Many of us pride ourselves on being brief. Being a financial person in part is defined as being factual and to the point. Any member of our profession who had a tendency to rattle on would be viewed as a little odd, don’t you think?
Many of you may be aware of Calvin Coolidge and his reputation for being brief. Both his dry Yankee wit and his frugality with words were legendary. As the story goes, his wife, Grace Goodhue Coolidge, recounted that a young woman sitting next to Coolidge at a dinner party confided to him she had bet she could get at least three words of conversation from him. Without looking at her he quietly retorted, “You lose.”
When it comes to cover letters, brief is good. Especially in today’s world where an email with your resume attached IS your cover letter. One page is about the limit. A two page cover letter could be viewed as a little over the top. Still, there is brief and there is brief.
Those who send in NO cover letter and just attached their resume as if it were self-explanatory are being a little too brief. When you are responding to a posting, there has to be SOMETHING about your background that calls for an explanation. If you want to play Calvin Coolidge, that is your decision, but brevity has its place, and a few words are typically called for.
Postings published by me under our banner of The FECG always provide a subject to use. As long as you at least provide that subject, I suppose I can match you up to the appropriate assignment.
I have been known to promote the idea that your resume stands alone. In large part it does. If there is nothing on your resume that jumps out as appropriate to the assignment in question, however, I always read your cover letter to see if I am missing the reason why you wrote in. I find it hard to believe that you would waste my time.
I also know that I have written from time to time that I can spot boilerplate cover letters. This is also a true fact. (A true fact is something that isn’t a lie, I suppose, or something that isn’t subject to debate.) While boilerplate (indiscriminately applied) can easily be detected, smartly written boilerplate with clear allowances for variations can’t be.
As you develop your own style for responding to the many questions raised by a job posting, keep a detailed inventory of your commentary for later use. In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to write and rewrite issues that come up so they read smoothly and clearly.
As an example, if a job calls for local candidates only, but you have great interest in that location, DON’T remove your address from your resume. That may fool people for about 2 seconds into thinking you are local. Instead come up with a snappy series of ideas that explain why you have interest in that city or area. Did you go to school there? Were you raised there? Do you have family there? Any one of these is liable to fool me into considering you more than silence or having me believe you are sleeping in your car.
If the issue is industry experience, perhaps your resume cannot make totally clear why your experience in one industry is just like the requirements in another. This is another place where a well written series of sentences can come to your rescue.
Many postings require some sense of your compensation requirements. No need to write these thoughts from whole cloth each time. I’m sure a consistent set of ranges will work in most cases, and this IS a good place not to get too detailed.
Your cover letter is almost never sent to a client. The reason is that cover letters vary significantly in quality and sometimes aren’t there at all.
So if you are a Calvin Coolidge type and have not been sending along an email cover letter, may I encourage you to do so?
In this case, if I can get at least three words out of you, YOU win.