Now That's What I Call a Cover Letter Vol I
August 8, 2014 5:43 AM   Subscribe

How does a job-seeking cover letter stand out in this day and age?

Are there different conventions when one is responding to creative jobs or to sites known for humor, liberal use of pop-culture inflected vernacular and general irreverence? I know that the typical cover letter should explain why your skills and experience fit the job, but in a situation, say, where writers are sought, should you try to spice things up a bit and show some creativity? I often feel that my bios and cover letters are very Dragnet ("Just the facts, Ma'am.") and I wonder if that could be working against me. I know that in many publishing settings, cutesy or needlessly detailed cover letters are frowned upon, but I'm not sure if that holds true for modern creative jobs like writing for websites. I tend to be terse, and I wonder if that is a bad strategy. Could the Hivemind give me some guidance?
posted by Kitty Stardust to Work & Money (10 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
It's my understanding that most cover letters go unread. It doesn't matter if it's a straight up corporate job or a creative job.

Your portfolio and resume do your talking for you. I do know that goofy or cutesy do NOT cut it. While those in your generation may get a giggle out of it, if the hiring manger or HR recruiter is MY age, I'd shit-can the whole thing so fast it would make your head spin.

To my mind it's too dicey a proposition. My cousin is a content editor for an entertainment website, and while it's PARTAY on the site and in her social media, business is business.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:50 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a hiring manager, the cover letter is the first thing I look at. I'm not sure where the idea that most cover letters are not read comes from. In any case, many cover letters are read and it is worth putting an effort in for those cases.

Ask a Manager has lots of tips on how to write great cover letters.
posted by grouse at 6:04 AM on August 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

I've found that my natural inclination, which is to belabor over and craft a really tailored, well-wrought cover letter, actually results in far fewer calls than when I jot off something relevant but brief and kind of impersonal. Which is not at all to say that a cover letter is unimportant, just that the terms of success may be different than what's intuitive.
posted by threeants at 6:12 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

In my field, if you survey 100 people who read job applications and do hiring, about half will say that they read the cover letter first and half will say that they read someone's resume first.

If you're applying for writing jobs and they don't request a writing sample, consider the cover letter your writing sample. Be sure that you've covered your bases - explain why you're perfect for the job and what you can do for the organization, use correct grammar and spelling - but don't sweat it too much, either. I read something recently about how you shouldn't state your name in the first sentence of your cover letter. I felt mortified because I've been doing that. Then I thought, well, I've gotten interviews so maybe that's not the worst thing in the world.

I also read someone who suggested that you should absolutely always find out the name of the specific person who will be reading your application so you can address it to them. Don't worry about that unless the job ad says, please address your cover letter to Mrs. So and So. It drives my husband nuts when he writes in a job ad, "please address your cover letter to Mr. kat518" and people write "to whom it may concern" or "Dear Miss kat518." Good luck.
posted by kat518 at 6:24 AM on August 8, 2014

I sometimes pay attention to them and sometimes don't.

Supershort - don't pay attention, doesn't impact my feelings about you
Super long - don't read it, but also am not inclined to read anything else and think you have no judgement if you write a multi-page cover letter
Very strong field - look for a real sense of passion for what we do to help narrow the shortlist, but the rest of it has to stack up
Brief but relevant - like it, I'll look at your resume for the rest
Photos included (and this is a country specific thing ) - ugh
posted by AnnaRat at 6:58 AM on August 8, 2014

I'm not a hiring manager but I wind up looking at a lot of cover letters. So many of them are just... the resume but in paragraph form. If a person bothers to say something about why they think they'd be a good fit for our company, and explains a time or two when they made a positive impact at their current job, they're already in the top 25%.

A total lack of grammar and spelling issues to boot? Top 15%.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:11 AM on August 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

I've loosely used the guidance in this Craigslist post a number of times, with a 70-80% success rate.

I would say that a self-consciously wacky cover letter is going to hurt you, but so is a dull, rote one. I like the approach above because it's warm, human and feels like a real person. Having been on both sides of the hiring table, that really, really sticks out.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:25 AM on August 8, 2014 [9 favorites]

I have hired a few dozen full-time staff over the past few years, and I absolutely, every single time read candidates' cover letters.

For me, it's a chance to see if the person pays attention to details (i.e. no typos or solecisms) and knows how to write clearly and coherently.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:59 AM on August 8, 2014

I'm a hiring manager in a creative, writing-heavy field. I honestly don't place a lot of importance in cover letters. I look at the resume first to see if the person has the experience I'm looking for. Then I'll look at the cover letter to make sure the person can put a sentence together and don't have any grammar/spelling errors.

If they have the experience I need and no huge mistakes in the cover letter, I'll interview them, which is the really important part.

If it's an edge case, I might take a closer look at the cover letter, and if it's very well-written, that might seal the deal for them. But I'm not talking about something clever or funny. I'm talking about short, clear sentences, good use of white space, and brevity.
posted by lunasol at 6:23 PM on August 8, 2014

I put a gigantic, quasi-creepy picture of my face w/ my eye staring right at you on the cover page. (Same as on my website.) It worked, and they actually mentioned it after I'd been working there for awhile.

Of course, I was looking to work for a really young, hip arts organization, so YMMV.
posted by nosila at 12:30 PM on August 9, 2014

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