Screw up your cover letter, start over.


Recently a friend asked me to correct her letter of application. First I looked over the CV and then corrected the cover letter. It made me think about what a good application is expected to look like.

You might remember just as much as I do about how they taught us in school to apply for jobs. We were taught what we're supposed to write and how we're supposed to phrase things. Speaking for myself, it's been about 13 years since I've been taught how to write cover letters. I guess it's about the same for everybody in their mid twenties.

Every time you decide to look for a new job, you recall how you should be doing it. You remember what they told you to do. You go back to your old letters, you adapt them, you send them. When no one calls you after a week, you feel disappointed.

I've worked for a number of companies, which gave me the opportunity to look at things from the other side. It's not like companies don't need more people. Truth is, they do. Most of them urgently need people. They receive applications too. So what's the issue?

At work, people are busy. They have a limited amount of time to get to know the applicants, which means they have to be quite selective about who they invite for a job interview. But the applications they get are highly exchangeable – letters written in coded language, using the same phrases over and over again. All of them.

If you ask me, companies that hire just want people who care and who care enough to put some effort into this one application letter.

A letter that only consists of standardised phrases might not necessarily give HR managers the feeling that the applicant cares. Imagine you get 20 letters that all sound the same, have the same structure and which you've sent to twenty other companies. How would you feel about it?

Being the Community Manager of, I get to think a lot about how people present themselves professionally. I'm also interested in stories that show how people landed great jobs. There are some great examples out there. Just look herehere or here.

If you really want to get a job and if you're the right person for the job, there is a high chance you'll get it. If you are a great fit, companies won't let you slip away (or they'll at least keep you in their files and get back to you as soon as they're hiring. It's not like there are tons of people who would make a great fit out there).

It's quality over quantity. Just take some time and do the right thing. Show that you care. Or just remember when not to bother: don't bother to apply for a position or a company in which you don't necessarily see yourself. Also, don't bother to waste your time on sending the same letter over and over again. Choose one or two companies and take yourself a day or two to apply in a way that will land you that one job you want.

Most of the companies I know are hiring almost constantly. What they're looking for are people that stand out.

Now, screw up your cover letter, start over.

(Also published on Medium)