Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My Cover Letter And...Me?

As graduation slowly creeps up on my friends and me, we're all stressing about finding and applying to jobs. When applying, the thing all wiser people emphasize most is that you must have a good cover letter. The cover letter is what potential employers see first, so you have to make them want to consider your resume.

I have written many cover letters in my life, though I suppose not as many as some people, but it's not like I've never written any. Still - when I sat down to write one today, I suddenly felt like the entire thing was so...fake. Not that I was saying anything untrue about myself. It was more like I was taking out anything that makes me sound like a person and turning myself into an impersonal list of accomplishments, instead.

Professionalism suddenly seemed cold and unnatural. Why would someone want to work with a list of accomplishments and skills? What about the person behind the cover letter? Where does she come in? Do you only get to show yourself if you make it past the cover letter/resume stage and receive an interview?

I wondered about how people get chosen for interviews. Is it by being a cover letter as opposed to being a person writing a cover letter? Don't future employers see gazillions of cover letters and resumes? Do they all sound the same? How do you make yours stand out? Is it by doing something extremely unusual and putting that in your cover letter? Or are you allowed to actually use your creative writing skills to make your personality come across in the very first impression these people will receive of you? But then - that is too unprofessional, isn't it?

It sounds almost like all those in the professional world put on a mask of cold properness once they get to work. Is anyone really comfortable like that? Maybe that's why people also go to work in a suit instead of in comfortable clothing. The professional world, apparently, is an extraordinarily uncomfortable place.

And think about what you're doing. You, a person, are writing a letter to a potential employer, another person. Applying for a job should not be this cold, anonymous process where you are stripped of all humanity and become merely a resume. It is not an experience between a piece of paper and an office building. It is an experience between one person and another. There is a real person looking for a way to use her skills in a pleasant setting and make money while doing it, and there is another real person looking for someone to help out. So why does that turn into "To Whom It May Concern: I am an English Major who had these professional and school experiences and have therefore gained these specific skills. Thank you for your consideration." Blah blah blah, I sound just like the fifty billion other English majors who have similar experiences and the same set of skills. And who are also thankful for consideration. I mean, come on.

Where do I fit into my cover letter?


Anonymous said...

For many creative professions (think art, design) a creative and colorful resume and cover letter is expected. So if you're applying for a job that requires writing or editing or publishing or something, it might be worthwhile to approach it in a more creative way, perhaps by inserting a brief anecdote or a personal snippet which relate to the job, but aren't dry and boring. After all, you want them to admire your writing, right?

They do want a human working for them, but most of the human factor is probed in the interview. First they want to see that you have the basic background.

I also hate cover letters.

Ezzie said...

I never wrote a cover letter, even for jobs which supposedly required them. I typically try to either get a hold of someone on a phone and talk to them for a bit or an e-mail where the expectation is less formal and they only want the resume. That lets me be more myself and less of just a piece of paper.

Ari said...

I've heard it said that if the cover letter is personalized for the prospective job, then it will help you get noticed. Demonstrate that you understand their specific business challenges, and how your skills, experiences and attitude can help that particular company win in the marketplace.

At the end of the day, though, many jobs are obtained by networking and connections - not in an underhanded, unfair way, but by getting advice and referrals from friends, teachers, and ALUMNI (Stern should have a list of graduates and what they currently do, no?)

If you find yourself getting absolutely nowhere with the cold calls and cover letters, and with any connections, then I recommend apprenticing yourself at no charge, a sort of post-bachelors internship. If they like you, they'll hire you. If you need to pay the bills, then maybe you can also get a more tun of the mill job part time job on the side.

If you're not sure which kind of job is for you, some folks are amenable to sitting down with you for a few minutes to talk about how they spend their day. Who knows? They might be dazzled by you and be open to hiring you at a later time.