I can do an OK job writing other things, even other people's cover letters, but writing my own was almost always a struggle.

I only actually became halfway good at cover letter writing when a) I was desperate to get out of a job, so I wrote a lot b) I was despondent, so I started writing whatever came to mind and c) the job started to get better, so I wasn't entirely convinced I needed to leave. The last part was the most helpful. The lose of the "stink" of desperation made it easier to speak about myself.

As someone who's hired people, the cover letter is a mixed bag. As someone said, it was a great way of weeding out bad candidates. I remember one guy talked about his gun collection in his cover letter for an SEM. I have no problems with guns, but anyone stupid enough to put something like that in their cover letter, consider the current political climate, just isn't smart enough for the job.

My MO was to read the resume first. If it passed muster, then look at the cover letter. If that wasn't horrific, then we likely called that person in.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:58 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always thought the cover letter was a way to demonstrate that you've read and analyzed the job-description closely? So you don't blather about yourself per se, but on why you think you can do the job they're looking for. In that sense, a cover-letter will only be as good as a stated job-description; takes two to tango and all that.
posted by the cydonian at 2:34 AM on September 12, 2013


I really like the look of that T-Format letter, although sadly the only cover letter I will ever send from now on is Sticherbeast's, because holy shit.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:02 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


So...sending a copy of my local paper with the typos, misspellings, and violations of AP style corrected in red pen would NOT be a useful supplement to an application for a copy editor position there. Dammit.

True story: when I was fourteen I took a copy of my local small-town paper, marked it up with red pen (something like 20 spelling and/or grammatical errors on the first page (before computer spell-checkers, natch),) marched down to the paper's office, and asked to see the managing editor. The man in question, a tired-looking 40 something, came out of his office and asked what I needed. I told him my name, handed him the marked-up copy of the paper, and told him he needed a copy editor. I told him I could do the job as a class, so he wouldn't have to pay me, I could just get credit for doing the work.

Turns out he was not only the managing editor, he was also the copy editor. I did not get the job.
posted by nushustu at 11:17 AM on September 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


That editor missed out on awesomeness, nushustu!
posted by nicebookrack at 11:43 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have often felt that I write good cover letters. However, I have spent the last 2 weeks procrastinating on sending out resumes because I am in some kind of cover-letter-writing funk. This has been an awesome thread for convincing me that the letter means very little and I should just poop out a "please see attached" and get moving on the applications.
posted by aimedwander at 12:12 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hobbies posted by double block and bleed at 6:43 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've written about 20 of these fucking things in the past month. I hate them, but in my case they may be a good thing...they're a formalized way to say "okay, yeah, I was in a bank for like 15 years but that can TOTALLY translate to your field, especially if you take that stage management stuff into account too because here's what a stage manager does and see it's totally relevant OH PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD HIRE ME IN A FIELD THAT ISN'T FINANCE BECAUSE I HATED EVERYTHING ABOUT IT AND THE OTHER STUFF I DID WOULD TOTALLY COUNT FOR YOU...."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


On today's cover letter: I am considering writing the whole thing in iambic pentameter, just to include "P.S. I wrote this in iambic pentameter so please hire me" after. Also I will list my dexterity at herding cats. Great idea, right? Right?

To whom it may concern:

Give me a job. That's really all I want.
My spine is bent. My face is growing gaunt.
I've written cover letters by the score,
and I don't want to write them anymore.
Do you ignore them? Do you read between
the lines? Not knowing whether you will screen
my letter out, I write in an old form
which takes such effort that it keeps me warm.
Since I was fired, I can't afford real heat.
The cold advances, so I make retreat.

Maybe you'll see this letter and take pity.
Someone who writes in couplets must be pretty
absurdly dedicated to dull work.
Consider it. You posted for a clerk,
and here you have one who can will their way
through mental dictionaries of cliché
to find a jingle. Read my new CV,
and show your manager, who may agree
that I selected an appealing font.
Just hire me, please. That's really all I want.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:43 PM on September 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm just wondering if it's okay to finish the cover letter off with "So here's my number, so call me maybe?"
posted by Grandysaur at 10:42 PM on September 13, 2013


Flagged as epic poetry, Rustic Etruscan
posted by nicebookrack at 10:07 AM on September 14, 2013


My cover letter is where I sell myself to the agency, my CV (pretty much the same CV for each position I apply for) is for the next level.

If they ask for a cover letter, I go ahead and write one. Once you've written one good one you have the template, all you need to do after that is paste in the key words from the next job ad and suggest how they match up with the key words in your CV. Worst case, they won't read it and you've wasted 10 minutes. Did you really have so many better things to do with that time?

The cover letter echoes back the original job ad, thinly rewritten as a reply. It explains how my experience and skills combine to make me the ideal drone to fit their requirements.

It works. Most recently my cover letter got me past the auto reject into a face interview with a headhunter, and ultimately landed me a contract at double the pay with the very company that paid me a fat redundancy cheque to go away five years ago; because in this case I really was right for the job. I just had to make the right noises to prove it. I know they used the cover letter because they had it at the interview and some of the questions asked were clearly targeted at verifying the claims it made.

At my age I'll use every tool they hand me to nail that interview. Because it works.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 4:59 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Five Principles for Your Job Search
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:39 PM on September 21, 2013


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