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Whether you’re a new graduate responding to that first job application or a laid-off professional living in a cardboard box under a railroad trestle, writing a proper cover letter could be your gateway to a rewarding career or at least a sturdier packing crate.

However, even the most seasoned job hunters find themselves intimidated at the prospect of creating a cover letter. “Am I boasting too much?” they worry. “Should I mention my references?” “How do you spell ‘embezzlement’?”

Such concerns are minor, except for the felony. Writing a compelling and powerful cover letter is a relatively simple task, especially if it’s about someone other than you. However, you’re all we have to work with, so let’s take a look. Stand up straighter! Don’t slouch!

Hmmmm…just how good are your references?

A well-written cover letter can mean the difference between placement in a job that fits your skills or one that surrounds you with choking fumes, hazardous molten steel and muscular, hate-filled men who bitterly resent you.

A well-written cover letter can mean the difference between placement in a job that fits your skills or one that surrounds you with choking fumes, hazardous molten steel and muscular, hate-filled men who bitterly resent you.

Too often cover letters tend to be formulaic, which is fine if you’re applying for a job writing formulae – a skill so specialized that you probably already have a job. But for those following a more traditional career track, using a standard, “one-size-fits-all” letter can produce such uninspired results as this:

TO: General Manager, One-Size-Fits-All Apparel Company

As a (go-getter; name-taker; butt-kicker: Select one) I believe I would be a (benefit; asset; formulae: Select one) to the One-Size-Fits-All Apparel Company. I offer a wide range of skills and an ability to (think outside the box; color inside the lines; fit into one size: Select one) that would help make your successful company even more (good; nice; real nice: Select one). I hope that you will consider my enclosed (résumé; bribe; blackmail photos: Select one) as you look over job candidates.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Respectfully,
(Your name; someone else’s name; more blackmail photos: Select one)

Technically speaking, there’s nothing really wrong with this letter, unless your intention is to be hired. If so, consider ways to create a letter that go beyond the mundane, past the merely interesting, into the realm of the creative, through the portal to the Dark World, out along the rim of the Oblivion Void….

Okay, that’s too far. Back this way, a little. A little more. Aaaaand…THERE! Put it in park, hand over the keys, and follow these rules:

  • A successful cover letter weaves an intriguing story about you, reflects an insightful grasp of the prospective employer, delineates your skill set, portrays your individuality, and expresses your business commitment, all in less than a half dozen words or, better yet, just a feral grunt.
  • Take the time to research a perspective company before you set pen to paper. Knowing how they operate will help guide the tone of your letter. Also don’t write with pen and paper. What are you, Charles Dickens?
  • If possible, target your letter to a person rather than an anonymous “Dear Sir/Madame”. This can prove a challenge as many companies, particularly large firms, rarely include the names of hiring managers unless they’re combat trained.
  • Mention mutual contacts. Do you and a company executive share a common acquaintance? Probably not, since they rarely associate with your kind. Still, it’s worth a little exploration through a practice the business community calls “networking” and the criminal courts call “stalking.”
  • Turn a personal trait or quirk into a unique benefit to a company. For example, which of these phrases stands you out from the crowd?

“I’m an enthusiastic team player!”

or

“I’m an enthusiastic team player who’s also highly radioactive. Consequently, I respect peoples’ boundaries.”

Finally, carefully manage your expectations of what a cover letter can accomplish. It is, after all, but the “appetizer” to your résumé, which is the “salad course” introducing the “entrée” that is your job interview. Hopefully, that won’t cause you a panic attack, or “spilled soup”, that requires a visit to the rest room, or “rest room”, to “rinse a stain” – puke – “use hand sanitizer” – pop a Xanax – then “return to the table” – call your therapist.

Bon Appetit!

Permission to re-use this material for non-commercial purposes is granted provided that Dave Jaffe, www.davejaffecomm.com is appropriately credited as the author and source. Please feel free to link to this page.

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Writing a successful resumé is a skill as essential as engineering or accounting, either of which would have already landed you a job, so you wouldn’t need a resumé.

Resumé writing is fraught with pitfalls, according to a recent Internet article forwarded to me by a Write Good! reader. By the way – or as the Web savvy abbreviate it, LOL – “recent” in Internet terms means that the article was written less than .000342 nano-parsecs ago. Hence by the time you read the word “recent” that term is “outdated.” To gauge the immediacy of an Internet post, use the following rule of thumb: 10 Internet nano-parsecs is equivalent to 57 dog years, which is about seven human years or 123 pints. Now let’s get back to those pitfalls.

The astute article written by Charles Purdy, Monster Senior Editor, is titled “10 Words and Terms That Ruin a Resumé.” Sadly, that title was as far as the Write Good! research staff read before coming up with their own list, as our genius resides in an ability to form opinions without the distraction of facts, expertise or knowledge.

While Mr. Purdy soundly advises resumé writers to avoid “empty cliches, annoying jargon and recycled buzzwords” we at Write Good! hysterically warn readers to avoid, for their own safety, phrases best described as “freakin’ stupid!” Thus we recommend steering clear of words and terms that discerning hiring administrators tend to group under the category “litigious.” Those terms include:

1. Festering
2. Convicted
3. Hitler (or Hitleresque)
4. Uncontrollable rage
5. Blood soaked
6. Manslaughter (acceptable in Massachusetts and Arizona)
7. Enron-like
8. Lynch mob
9. Naughty list
10. Satan-friendly

While a list of your outstanding professional qualifications and unsurpassed achievements might have a place on a resumé, more important is that the document looks real purdy. Many a corporate CEO will admit, after a few martinis sipped from gold-rimmed goblets, that it was their resumé, printed on hot pink paper and decorated with little hearts and kittens, that won them an interview where they could then expand on their thieving, cheating, back-stabbing, rival-pushed-out-window accomplishments.

However, email has grown into so accepted a communications vehicle that paper no longer exists, which has led to a dangerously uncontrollable spread of the world’s rainforests and with it a lot of those really big, creepy bugs. Thus to make your resumé stand out from the competition you must be creative with typography, which up until now I thought had something to do with maps.

Research I just made up reveals that employers make a judgment about your resumé within seven seconds, and most of that time is spent thinking about lunch. By employing mixed fonts, bolding and italics, lower and uppercase characters, you can make your resumé both memorable and laughable. Compare the following resumé entries, then ask yourself, “Who would I hire and should I have the shrimp tacos for lunch?”

Previous experience:
Chancellor of the exchequer for Great Britain, second lord of Her Majesty’s treasury

or

Previous experience:
Camp I’m-a-Big-Boy-or-Girl aSSIStant CounSELor!!! (Ret.)

The choice is clear. Now, what’s for lunch?

Permission to re-use this material for non-commercial purposes is granted provided that Dave Jaffe, www.davejaffecomm.com is appropriately credited as the author and source. Please feel free to link to this page.

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