The cover letter is the hardest part of the job application process. How many people actually learned to write a good cover letter before applying? I didn’t know until actually applying for jobs that wanted cover letters, despite noticing a career planning workshop on cover letters that I couldn’t go to. I’m not talking about the dry and boring cover letters you find when you search for something like “how to write a cover letter” (something that’ll guarantee me more hits for people searching for that–sorry, future, I’m on the same end of the counter as you are). I’m not even talking about the boring cover letters you and I write that get tossed aside or deleted as soon as they get read. I’m talking real cover letters, ones that show your personality while showing you actually know the company in question.
The problem is that for those who have to learn the art of the cover letter alone, the existing examples online make me want to take up reading Alan Paton. Look at this cover letter sample from about.com’s job search site. Can we say snoozefest? Also, my grandmother writes her emails in the format of the last bullet point:
*Good listener…Solid work ethic…Desire to excel…Meet deadlines…Enjoy a fast-paced environment…Extraordinary factual recall…
I don’t know about HR folks, but if I read a bullet point in that format, I’d definitely doubt the fast-paced environment bit and wonder who taught them to write like that.
I’ve written cover letters like those before when I didn’t know better. Most of them were snoozefests. In fact, the only people I have heard from were the cover letters I livened up more than usual. I didn’t liven them up as much as some of these lovely tidbits, but I certainly showed that I know my stuff.
But one has to wonder, especially with online job application sites: who reads those letters, anyway? With an email, the answer is obvious. Something, even if it is something that fails a Turing test, is scanning the letter. The same may be true of the online job applications. Sometimes I’m tempted to put nonsense in the cover letter box to see if anyone responds. What would I put?
If you’re reading this letter, I’m still unemployed. Call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to change that.
Nah, too short. Let’s try again.
Dear person whose name I couldn’t find on the website,
I’m writing in response to your response for a position involving menial tasks in exchange for money. I can do menial tasks at an alarmingly productive rate, and I enjoy not having to wonder where my bill payment will come from. I also enjoy hiding my geeky nature from my coworkers who talk about the latest TV show, party, sports event, or office drama and ask me about my personal life instead of working on their own menial tasks. I enjoy jumping through red tape to make sure I will get paid on time, admitting that my supervisor is right, and office bureaucracy. Therefore we will make an excellent fit. My buzzword-free resume is below. Feel free to contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx or by email at email@example.com so I can rejoice at finally getting an interview, dress fancily for a day to talk about my ability to do menial tasks, then have all my hopes crushed a few weeks later when I get the rejection email because you hired someone who will spend their day chatting with friends instead of doing those menial tasks. Thank you for making it this far.
Actually, I kind of like that one. It’s how I feel when I apply for a job that I’m applying for just because it’s an open position.
What do I have to do to get a response around here?
This is how I feel when applying to really menial jobs.