writing cover letters

13 December 2020

LinkedInanity — Dubious Wisdom From The LinkedIn Wall, Whining About Cover Letters Edition

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Veteran of the Job Hunting Wars; Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

As the tragically revamped LinkedIn algorithm continues to elevate hype over substance, the once informative wall has become plastered with inanity…

Oh, what I’d give for a content filter just to eliminate every post containing the word “humbled”!

But until a rival business social-network emerges (hello, New York Times…), we’re stuck with LinkedIn. And what stuck out to me this week was a popular post from a job hunter with exactly three words:

“Abolish Cover Letters”

Now I get it. If you’re applying for dozens of jobs, and you have to customize a cover letter for each one, that gets to be a hassle. And when you hear that computer scanners don’t even read cover letters, then you certainly wouldn’t want to waste time on them either.

But if you’re applying for dozens of jobs that involve computer scanners, no matter what you do is likely a waste of time.

As I mentioned in my post on how to find a job during a recession-pandemic, most jobs these days are acquired through referrals and connections. That means sending your application directly to a human being, ideally the one with all the hiring power.

And that person requires a cover letter.

Ban the Boring

Now, I endorse abolishing boring, clichéd cover letters. Indeed, I support abolishing boring, clichéd everything.

But a good cover letter gives you an opportunity to express your personality and your perspective, which a resumé typically doesn’t do. Use your cover letter to:

  • list three FACTUAL bullets about the skills and experiences that make you the “perfect fit” for the job
  • tell a story about one of your favorite projects, since stories are more memorable than facts, and resumes don’t have space on them
  • highlight what makes you different from the 999 other applicants for the position.

In addition, if you were referred for the position by a mutual connection, or you know the person you’re writing, use the cover letter to establish that relationship.

Passion? Show It, Don’t Say It

You can say all you want about how “passionate” you are about an occupation (but don’t — “passion” is a cliché). Rather, demonstrate your passion by putting thought into a well-crafted cover letter. Just sending a resumé with no intro says that you could not care less about the company or the job.

Indeed, consider the cover letter the pitch that lands you the interview. Your resumé just serves as supporting data.

Case in point: When I was a young pup, I applied for a full-time advertising gig at MCA Records, but I had zero experience in the music industry. My resumé said I had a college degree (yay) and a brief copywriting gig at a bad agency. Thinking that I had zero chance, I took a creative risk and made my cover letter a 2-page — yes, TWO — sarcastic description of a concert I attended, how awful the club was, and how much I loved the music.

I got the interview and, eventually, the job.

So don’t see the cover letter as a chore to be abolished. Rather, see it as an additional opportunity to demonstrate your talent as a writer, marketer, and strategic thinker.

Even if a job doesn’t require a cover letter, that invaluable opportunity calls for writing one anyway — especially since a popular inane post on LinkedIn may mean you’ll be the only applicant submitting one.


More LinkedInanity for your critical reading pleasure:

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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