–Charles Bukowski (From a letter to publisher Douglas Blazek in Screams from the Balcony: Selected Letters 1960-1970. Ed. Seamus Cooney. 1993.)
More after the break.
Most of the time, it doesn’t seem obvious why a cover letter is so important. Maybe people want to see how the applicant’s mind works. The applicant’s mind works like this: PLEASE GIVE ME A JOB!
It’s a fair guess that most of the cover letters never get read. Skimmed maybe, but never actually read. Ask anyone who’s unemployed and they’ll tell you repeatedly that close to a thousand applicants submit materials for any one position. HR people will also confirm this.
After looking at ten or twenty they all start to sound alike. At some point, the HR rep probably starts consigning them to the circular file without a glance. It’s an impossible task. How do you screen for a temporary Revit consultant when you have a thousand qualified applicants to go through? Say you glance at the first few hundred, you check their resumes, and then randomly select five for interviews. From one thousand to five in a matter of minutes. It’s done and you leave the office by 5:00.
People spend a lot of time on cover letters. They are thoughtful and serious about communicating what they genuinely believe they can offer. Sure, there are always a few who exaggerate their skills, but HR people are good at weeding those people out. For the most part, people looking for a new job try to impress through good grammar and a balanced if subjective assessment of their experiences and talents. Candidates don’t want to get into something they can’t handle and they don’t want to undersell themselves either. It’s more often the case that people diminish their abilities because they don’t want to appear to be exaggerating.
Once I realized there was a good chance my letters were not getting carefully scrutinized I started getting a little more creative with them. Headhunters and professional coaches will usually advise against such tactics because they say this can give the wrong impression. They would be right. However, with the kind of pool you’re competing against nowadays, creativity might be the only way of getting noticed—if you get noticed at all.
Following are some examples of my own attempts to stand out. Like on Jackass, I must add the disclaimer that you should not try this on your own. However, if you’ve just hit bottom and don’t care anymore then, by all means, have fun and BE CREATIVE! At the very least you made an HR person’s day a little more interesting. And, like Bukowski said, Rejection is good for the soul. Though he also added that it’s usually good for other people’s souls more than one’s own.
Actually, creativity can pay off. One of the examples below received a glowingly positive response. They still weren’t in a position to hire anyone, but they loved the letter. They said it was refreshing. Ironically, I composed that letter in a down period. I had given up hope of ever getting a response of any kind. I just wrote whatever I felt like and sent it off.
Dear Small But Maybe Up-And-Coming Firm:
Because you never know. And, I liked the way you presented yourselves on your webpage.
I was part of a mass lay-off at ______. To occupy myself these days I’m currently reading On the Road, continuing my ARE exams (of course!) and taking my 2 year-old daughter to the beach a lot and getting really dark. While I enjoy this I would really like to get back into Architecture as soon as possible!
Dear Really Big Firm:
Having looked at the work on your website I can see you are in desperate need of help. If you want to get beyond that dated look you can rely on me to straighten things out. Maybe you just need to stop using FormZ. I can help you get over your FormZ addiction. Just leave it to me.
Yes, I’ve been there, too, but there is a way to end this pain and I can teach you how. I know programs that do blobby shapes so you can win lots of international competitions.
Dear Famous Architect:
I see you are looking for someone to send to the Middle East. I believe I would be the perfect candidate for being sent to the other side of the earth without my family or cats. I love sitting in smoke-filled offices because the second-hand smoke means I don’t need to buy my own. I’m also culturally sensitive and generally like Muslims so I won’t embarrass your firm by saying things like “Muslimism.” Plus, I’m not British so those awkward colonial implications won’t come up and I don’t have a funny accent.
If you do indeed send me, I would need you to somehow get me a steady supply of alcohol, or hook me up with local sources since I understand this is forbidden.
I am certain I could offer the most cutting-edge design to put all that oil revenue to good use.
I know you get thousands of these things so let me get to the point. I just forgot what the point is because you are not even going to read this and even if you do you have already selected the twenty people you are going to interview for this low-level contract position with no benefits. Isn’t that a big waste of time to interview so many people for something so minor? Shouldn’t you be out finding projects or something?
But, just so you know, I know you are trying your best to find the perfect person. It’s not your fault everybody in the country is emailing you about this temporary position.
So how about this? Let me offer my advice on how to hire someone. First, you need someone in your geographic region. Google Map the ones who are in your city and see how close they are to your office. This should reduce the number down to something you can manage. You are bound to find high-quality people who can do what you need within a one-mile radius. Since I have already done this, I can tell you that I am actually just a few blocks from your office. I could be over there right now if you want.
Plus, you don’t want people who have to drive long distances or take the bus. You want people who can walk or ride bikes because this will be in alignment with your sustainability mission (as described on your website). If you have someone from down the street, like me, it’s easier to just ask him to go home or come in on short notice to do little tasks. This way you won’t have to pay someone to stay in the office when things slow down. You can just say, Hey, would you mind popping over from 2-3 on Tuesday? And since I live close I can also pull all-nighters—just in case you get a project.
Make sure you get someone who is unlicensed. This will save you time and money. A licensed professional will demand more pay or will end up feeling resentful about your current pay structure because he felt like he had to accept your offer due to the economy. You probably told him you would like to pay him more, but of course your hands are tied. Those licensed people also know way too much about what you are doing and might offer suggestions. Better to have newly graduated people with really low expectations about pay and working environments.
The way I see it, you should just have me pop on over for an interview. In fact, I’m outside your door right now. I am here.