June 1st, 2011


Cover Letters

Originally published at Quantum Matrix Scribe. Please leave any comments there.

Grr, grr, grr.

Writing a story with believable characters, a strong plot, and delightful dialogue is hard. Writing a cover letter to get a job is just murder.

I’ve been writing several of them over the past week, aiming for a day job here in the nation’s capital. (A necessary evil, I’m afraid.) I’ve been trying to take my accumulated experience and education and distill it into a one page account that sells me to a prospective employer, but as that clause points out so well, I’ve been writing too much. A cover letter should be like flash fiction, I’m told: short and to the point. Oh, and don’t copy your resume.

Unfortunately, A) I’ve sort of been doing that and B) there is nowhere near a consensus on what a cover letter should really look like. Some say you need bullets in your letter, others say you should tell a story, still more say you should avoid that, and just about everyone has their own way of formatting it. That’s okay, I suppose, because writing is a personal thing, and is endlessly “customizable,” but for chrissakes, this is a job application, not a novel.

I think we need to come to some sort of consensus on what a cover letter is supposed to be and stick to that. This is utterly confusing to someone new to the job market, and I don’t think it helps anybody, either the new worker or the employer looking to fill positions (nor the statistics hacks at the Bureau of Labor Statistics who want U-3 to keep going down.) At least, it sure as heck doesn’t help me.

(Oh, and another pet peeve: companies that force you to copy and paste your resume and cover letter into a text box, so naturally, it looks like crap. Why can’t companies take PDFs nowadays? Hello, this is the second decade of the 21st century. Let’s get with the program. No pun intended.)