The Art of B.S. or “How to write a cover letter”

Writing

Do you submit a cover letter with a resume? There was a conversation on twitter today talking about someone who throws out resumes that don’t have cover letters. Well, quite frankly, that really surprised me. Why? Well, because I had always been told that no one expects a cover letter anymore. Cover letters to me are like college entrance essays, someone somewhere sometime said “If we force people to write a paragraph telling us why they want to get accepted, and beg us to do so then we will really get a feeling for those people who deserve to be here.” But what they are really getting is either a) applicants who have a good story (this is what they want, it is all about PR), b) applicants who can make up a good story, or c) applicants whose spouse/brother/sister/friend can make up a good story. In the end though, for most of us, the decision really only comes down to your high school grades and SAT/ACT scores.

I think that cover letters are a formality that needs to go the way of the work suit. At one point, most every office worker wore a suit to work. Why? Well, probably because you were seen as being rude if you didn’t. Apparently you didn’t respect other people if you didn’t dress nicely every single day. For certain professions this is still the case, but for other professions this just seems crazy. Cover letters are very similar to this, some people obviously think that a candidate is disrespectful or rude if they don’t submit a cover letter. Why? Because they didn’t waste your time with some story about how they work 50 hours a day and never go on vacation? People will spew just as much B.S. on their cover letter as they will in their resume. In fact, I think that the resume B.S. factor is way more important than anything. How many times have you seen this:

Professional Experience:

Intern at Company XYZ 01/2007 – 08/2007

1) Independently wrote software that propelled America into new age of peace and prosperity.

2) Responsible for launching of space shuttle and subsequent reentry.

3) Turned iron into gold.

Seriously? I know that there are a few oddball things on some people’s resumes, but for the most part if you are an intern, new developer, etc… you should not have anything on your resume anywhere claiming that you did anything involving space, time-travel, or independent work. And if you do, well, you better be able to back that up. If you have to downplay things a little bit to make it seem more believable, then please do so. For instance, at my first job I was at a very small (think three people) company and after I had been there for a while they couldn’t really afford to pay me more money so they ended up giving me a VP title. Seriously. I guess my boss thought that it would make me feel important or something, but all it really did was make me laugh. I really appreciated the effort (when you are a small business owner, you do what you have to), but honestly, I was about as much of a VP as Carrot Top is funny. So, on my resume I don’t say “Vice President”, I say “Software Developer”. Because it would be kinda odd to have to explain my first job was as a VP and anyone who saw that on my resume would say "WTF"?

So, anyways, back to the cover letter… Lets say we wanted to write a cover letter, what would you put in a cover letter? You will tell them how much you can’t wait to work at the company, and how you feel like you would be a perfect fit for the job, and how every moment of your life has culminated up to this one point? But what can you really say

So, my suggestion is to look at someone’s resume and ask yourself if they look qualified for the job based on their past experience and skill-set. Then give them a quick 10 minute phone interview. It doesn’t have to even be technical, but it’ll tell you way more about the person than any cover letter will.

What are your thoughts/feelings on this? I hope that a lot of you disagree with me on this because I would be interested to hear the other side of this argument.

So, by the way, here is what is going to be on my next cover letter (just to see if anyone reads these things):

Dear Hiring Managers,

I saw your ad for a “Software Engineer” in the back of my “Beanie Baby Monthly” magazine and I couldn’t help but respond. The font and color choices were absolutely amazing, and I felt that your placement of the ad in a Beanie Baby magazine was absolutely genius. Clearly you are obviously hoping that no one will see it so you can just hire an H1-B candidate. I for one think that your tactics are ruthless and cunning, and I want to work for someone like that who knows how to get things done.

I will be moving back to the United States soon, and so I felt that the timing for this was just amazing. For so long I have felt that there was this hole in my heart, as if something just wasn’t there. I feel now that your company will complete me. I also feel that my many years experience scouring the African plains hunting the white rhino will serve me well in this new position. I don’t actually have much practical experience in writing software, but my keen aim and determination will certainly propel me far within your company.

I have attached my resume for you to look over. I would very much like to meet you in person and share with you many pictures of my travels.

Sincerely,

Justin

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Comments (4)

  1. Yeah, I’m with you, cover letters are totally useless. We don’t ask for them and I certainly could care less about reading one.

    For a period I would write covers letters that consisted of "Hire me, I’m great." Unsurprisingly, it didn’t seem to work. Shortly after that I gave up on them totally and never looked back.

  2. I think rather than including a cover letter, for technical people, we should always include a digital portfolio of our work, i.e. samples of how we think and write and code. I haven’t had to apply for a job for many years because I just seem to "move to the next thing when the time is right". As an architect, I interview a lot of software developers, QA developers, project managers and database progammers.
    When they bring their work with them, that means a lot to me, especially for the 20-somethings who may not have been given professional opportunities that really prove who they are just yet. Writing and critical thinking are crucial skills for the modern developer. This is why technical blogging is so important in my opinion. When a candidate is comfortable aiming me at his/her blog as reference material, it almost always ends well for them and for me.

  3. @Kevin Yep, I can agree with that. I have heard people refer to blogs before as "living resumes" and that certainly jibes with the way I feel about it. While a lack of blogging is by no means indicative that someone is not good at what they do, blogging indicates to me that they take their craft seriously and they want to share it with others. In case you are wondering I am giving myself a pat on the back right now. 🙂

  4. Our resumes come to us anony’d out–stripped of names, city, state, and other demographic information and placed in a binder for us to read (to prevent bias). With that, cover letters AND reference work never make it to us. It’s [b]really[/b] annoying.

    After the interviews, once we learn the candidates names, we’re locked in a room and never have an opportunity to check blogs and the Internet for information. It is an outdated hiring technique, but no one seems to want to change it.

    As far as personal experience, I submitted a cover letter for my first job ever–and never since. It simply seems too stereotypical–like references. Just like those you’ve referenced, you’ll give yourself glowing reviews (as you should!).

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