Monday, January 20, 2014

Cover Letters - The Bane of My Existence

The cover letter...anyone who has ever searched for a job (I guess that's everyone) has had to deal with this difficult and squirrely little thorn in the application process. 

See, here is the problem with the cover letter: everyone tells you to be original, stand out, and grab people's attention, but be short about it, and be professional, and don't be too chummy/funny/creative. Oh, and keep it to five sentences or less. 

What gives? If I was a hiring manager, and I was dragging through the doldrums of cover letter after cover letter (I have 5 years of experience. I have 10 years of experience. I worked under Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec Sun God...okay, that last one would probably get my attention.), I would be begging for something funny to come across my desk. I don't want to hire a stiff, unimaginative person who plays it safe. I would want to hire the person who takes a bit of a risk, who tries to make me laugh, who shows me that s/he has a personality. 

That being said, every single time I have shown the slightest bit of my personality in a cover letter, taken that risk, and added a little color to my application, I have had ZERO replies from employers. You have one sentence to get the employer's attention, but you can't be funny about it? That's like walking into a bar in a moo-moo and hoping that someone will notice you.

Now, don't get me wrong, I can see the point of a cover letter in some circumstances. Perhaps there is something extra special that you need to articulate about your resume (you can crank out 100 push-ups in a row? No kidding!), or maybe you were referred to the position by someone else (Joe Schmoe and I were dance partners in middle school...needless to say, I impressed him), but overall, with the number of applications that come through for each position, I have to wonder if the employer is actually even reading my cover letter.

Do they have the time to sit down and read a synopsis of what they are about to read about in the resume? Do they want to sit down and read a synopsis of the resume? I mean - you're only given so much time to walk this green earth. Do you want to spend those precious moments reading about the number of years a stranger has spent sitting behind a desk?

As we move toward a more casual working environment, where companies are striving to take care of their employees and create happy, healthy working environments (whoever started the dogs at work movement was a genius), why should we continue to keep stuffy, generic cover letters as part of our application process? Why not ask employees to be creative, to engage their audience, to prove that they are actually a human with a personality?

Perhaps give them 150 words to describe why you should hire them. Maybe ask them to write their cover letter like the synopsis on the back cover of a book. 

"Kim Melton led a fairly normal life until she met the owner of XYZ company. Things seemed simple enough at first, but after that fated trip out for coffee, everything changed. Acronyms whirled around in her head like voracious swarms of bees, board members, charming at first, proved to be underhanded and dangerous foes, technology bent and warped, changing weekly, like a slippery, slithering, snake, and taking a lunch had a tendency to leave her tired, breathless and sweaty. How did Kim fare in the wild and tenacious forest of XYZ company? Read on to find out..."

I think it's time to move away from the traditional cover letter. A simple survey could give you all the same info, and save everyone some time. You wouldn't write your profile on a dating site with the dry professionalism of a cover letter, why do we expect people to do it for a job? Isn't finding a significant other equally as impactful in the long run as getting a job?

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