Friday, March 18, 2005

Those three little paragraphs

I absolutely loathe cover letters. It’s the part of your job search that actually requires some thought, preferably the creative kind. It’s easy to send your resume--once the damned thing has reached an acceptable level of completeness (because as we’ve heard recruiters say time and again, there’s always room for improvement. Blast improvement. Recruiters too.) it’s done--you just upload it and press send. Maybe a minor modification is needed here and there to emphasize a particular area of expertise that makes you sound like a better fit for the job. Eventually you have several copies of your resume, each geared towards a slightly different career. No more modifications are needed.

But cover letters, now… you have to show personality. It has to be customized for the particular company, industry, job description. You need appropriate language and examples. Sometimes you have to write a whole new one from scratch! (I hate those times.) And all this on the off-chance that someone actually reads it. Someone who can appreciate your subtle wit, or the intelligence implied by the fact that you found a way to insert some Latin phrase like ipso facto (note to self: find out what ipso facto means), or your modesty regarding your exceptional achievements (“During my time as company president, I felt it my duty to work as hard as I possibly could to ensure Microsoft’s success, but always felt it was those with whom I worked who were really responsible for our double-digit annual growth.”).

Most frustrating of all is when you’re applying for a job that you actually really want. A job where you’d give your left arm for an interview. In these cases, you’re faced with knowing that you and this job were made for each other, that it’s a perfect fit, and that you are the only person in the world so convinced. Remember that major crush you had in middle school? Kind of like that. But candygrams were a feasible means of communication. You still had to grapple with linguistic choices: "Should I put 'love' instead of 'from'? Is that too obvious? Is that too subtle?" "Should I throw in a clever, sarcastic comment to show how cool I am? What they don't know what I'm talking about? Or if they don't know who I am?" "Should I use red crayon or black crayon?"

Important questions all, ones to which I never really did figure out the answers (except for the crayon one--I always make sure to use red crayon to write my cover letters). And it's still the same problem: how do you communicate sheer desperation (but, like, the positive kind, not the potential stalker kind)? I find it impossible to reconcile what I want to say with how I want to sound. For example, there’s an opening at Google for which I’m applying as soon as I figure out how to translate the following into something remotely appropriate:

oh my god this job is PERFECT for me i LOVE search engine marketing, think it’s SO cool and even wrote a paper on it. i got a degree in imc which you probably haven’t heard of but which is about customer-centric marketing or something and what’s more customer-centric than ads based on stuff you know people are looking for?! i followed everything going on with the IPO, was one of the first gmail account holders because i had a blogger account (which it’s so cool you guys bought! it’s so much better now! go you!) and then discovered that website where people promise stuff for a gmail account and i even wrote a letter to the WSJ about it. i’m constantly amazed by all the new stuff you guys put out, like that new sms service, and think that marketing one of your products would be SO so cool, i’d love to do it and i know i can, so please please please hire me, i SWEAR you’ll be glad you chose me, this job is perfect for me!

(For those of you who think I’m just making all that up, it is my sad duty to inform you that no, I’m not.)

Unfortunately it’s the last phrase that’s kind of telling. A job that’s perfect for you doesn’t mean you are perfect for it. There are lots of jobs that are perfect for me. Like being Paris Hilton. I’d love to do that. Or be a travel columnist: new place each week. That would fucking rule. However, I think that an argument could be made that I’m not really qualified to be Paris Hilton. Her parents would likely be at the forefront of that one, quickly followed by, like, the rest of the civilized world. (Maybe the uncivilized part, too… they’d probably say that I just don’t look like a Paris, and they’d be right.) And as for being a travel columnist… well, I kind of was a few weeks back. A self-funded travel columnist. Now I’m a Mom-and-Dad-funded job search columnist. Funny how these things work out.

At any rate, I’m not faced with actually trying to convince anyone else that I’m perfect for either of those jobs. (If I thought I had a shot in hell, though, believe me I’d take it.) But there are marketing jobs that I hear about and the job description sounds like a walk in the park compared to what I did in grad school. But the thing is, the person I’m writing to doesn’t know what I did in grad school, and I don’t know how to even begin telling them. They don’t know my interests, either, to understand how perfectly they fit, and it’s hard to follow the rule of ‘show not tell’ when you haven’t got anything to show because THIS IS YOUR FIRST JOB SO HOW ABOUT A FUCKING BREAK, HUH?!

Yeah, I need to learn how to convey that sentiment as well, but in a “I deserve a break and won’t you feel good about yourself if you give me one” kind of way rather than a “My behavior will lead to a lawsuit within the year” kind of way.

I think I need more practice.

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