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Cover Letters: Enough About You…Lets Talk About Me

Posted July 25, 2014 by Lindsay Bosch in Career Moves

I’m not reading your cover letter. I really want to, its just that I have a grant deadline, and someone just walked into my office, and now there is a meeting, and now its ten after six and I really need to get home to feed the cat. You know the drill.

I really do want to read the letters, and I feel lucky to have so many compelling candidates…but reviewing a pile of applications is hugely time consuming. It seems that the cover letter is always the first thing to go. (The catch 22 is, however, that I will also discount you if you don’t send one.) Instead of reading thoroughly, I skim cover letters for layout, writing ability, obvious typos and basic gist.

There are a lot of suggestions online regarding how to make your cover letter eye-catching, and how to use the format to better brand yourself and sell your services. I’d like to take the opposite stance.   Basically, what I want to see, what really captures my attention, is less about you and more about me. More specifically, I’m looking for references to my organization, my job opening, and my clients. I have your resume, so please don’t use up valuable space telling me again about your education and work history. I know you are a multi-tasker. (We all are.) I know you learn quickly. (We all do.) I’m constantly asking myself:

Does this person want a job, or does this person want THIS job.

Cover letters which mention details about the job and company at hand are compelling to me because they point to the latter possibility. If there is something specifically about this position that appeals to the candidate, this, in turn, makes them more interesting to me. I know the oft repeated mandate to “personalize” cover letters is time consuming. However, it only takes a few minutes to Google the company – I guarantee this is time well spent.

So what do I want you to tell me (about me?)

  • Names: Do you know anyone here, know anyone who we used to work with, or contracted with, or someone in our circle. Keep that front and center. Have you seen one of us speak or read something we’ve written? That will work too!
  • Activities, Events, Conferences: Have you attended an event related to our organization? Heard about anything we’ve done? Seen us on a list at a panel? Attended a conference that we were probably at too? Do you know what professional associations we are part of? Mention it.
  • Customers: Do you know any other organizations or companies who have worked with us? Do you know our competition?
  • Experience: Have you used our services? Bought things from us, sold things to us, or been part of any company that has? I want to hear about it!
  • Brand, Ads, Web: Have you seen our ads, or our products in use? Are you familiar with what we are offering? Do you regularly go to our website? That will work, too.
  • Press Coverage: Have you read an article about us recently? Seen coverage about our work or something related to us? Perfect.
  • This Department: Each department is a tiny kingdom unto itself. Sometimes the work of a larger companycan have very little to do with the department or office you are applying to. The more specific you can get about the work of this department – the more I’m interested (and impressed you’ve done your homework!)

About the Author

Lindsay Bosch

Lindsay Bosch is an arts and nonprofit manager who has worked in cultural institutions for over decade including the American Library Association, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Film Festival. Lindsay is interested in the self-driven (and often self taught) trajectory of women’s careers in nonprofits and writes about issues related to leadership, branding and work culture. Lindsay holds a Bachelors degree in Film and Media from Northwestern Univ. and a Masters in Art History, Theory and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the coauthor of the art history textbook Icons of Beauty: Art, Culture and the Image of Women.