SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Xenia von Wedel, Peter Silva, Glenn Rossman, Ava Smith, Elizabeth White

Blog Feed Post

The Way You Write Cover Letters is a Complete Waste of Time

Connie Going

Connie Going has spent decades as a social worker and placed over 1,000 children in foster homes. Many times, she has matched a needy child with a loving family. Sometimes, it takes one or two tries to find the perfect fit. And one time, with a rebellious boy named Taylor, she could never get it right.

That’s why, after ten years placing Taylor — unsuccessfully — with different foster families, Connie made a remarkable decision. She decided to adopt Taylor as her own son and let him live alongside her two other children.

Great story, isn’t it? No, I didn’t make it up. It’s the focus of a recent piece by Steve Hartman, the master storyteller for CBS Sunday Morning (the best show you’re not watching).

Here’s the full version of Connie’s story. WARNING: you might sweat out of your eyes a little.

I started this column with Connie Going for a reason. A compelling story in the first paragraph hooked you and kept you paying attention.

Unfortunately, way too many people open a cover letter with:

“Hi, my name is _____ , and I am interested in the position of _____”

Guess what the employer thinks?

“I’ve seen this same cover letter about 400,000 times. Next!”

So, let’s propose a new idea…

Rather than start a cover letter in typical, ho-hum fashion, lead with a personal story that either happened at work or on your free time. It can be dramatic, interesting, unique (like Amanda Munster’s genius savings plan for a first home), exciting or downright unusual.

If the anecdote relates directly to the job you’re after — and the skills it requires — you stand a much greater chance of the employer being impressed with your application.

In other words: a stronger cover letter might just get you hired. 

Why do we reads books? Go to the movies? Watch TV dramas?

Because human beings love stories. They move us, inspire us, transport us and above all… they entertain us. Why should a cover letter be a flat, unemotional document? Who decided they should exist only to regurgitate your resume? To fill up five bloated paragraphs with everything you’ve done so far in your career?

No one, that’s who. No one decided those rules. We all just slowly came to accept them.

***Oh, and you don’t have “Education” at the top of your resume, do you?***

Below, I will show you how to write your own story in the first paragraph of any cover letter for any job. 

There are three advantages to this style:

  • Catch the reader’s attention immediately
  • Demonstrate your ability to do the job in question
  • BE MEMORABLE

How to Write a Cover Letter People WANT to Read

Here’s the process. Feel free to write these answers down somewhere else.

  1. Think of a job you want or plan to apply for.
  2. List out the essential skills that job requires. Some employers ask, impossibly, that you have 500 different skills so try to think of the most important qualities of the position.
  3. Now, the clincher. Look back on your life and think of a moment, a story or situation that exemplifies the type of person the employer wants. Again, it doesn’t need to be something that happened on the job.

For example, I recently did this cover letter activity for a group of college students in Virginia. Almost everyone in the room is in the process of applying for work.

One girl told me she wants to be a nurse. So I asked her: “Can you tell me a story that shows you can handle the challenges of nursing?”

Here’s what she wrote down, paraphrased:

As a teenager, I learned that my grandfather developed Alzheimer’s. While it was painful to watch him decline, I made a point to provide him extra attention, tend to his ever-growing needs and be as much of a caretaker as I could. It wasn’t easy, but that experience proved to me that nursing is my calling. And that’s why I’d like to work in the medical field and help others.

If you, the director of a nursing program, read that paragraph atop her cover letter, would it give you pause? Would you want to then call the girl in for a job interview?

Damn right.

This girl is not a novelist, blogger or any kind of “writer.” So what. The story itself is noteworthy and doesn’t require elegant prose. She simply explained what happened and then started the SECOND paragraph with the classic “My name is ____, and I am interested in the position of ____”

***If you DO want to strengthen your writing, the best way is through blogging, and here are nine reasons why.***

Through the cover letter exercise, the girl realized something powerful:

Personal experiences are our greatest asset, and no one else can claim them.

It’s time to change how we approach job applications. With a cover letter, employers don’t need to know every single thing you’ve ever done. They don’t have the time and, frankly, they don’t care.

They WILL care and they WILL pay attention if you offer a great story that proves you’re the ideal candidate for the position.

Remember: the same person who likes hospital and courtroom TV dramas is also reading your job application.  

Be entertaining. Be memorable.

Stand out.

I wonder if Connie Going, the kindhearted social worker, will ever re-enter the job market.

If she does, I already know how she’ll start the cover letter.

(This content was originally posted at News to Live By.)

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the host of Fox Television’s "Shelly Palmer Digital Living" television show about living and working in a digital world. He is Fox 5′s (WNYW-TV New York) Tech Expert and the host of United Stations Radio Network’s, MediaBytes, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment.

Latest Stories
We are all here because we are sold on the transformative promise of The Cloud. But what good is all of this ephemeral, on-demand infrastructure if your usage doesn't actually improve the agility and speed of your business? How must Operations adapt in order to avoid stifling your Cloud initiative? In his session at DevOps Summit, Damon Edwards, co-founder and managing partner of the DTO Solutions, will highlight the successful organizational, process, and tooling patterns of high-performing c...
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from ha...
Software-driven innovation is becoming a primary approach to how businesses create and deliver new value to customers. A survey of 400 business and IT executives by the IBM Institute for Business Value showed businesses that are more effective at software delivery are also more profitable than their peers nearly 70 percent of the time (1). DevOps provides a way for businesses to remain competitive, applying lean and agile principles to software development to speed the delivery of software that ...
Docker offers a new, lightweight approach to application portability. Applications are shipped using a common container format and managed with a high-level API. Their processes run within isolated namespaces that abstract the operating environment independently of the distribution, versions, network setup, and other details of this environment. This "containerization" has often been nicknamed "the new virtualization." But containers are more than lightweight virtual machines. Beyond their small...
The move in recent years to cloud computing services and architectures has added significant pace to the application development and deployment environment. When enterprise IT can spin up large computing instances in just minutes, developers can also design and deploy in small time frames that were unimaginable a few years ago. The consequent move toward lean, agile, and fast development leads to the need for the development and operations sides to work very closely together. Thus, DevOps become...
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.

ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's

An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and asse...
The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com...
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Ar...
Leysin American School is an exclusive, private boarding school located in Leysin, Switzerland. Leysin selected an OpenStack-powered, private cloud as a service to manage multiple applications and provide development environments for students across the institution. Seeking to meet rigid data sovereignty and data integrity requirements while offering flexible, on-demand cloud resources to users, Leysin identified OpenStack as the clear choice to round out the school's cloud strategy. Additional...
Technology is enabling a new approach to collecting and using data. This approach, commonly referred to as the "Internet of Things" (IoT), enables businesses to use real-time data from all sorts of things including machines, devices and sensors to make better decisions, improve customer service, and lower the risk in the creation of new revenue opportunities. In his General Session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Dave Wagstaff, Vice President and Chief Architect at BSQUARE Corporation, discuss the ...
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, a...
SYS-CON Media announced today that Aruna Ravichandran, VP of Marketing, Application Performance Management and DevOps at CA Technologies, has joined DevOps Journal’s authors. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. DevOps Journal brings valuable information to DevOps professionals who are transforming the way enterprise IT is done. Aruna's inaugural article "Four Essential Cultural Hacks for DevOps Newbies" discusses how to demonstrate the...
"BSQUARE is in the business of selling software solutions for smart connected devices. It's obvious that IoT has moved from being a technology to being a fundamental part of business, and in the last 18 months people have said let's figure out how to do it and let's put some focus on it, " explained Dave Wagstaff, VP & Chief Architect, at BSQUARE Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.