Friday, February 21, 2020

The Cover Letter (of Doom!)

Cover letters.  A cherished part of our IT job hunting experience.  Has anyone else found it confusing, cover letters?  No?  Just me.  Okay.

I am sure that most people who read blogs like mine will agree that cover letters are not exactly easy to write.  There are numerous questions that need to be answered before we even start writing it:

1.  Should I write a cover letter?

2.  What should I write in the cover letter?

3.  How many pages should my cover letter be?

Those three questions are the most common ones that I had asked of me, and which I have asked in the past, and there are no solid, concrete answers to any of them.  Why is that?  Well, simply put, it depends on the company and/or hiring manager.  Since it is, essentially, personal preference, that leaves us guessing most of the time.

Let's try to answer each of the three questions, in turn, remembering that these are just guide posts and not unbreakable rule.

1.  Should you write one...unless otherwise stated in the requisition, yes, include one.  Just do yourself a huge favor...use both a spell-checker (built-in to Word, Google Docs, etc) and a grammar checker (Grammarly has a great one that you can use for free).  Nothing, and I mean nothing, screams DO NOT HIRE ME more than simple to avoid spelling mistakes or really easily corrected grammatical errors going uncorrected.  Understand that a cover letter is a formal document, not an example of creative writing (unless you are looking for a job as a creative writer...in which case I question why you are here...this is about IT, after all).

2.  Most people will tell you that you want to introduce yourself formally (do not include personal details like age, marital status, number of kids, whether or not you like long walks on the beach, etc.) with the cover letter.  There will be parts of a job posting that you might not be able to put on your resume, such as an explanation about your home lab (which will be the topic of a future posting, so stay tuned) or how you solved a problem for a customer, etc.  You can, in essence, fill in the gaps that are present when you submit just a resume.  For instance, if you worked as a cashier at a store, you are not necessarily qualified to troubleshoot computers, right?  Wrong, but only if you had to troubleshoot an issue with the network connectivity of the point-of-sale machine and the payment processing servers. Since troubleshooting computers and cashier don't necessarily sound right on a resume, put them in the cover letter.

3.  As many pages as you need.  Remember this:  the cover letter introduces you and works in conjunction with your resume to present you as the best candidate for a job.  It fills in the gaping holes in experience that are almost always present.  Just remember that it should tell them what they need to know and nothing more.  After all, it's a letter, not a book.

Helpful bonus tips:

1.  If you are a hiring manager, please include in the job requisition whether you want a cover letter or not.  Please, please, do not say cover letter optional...that is too vague.

2.  If you are a job seeker, please write one for each application you send in.  If they don't want to read it, they won't.  If they do, and you don't include one, then you may needlessly end up at the bottom of the pile.  Not a good place to be when looking for the next opportunity.

I understand that writing cover letters that are tailored to the job are very, very time consuming projects, but it will pay off eventually.  Not to mention, just like resumes, you will find that you will reuse a large portion of the first cover letter with each additional cover letter you write.  For me, about 85% is going to be the same.

Until next time.

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