Cover that letter!

The other day I sat down with my sister to help her with her essay for the medical school residency applications she’s working on. While she chose a topic that really reflected who she is, I wanted it to be more personal. I wanted an introduction that had a compelling story, something that really captured my attention and made her point about what drives her in medicine and in life. I wasn’t really interested in reading something dry that sounds like everyone else’s; instead, I wanted something unique, tailored to her and her personality.

In essence, that’s exactly what I want to see in a cover letter. Something personal, unique, customized to you and who you are.

Consider what you’re sending me when you apply for a job at my firm. You’re already passing along a resume that has your accomplishments and your skills. I now know what you did while you were in college and what you graduated with. I know where you worked. What’s the point of repeating that in a second document? Seems redundant, eh?

Instead, I want to see you for who you are. Do you have a great story about why you got into architecture (or insert your career field)? Did you work on something that has personal meaning to you? Has your career made its way into your daily routine? I’m not insisting you be overly dramatic (and please don’t be). But show me that it means something to you. Write from the heart and show who you are. If you’re bullshitting, then I’ll see right through you and it was a waste of everyone’s time.

The fine print here is that of course it’s got to be well-written. And while you’re taking the time to write this, take an extra 2 minutes and give me the reason why you’re interested in my firm (“I love your ___ project!” or “I admire the intelligence and intellect of your HR guy!”) so I know you’re committed and not just sending your application to every e-mail address you can find online.

And as far as length, keep it concise. You don’t need pages upon pages. I prefer to throw cover letters in an e-mail so it’s introducing yourself up front that then refers to the resume and other docs you’ve got attached. I advocate for that over the traditional business cover letter attachment style.

For more on this, and for a killer sample, check out one of my favorite bloggers and her response: http://askamanager.blogspot.com/2007/06/what-does-good-cover-letter-look-like_13.html.

Any other good resources you’ve found? Have you had any experience (good or scary) with cover letters?

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