Author Topic: Useful advice about cover letters  (Read 1284 times)

I D Shukhov

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Useful advice about cover letters
« on: November 07, 2015, 03:05:21 AM »
Recommends writing a "pain letter" instead of the "same stilted, zombie-style language in our resumes that we used thirty years ago"

It's a highly-targeted letter you write after you've uncovered a likely urgent need the recipient has.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/still-writing-cover-letters-try-pain-letter-liz-ryan

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Code Refugee

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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2015, 11:38:01 AM »
I think that article has good advice. When seeking jobs rather than gigs I have always used cover letters as well as customized targeted resumes. I have never used the scatter shot approach many seem to use, so I don't know how that one works. I can attest that customized targeted letters work very well.

I nearly always get a job offer from an interview, it's been a long time since I haven't, and those are in extenuating circumstances. I turn down nearly all offers. I believe it is a better strategy to be able to choose among many offers rather than to choose based on the one offer you got after a long desperate search.

What this article calls a "Pain Letter" is just a normal cover letter, in my opinion. This is comparable to the sort of targeted letter I send.

I also dress for success on interviews, such as in my avatar photo. Day to day I may wear tee shirts and jeans, but I do it clean and never slovenly. I prefer to dress down at home, but I would never do so in view of either a client or employer.

After interviews and also after meeting with potential clients I always send a follow up letter, which is extremely specific.

It seems many people just spew out resumes to every site, or use those awful internet sites. I only submit using postal mail and by phone, addressed to specific individuals. I do not know that spewing and blanketing tactics work. I have heard they are ineffective, but since the methodology I started with has always worked well for me I have not bothered to test other approaches that are rumored to be less effective as I don't see the point or have the time for that. Perhaps some researcher would find it worth his time to test and document the efficacy of various approaches.

datagirl

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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2015, 11:40:22 AM »
I've had luck omitting first person references and writing a "you-centric" cover letter.  That got interviews, at least.  No job offers, though.

Code Refugee

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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2015, 01:12:43 PM »
I'm tempted to give advice like I usually do but I've learned free advice is useless as it's not respected.

I've considered getting into being a career consultant. For 25% of your first 5 years salary, I will coach you to achieve success in the interview process. Doesn't work you don't pay a cent other than the initial consultation fees.

I prefer to build things though, but this might be something I'll do when I get a bit older.

The Gorn

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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #4 on: November 07, 2015, 01:14:15 PM »
Yes, you'd ABSOLUTELY want to charge for coaching. But I think techies and programmers are the wrong market. Their stupidity about business and life causes them to place little value in an intangible like marketing.

I nearly always get a job offer from an interview, it's been a long time since I haven't, and those are in extenuating circumstances. I turn down nearly all offers.

Amazing, especially in this economy. May I ask four questions?

- The nature of your local market (world class city like NY, LA, Chicago; large second tier like Atlanta, Philly, Minneapolis, Dallas; medium sized city like Cleveland, Indy, etc); or smaller? Or do you apply for remote jobs?

- Your general specialty. (DB admin, software developer, systems analyst, data warehouse, BI, etc.)

- Age, OR, years since degree.

- Do you have a career network or some reputation in a specialized area that puts you over the top in searches for specific kinds of talent? Or are you Joe Anonymous?

You're probably protective/paranoid about your identity but those four parameters don't reveal anything identity wise.
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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2015, 02:40:17 PM »
> You're probably protective/paranoid about your identity but those four parameters don't reveal anything identity wise.

True, and thus not a problem to respond.

> The nature of your local market (world class city like NY, LA, Chicago; large second tier like Atlanta, Philly, Minneapolis, Dallas; medium sized city like Cleveland, Indy, etc); or smaller? Or do you apply for remote jobs?

Medium sized. Official population is 1M+.

> Your general specialty. (DB admin, software developer, systems analyst, data warehouse, BI, etc.)

Generalist? However that's not what the tailored resume states. It states what they are requesting, I prune out my experience that's definitely not relevant. Example. If applying to DB job, do not list embedded skills. Example 2. If applying to embedded job, do not list DB and DBA skills.

- Age, OR, years since degree.

I am in my 50s. I got my degree in my mid 20s from a respected and known (ie brand name) program. However, I am fairly sure that program didn't teach me much; I was already a competent developer before I entered college. Should I mention that I was a high school drop out aka flunky loser? I withdrew from high school once I became confident enough in myself to understand it was a scam and waste of time. It's valuable for a lot of people, but if I had stayed longer it would have damaged me even more than it already did. My years growing up were doing diifficult physical things outdoors, while acing school activities. At some point I realized school was a scam and propaganda. This was not accidental at all but was because I was actively confronting teachers on what, to be diplomatic, was their "bullshit". They did not respond well to challenges regarding their lies and inaccuracies. I continued to be "honest" in my test responses, and my grades went to shit. I then withdrew from the whole system, flipping them the bird. OK, I'm getting personal here and yeah, people who hear this story like to shit on my around now. The fact is I was what would now be considered an "underprivileged" child. But so what right! Didn't matter to me, but I was self aware enough to know I was being shoveled heaps of BS in school.

- Do you have a career network or some reputation in a specialized area that puts you over the top in searches for specific kinds of talent? Or are you Joe Anonymous?

No network, but I do have a reputations, I'm not unknown. With my real name people can see I'm an internationally renowned expert in my fields. And controversial, with the usual accusations of being a nazi and a pedophile and an america hater and an isis member. All from cranks for whom that's really all they've got and it's obviously total nonsense. I do have a proven record. However, I was still doing great at interviewing decades before I had a reputation, and I assert the two are unrelated.

I don't view myself as a genius or a specialist. However, I am very very good at a few things. I have also bothered to learn the trivial aspects of marketing and promotion (low IQ only required for these skills) and I know to identify the needs of the customer and to promote my particular advantages in serving those needs. I don't drag in irrelevant stuff. The idea that one can simply create a generic resume I feel is outdated and was only relevant for a very brief period in the late 19th century when people had exceptionally narrow skill sets due to the cult of industrialization where every commoner was no more than a puller of a particular kind of lever. Those days are gone and were only here very briefly. If people want to be successful I advise them to be able to think, to be intelligent, to be creative, to be able to comprehend the few distilled wisdoms of whatever field they are currently in, and to be, if they genuinely have the skills, confident in their capabilities. (Understanding that confident incompetent people are both common and an extreme menace to humanity).

I D Shukhov

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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #6 on: November 07, 2015, 03:48:57 PM »
But I think techies and programmers are the wrong market. Their stupidity about business and life causes them to place little value in an intangible like marketing.

Books like Go Hire Yourself an Employer and What Color is Your Parachute   tried to tell people that a job search was all about marketing, but most of us didn't get it in our younger years and for many, most of our careers. 

Many people feel lucky when they get a new job only to find out the place is lousy a short time later.



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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2015, 06:57:56 PM »
Thanks for the answers. There's some really good and wise nuggets in your reply that stand out.

> Your general specialty. (DB admin, software developer, systems analyst, data warehouse, BI, etc.)

Generalist? However that's not what the tailored resume states. It states what they are requesting, I prune out my experience that's definitely not relevant. Example. If applying to DB job, do not list embedded skills. Example 2. If applying to embedded job, do not list DB and DBA skills.
...
- Do you have a career network or some reputation in a specialized area that puts you over the top in searches for specific kinds of talent? Or are you Joe Anonymous?

No network, but I do have a reputations, I'm not unknown. With my real name people can see I'm an internationally renowned expert in my fields. And controversial, ...

I don't view myself as a genius or a specialist. However, I am very very good at a few things. I have also bothered to learn the trivial aspects of marketing and promotion (low IQ only required for these skills) and I know to identify the needs of the customer and to promote my particular advantages in serving those needs. I don't drag in irrelevant stuff. The idea that one can simply create a generic resume I feel is outdated ... If people want to be successful I advise them to be able to think, to be intelligent, to be creative, to be able to comprehend the few distilled wisdoms of whatever field they are currently in, and to be, if they genuinely have the skills, confident in their capabilities. (Understanding that confident incompetent people are both common and an extreme menace to humanity).

The only element that doesn't sound at all plausible is your assertion that you're an "internationally known expert". Not that I'm judging you personally. We only get rank nobodies on this forum. You're breaking the rules.  >:D

Your overall personal profile (with the Nazi angle, and your age, and your way of laying out business issues) sounds like Dr. H on CrazyOnTap. 'Cept your IP address is from an internet provider in the US and he's in Norway or someplace like that.

Your advice is entirely spot-on. I don't think landing jobs or contracts 10 or 20 years demanded such a razor-fit with the hiring requirements as they do today.

Like you said, you have to practice information-hiding and only present the exact profile of your experience and career that the dumb assholes who are gatekeepers think they need to see. ANY off-message, off-topic content in your resume or presentation will be seen as non compliance, or as crowding out the good stuff that they need at the immediate moment. IE, you cant' know X and also A,B, and C at the same time... obvious diversity indicates to hiring parties that you're not good at anything.

In other words, a resume sent to a particular job today is really a piece of direct marketing, it's direct response advertising to an audience of 1. Just as the fraud types sell overpriced dietary supplements and scam financial schemes to lower middle class types who have poor reasoning capabilities, you have to focus the reader's attention on what you want them to think about.

I do vehemently disagree that marketing and advertising knowledge is low IQ stuff. Many smart people on a board like this and in IT will never, ever get that concept, and will do a dumb core dump of information when you ask them for one thing.

I do believe that in order to persuade someone in writing, it's best if you are smarter and much more aware than they are. So, your IQ is requisite for marketing, not superfluous.

The long sentence:

Quote
be able to think, to be intelligent, to be creative, to be able to comprehend the few distilled wisdoms of whatever field they are currently in, and to be, if they genuinely have the skills, confident in their capabilities.

...is a gem. Techies and programmers and IT types are typically underconfident with low self esteem and tell themselves that they can't create or invent. I see that a lot around here.  The more you act an under achiever "I can't do this" role in life and rationalize lack of effort, the more you are an under achiever.
« Last Edit: November 07, 2015, 07:09:55 PM by The Gorn »
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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #8 on: November 08, 2015, 12:47:28 AM »
Well you were wondering why I always get an offer when I go to all the work of targeting a firm, and you asked several things to find out if there's some extenuating circumstances. Among these you asked if I have a "reputation in a specialized area that puts you over the top in searches for specific kinds of talent" and the answer to that is definitely yes. It doesn't mean anyone outside the specialized area has heard of me at all nor am I claiming that. But in reference to my name articles I've written come up and in comments and discussions and citations elsewhere it is obvious that I am the top person in an obscure specialty. I think I'm the #1 person in the world and many others do too though I'm sure many disagree and that's fine. However I didn't come here and announce that about my self and it's not anything I tell people. It's just that you specifically asked me about that specific issue and so I answered your question. I'd have preferred not to answer that one. If you don't want to believe me I really don't care as I'm not here to prove anything, but if you aren't prepared to believe a response to a yes or no question then don't ask the question because that just wastes everyone's time.

Code Refugee

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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #9 on: November 08, 2015, 04:10:03 AM »
OK, sorry I was flat out drunk when I read your reply and got offended by the start of it and now I see you weren't saying what I thought you were, and there was more to the message.

Your overall personal profile (with the Nazi angle, and your age, and your way of laying out business issues) sounds like Dr. H on CrazyOnTap.

I didn't realize that, but I see what you mean. I am familiar with his posts. He is smart and does really interesting work, but when he starts on about conspiracies regarding various ethnic groups it is counterproductive and so I can see why people hate him.

Nazi and pedo accusations are what some people throw out as a way of winning arguments. Some years ago I had a fishing buddy who was in a custody battle with his ex wife. She filed a complaint that she'd been raped by him. Only problem was I was with him the weekend it happened, and I testified to this. She should have been charged for filing a false report, but they just dropped the charges. She got pissed off though and started telling people I knew that I was a pedo. That really pissed me off and caused a lot of problems. The Nazi stuff is an accusation made by some liberals that I knew, related to times when I supported conservative causes such as traditional marriage and the death penalty. (These issues I don't have the same opinions about anymore, and I'm now anti-conservative in addition to being anti-liberal, I pretty much disagree with almost all that both sides advocate. I'd like to be anti-independent/middle and make it a complete spectrum, except that one's impossible to pin down enough to be against.)

I don't think landing jobs or contracts 10 or 20 years demanded such a razor-fit with the hiring requirements as they do today.

Like you said, you have to practice information-hiding and only present the exact profile of your experience and career that the dumb assholes who are gatekeepers think they need to see. ANY off-message, off-topic content in your resume or presentation will be seen as non compliance, or as crowding out the good stuff that they need at the immediate moment. IE, you cant' know X and also A,B, and C at the same time... obvious diversity indicates to hiring parties that you're not good at anything.

Yes the alphabet soup requirements are a big problem in particular. It's not just about having an exact match in a subset, it's often about the resume exactly matching the requirements, although perhaps adjusting the order listed. If one has extra skills listed they don't need then the candidate can be seen as overqualified and be dismissed from consideration because of that.

Good point too about too many things also being seen as being too much of a generalist.

In other words, a resume sent to a particular job today is really a piece of direct marketing, it's direct response advertising to an audience of 1. Just as the fraud types sell overpriced dietary supplements and scam financial schemes to lower middle class types who have poor reasoning capabilities, you have to focus the reader's attention on what you want them to think about.

I agree completely with this. Another comparison would be the dating scene where one also sells themselves if they want to successfully seduce. Approach a job as a predator does his prey, or a salesman his mark. It's best to do this while appearing to be casual about it. But if one is actually casual or unaware about marketing themselves then they'll just be flopping about from interview to interview hoping to get lucky like an inebriated virgin stumbling from bar to bar hoping to find someone by random chance. It can happen but the chances are you'll end up with a job or bedmate you regret the next morning. The dating metaphor also comes into play regarding dressing up for interviews to just the right level, looking and smelling clean, don't have tattoos showing, no piercings, etc.

One can look at all these things as engineering problems. Analyze the system, reverse engineer it if needed, to find out what sort of inputs it is looking for, or find out what is the valid format of the files it is looking for. Then feed the system those perfectly formatted inputs. Some systems might be flexible in what they accept, such as a browser that handles all manner of incorrect markup code. Even so you should still present it with perfectly formatted data. This data is how you present yourself, your statements, your way of walking, chit chat with clients to find common interests, whether you pick your nose in front of others, whether you eat a big bowl of garlic curry for breakfast before meeting with someone. All of these things are analyzed as data by the other party, whether consciously or not.

I do vehemently disagree that marketing and advertising knowledge is low IQ stuff. Many smart people on a board like this and in IT will never, ever get that concept, and will do a dumb core dump of information when you ask them for one thing.

I do believe that in order to persuade someone in writing, it's best if you are smarter and much more aware than they are. So, your IQ is requisite for marketing, not superfluous.

I see what you're saying and you're right. What I was thinking about when I wrote that is that you don't have to be high IQ to be a good salesman. Lots of very effective salesmen are average IQ or even below. I'm saying one can be a great and persuasive salesman without having the ability to write good code or design things.

Techies and programmers and IT types are typically underconfident with low self esteem and tell themselves that they can't create or invent. I see that a lot around here.  The more you act an under achiever "I can't do this" role in life and rationalize lack of effort, the more you are an under achiever.

Yes this is a problem and part of it I think is because CS and SE education, and advanced science classes in high school, often result in limited exposure to humanities, history and perspective.

Much more valuable than programming classes in college are classes in psychology and writing.

Much more valuable than a summer internship at some tech firm writing some web site is a summer working as a waiter and learning to deal with people, suffer abuse, and still get a big tip. Or if one is particularly daring, a couple months as a salesman at a car lot.
« Last Edit: November 08, 2015, 04:24:17 AM by Code Refugee »

The Gorn

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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #10 on: November 08, 2015, 05:38:18 AM »
Well, the extenuating circumstances are that you know precisely how to get positive attention during the job application and interview processes.

I think everyone can learn from your points. You know for a fact that I responded positively to your explanation. But I'm going to nit pick like anyone will and ask about things that are unclear.

"Internationally known expert" is a provocative statement and you needed to explain that. When you explained "internationally known expert" further, it sounds like you meant that if someone Googles your name in conjunction with the area of expertise, hits pop up.

In other words, you're not claiming that you're literally famous like a Linus Torvalds, you mean that you have some astroturfing out there in terms of posts, articles, papers, perhaps being co-named on a patent or two. If someone wants to look you up as having a skill you're easy to find. Is that what you meant?

It also sounds like when you're compared to Nazis by the presumably jealous it's Godwin discussion-stopper stuff.
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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #11 on: November 08, 2015, 07:32:37 AM »
You know for a fact that I responded positively to your explanation.

I agree, but I read it differently when I was drunk. I thought about deleting the post in shame where I am whining, but I thought I should just let it be and not try to hide that I am dumbass at times, and instead post a follow up.

"Internationally known expert" is a provocative statement and you needed to explain that.

Well I don't agree its provocative it just is what it is. I don't really consider it a big deal, I only said that in response to the inquiry on the topic. I think it's not hard to be an internationally renowned expert in some super inconsequential thing that 99.9% of the population has never heard of and couldn't possibly care about even if they came to understand what it was about.

There's maybe 10,000 people globally that have to deal with this particular thing and are really into it, and a few millions have heard the term that describes it but don't care about it. Of the 10,000 people that have to deal with this, most of them would instantly recognize my name and acknowledge that I was a big deal in their tiny tiny field.

However, most jobs and contracts I do have little to do with my expertise and in those cases I say nothing about it. When its relevant I don't classify myself as expert, I just list that I have experience, but in the cover letter I'll casually and "naively" drop insider info that signals I really do understand it.

it sounds like you meant that if someone Googles your name in conjunction with the area of expertise, hits pop up.

Yes, sorry about the confusion. But also my full name alone (including middle name) on the first page stuff shows up so even if not adding the obscure subject.

In other words, you're not claiming that you're literally famous like a Linus Torvalds

True but actually I don't think the typical man on the street has ever heard of Linus Torvalds or Joel Spolsky or Paul Graham, those are really geek heros not people generally known. And even among geeks I think I saw a post you had recently noting that even among tech guys only a tiny number really know who Spolsky is, he's actually almost totally unknown even in tech circles.

you mean that you have some astroturfing out there in terms of posts, articles, papers, perhaps being co-named on a patent or two. If someone wants to look you up as having a skill you're easy to find. Is that what you meant?

Posts, articles, papers, patents, yeah. But I take exception to the term astroturfing, this stuff is not planted it's stuff I've done that appears out there.

It also sounds like when you're compared to Nazis by the presumably jealous it's Godwin discussion-stopper stuff.

Yeah I sometimes wonder that if someone has never been accused of being a Nazi they might not be living life well since as soon as you state your mind on a lot of topics that comparison is the standard response.

Perhaps we could consider that people who have never been accused of being Nazis are the ones we should be worrying about. What are they hiding?

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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #12 on: November 08, 2015, 09:38:51 AM »
Perhaps we could consider that people who have never been accused of being Nazis are the ones we should be worrying about. What are they hiding?

Not for being a Nazi or Anti-Semite (I think the latter is the Dr. H malady.) But I have been accused of horrible things and intentions for years, as long as I've been online in some participatory mode. So I must be doing alright.  :P

To summarize your post from November 7, @7:40 PM:

Everything you cited is an element of job searching, submission and interviewing that any job candidate has control over.

Well, the patent may be out of reach for most of us. And the collateral on the web takes time and focus and advance preparation.
« Last Edit: November 08, 2015, 09:52:57 AM by The Gorn »
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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #13 on: November 08, 2015, 01:01:07 PM »
CR, its all very useful job hunt information and spot on.  When I was in-between jobs way, way back 25 years ago, I worked for a couple of years at an executive outplacement agency.  It was during the S&L Loan scandals so they had a lot of bankers, but also there were a lot of computer management professionals from a fairly large company in my area that downsized.  It was temp work and I typed and helped create resumes and cover letters.   

The agency took these train-wreck CEO's and management people from failed companies and remade them into successful people using the same strategies you're talking about.  They all got a job, but they needed a lot of support to get there.
 
Some of them started out suicidal because they thought their career was over, but the agency held their hand during the entire process.  They did a lot of role-playing of the interview process with the executives and had counselors on their staff to cater to them.

Anyway, the strategies of places like that do work, but absent the structure of an outplacement agency, most people will fail to apply themselves.  The agency makes sure you actively pursue job opportunities.  They push you everyday, something that most people can't do for themselves.

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Re: Useful advice about cover letters
« Reply #14 on: November 08, 2015, 01:33:06 PM »
I don't agree with turning down an internship, ever.  You can always be a waiter, but you can shine during an internship if you want to.  I've worked with interns and most of them never treated it like the opportunity it was, it was a chore.  The 2% that went beyond what was expected were stars and they went on to do well for themselves.