HowTo:Write a cover letter
You feel just like this guy on the right. You're down. You're out. The factory is closing, the office is downsizing, your cocaine empire is collapsing -- whatever the reason, you've lost everything, and you're ready to give up on life.
Hold off. Nothing has been lost. All you need to do is pick yourself up, dust yourself off, lose a few pounds and get back into the race. You need a job. But how do you start looking for a job? That's beyond the scope of this article. But once you find a prospect, you'll need a good way to present yourself. And you need to make your potential employer disregard that woman crying about being a "single mother."
But how? How do you separate yourself from the pack? If you said "terrorism," get ready for an exciting trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba! If you said "billboards", you don't need our help. BUT, if you said "I don't know," stick around, because we're going to show you how to write a cover letter.
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What is a "cover letter"?
A cover letter is you. But more importantly, it's the best parts of you -- your strengths, your skills and all the people you've touched. A good cover letter can get you any job in the world. "No, that's not right," you say. "I couldn't become the President of the United States -- that's an elected office!" That's exactly the mindset you have to leave behind. If your cover letter is good enough, supervisors will do anything to bring you on board. And if that means suspending the Constitution, then we'll go back to common law.
"But I don't have anything to brag about," you say. That's OK. People expect you to exaggerate a little bit. If you think of yourself as a car, think of the cover letter as the paint job over your rusty frame, or the tinted windows masking your disgusting interior.
Step 1: The introduction
A cover letter, like a regular letter, consists of an introduction, a body and a conclusion. Although all these elements are equally important, the introduction is the most important, so get it right or you'll be eating out of dumpsters when you're 90.
A good introduction should put a potential employer at ease. Be nice. Be sweet. Try and find some common ground. Crack a joke.
- It was a pleasure speaking with you at the University job fair Wednesday -- and may I just say, you are the fattest son of a bitch I've ever met. I meant to ask you about your family, but I'm sure you ate them all! I'm kidding, of course. All that weight must have left you sterile. But if you could conceive a child, I'll bet you'd eat it before the umbilical cord was cut. You're a monster. :D
Note that the letter writer put a point of common interest in his introduction. It's called networking. Always talk about mutual acquaintances when writing an introduction -- it helps the employer put a face to the name:
- Dear Ms. Singleton,
- I ran into your husband Barry the other evening. He told me that he thinks the marriage was a mistake and that you're driving him "so insane" with your nagging that he's developing a heroin addiction, subsidized by your daughter's college fund. I spent hours listening to him. After a night of cathartic love-making (btw, he's gay, but you probably knew that), he mentioned that you need an office manager. My resume is enclosed.
What if you don't know the person?
Give up now, ret Show that you've done your homework on the company. Show that you're interested in the job, and that you can bring something to the table that no one else can.
Your ad on monster.com says you're looking to hire "an energetic and hard-working person who can deal with high pressure and be an asset to our firm and our customers." And I call bullshit. Here's what going to happen: You're going to hire me, I'm going to look really busy for the first week or two, you're going to slack off, I'm going to slack off, and we'll get into a comfortable rut. OK? I'm selling computers, not opening your kid's head.
How about this:
Yes! Yes!! YES!!! OMFG, you have no idea how long I've wanted to be a part of Goldman Sachs. Tell everyone else to STFU -- I have pictures of everyone on your board and write poems about you when I'm dreaming. Dude, you gotta make me a mutual fund manager. I hope you find my curriculum vitae, references and left foot in order.
Step 2: The Body
Now that you've made the proper introduction, it's time to lay out the good stuff. What skills can you bring to the position? Why are you more hireable than the other guy reading this? How many horrendous things are you willing to do to become a systems analyst?
Be bold. Lay it on -- as fast and thick as you can. Stress your previous employment and how you displayed competence there.
You need a person with people skills, organizational abilities and a talent for numbers -- traits that were absolutely necessary in my last job running a meth lab in rural Indiana.
What about your technical experience? This is very important -- always litter your letter with references to computers and computer software: It's like catnip to HR people.
Currently I work on rerouting Commodore Plus/4s into a central GRF1975 Altair databank, running somewhere between 8.10 to 16.9 bytes per hour. This requires extensive knowledge of CP/M, C and Logo, to say nothing of the additional time moving the FastLoad and Windows Millennium onto the protected Colecovision servers. I am also fairly skilled with ENIAC and Cray hardware, and frequently use them in combination with one another. I am eager to apply this knowledge to the world of lion-taming.
Notice that the writer listed a number of computer-related thingamabobs, but did not come out and say that he was successful at doing these things or that he understood them. It doesn't matter. By listing this stuff, you are guaranteed to amaze people.
Here's a trick they don't teach you in business school. Share a hobby or a past time. By showing your boss the passion you bring to your free time, your boss will see how energetic you will be on the job.
In my spare time, I enjoy football (Go Arsenal!), origamy and writing fan fiction, particularly on Battlestar Galactica. OLD Battlestar, where Starbuck is the man God intended him to be. I don't watch that crap Ronald D. Less fooled the world with. A, THE CYLONS WOULD NOT IMITATE HUMANS BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE HUMANS ARE INFERIOR AND WILL WIPE THEM OUT. Did the Nazis wear yarmulkes? NO. No. 2, Adama should have white hair and wear a tablecloth at all times; anything less is a wildly immoral betrayal of Glenn Larson's vision (really, Donny should have cast HIMSELF as Count (NOT DOCTOR!!!!!!!!!) Baltar). And C, where are the glowing lights? Oh, that's right -- NOWHERE! "Battlestar Galactica?" More like "Belowpar Ga-CRAP-tica."
Always remember that the body is where you present your limited skills to an employer and pray they hire you for tax purposes.
Step 3: Conclusion
So you've made the case for yourself. You can just leave the letter there, right?
No. This is an extremely common mistake -- but fortunately, you know that you need to write a conclusion, to sum up all the points you made and show your appreciation for the employer's time.
As I have fully demonstrated your desperate need for me, why don't we skip the whole interview process? I will show up to work at 8 a.m. Monday morning. I expect an office, a secretary and a cup of coffee (skim milk w/ one sugar, pls) ready when I come in. And I hope your 401K is ready, because I'll have your position if I have to kill for it. I am not kidding.
Strike a gracious tone -- confident without being arrogant, humble without being weak.
Thank you very much for your consideration. I look forward to speaking to you, Ms. McAllister. 'Ms. McAllister' -- that has kind of a sexy ring to it. It's got to be hard, reading all this silly correspondence, wondering if there's anyone who will satisfy you. I think I can. You've seen a lot of applicants, I'll bet, but you've never seen one as 'qualified' as me. How 'bout a follow-up at my place -- say, 8 p.m.?
Don't forget the valediction! Choose from any of these:
- Yours truly,
- Yours falsely,
- I have rabies,
- I have rabies and licked the envelope before I mailed it,
- Don't fuck with me,
- I only date teenagers,
- Fired by the warm glow of Satan's love,
- Did I urinate on this paper or didn't I?
- Overjoyed at the prospect of making unwanted sexual advances on you and all my other coworkers,
- I busted a big load on the page while watching porn,
- Need an attention grabber? Write the letter in blood.
- Never e-mail cover letters. One look at your writing abilities and the company network will throw you in the spam bin with the penis enhancement letters.
- According to Horatio Alger, many get started in business by saving an executive's daughter from drowning. Stalk your employer and your employer's family at all times; you never know when an opportunity will come up.
- Have fun! This is only your life at stake.
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