04 Jun 2022
I’m doing a hands-on cover letter workshop at the July 2022 WITness Success Salesforce community conference. Come join me! Here’s the pitch:
You’re already awesome – and sometimes that’s easier to realize when you tell someone else. Add some bedazzling with words and you’ll positively glitter.
Cover letters provide a special opportunity to feed two birds with one scone – in convincing someone else how qualified you are, you also convince yourself.
Bring a job posting that feels like a stretch and a willingness to share your transferable skills aloud.
We’ll do as many “cover letter makeovers” as we can, helping participants see their beautiful selves in the mirror of everyone else’s eyes.
We’ll rewrite insecurities like…
“I don’t know what I’ve done – most of my career has been in retail, folding shirts and standing at a cash register.”
…into power paragraphs like…
“Eight years of satisfying clients with tight turnaround times has taught me that process is important, but people are everything. I’m always organizing systems and documenting technology to make sure my ducks are in a row for busy seasons. But the secret sauce to staying on top of everything has been my communication skills – I take pride in my ability to ensure that anyone seeking help from me feels valuable and trusts that I see their needs.”
You’ve got this! I can’t wait for you to see just how much.
Notes from Minnebar version
- Disability accommodations needed
- Diversity-embracing, non-prejudiced company needed
- Most jobs in participant’s field are not where participant lives now
Once you see a job, Google tourist info about it and find something that seems cool to you, and leverage that to make yourself sound serious about being willing to move there:
“I’ve been a barbecue fan for years and can’t believe that such a great match for my skillset came up in Nashville. This could be a great opportunity to _____, and I’m enthusiastic to make such a move.”
I’m way out of my league on this one. I don’t face a lot of prejudice.
But a project management professor once told me that he favors leading with your perceived vulnerabilities and making it obvious how people can help you – that in his experience, more people want to help you than hurt you when you expose your vulnerabilities.
His favorite example was telling the story of how one time, he invited a presenter to speak in an environment that she perceived to be potentially biased, and she said to him, “Let me check with Jane – Jane’s my partner – about whether we’re going to be in town that week” to make it clear that she was a lesbian, and to give him a chance to wiggle out of the invitation right away if he sensed that he couldn’t ensure her a good experience speaking in his environment.
I CANNOT tell you whether to be out or in the closet about a vulnerability. I’m not even close to qualified to help you make that safety decision.
But if you do decide to be out, I think that a cover letter can be a great place to lead with strong “take me as I am or go away” energy.
So, for example, you could dig through the company’s tweets during Black History Month or Pride Month, or dig through their published platitudes about diversity in their mission statement or on their HR web page, and find some words to fire back at them and basically scream, “WALK AWAY AND DON’T WASTE OUR TIME IF YOU DON’T MEAN THIS.”
“‘Blah blah blah thing that the company said and hopefully meant blah blah blah’ – this is exactly the kind of company culture I’m thrilled to be a part of and carry forward with my technical and personal leadership.”
I’ve often found that U.S.-based F-1 international students struggle to find a company that will hire them under OPT, because those companies know they don’t “sponsor” people for H1-B visas (due to legal costs, etc.), and that’s literally all a given hiring manager has ever heard. The hiring manager has no idea that OPT can be up to 2.5 years of free-of-charge work permission … which is longer than a lot of U.S. citizens stay at their first job, anyway!
I suggest using a cover letter to educate and to correct misunderstandings, right in the first sentence/paragraph. For an international student, that might be something like:
“I am looking forward to putting the 2.5 years of employment authorization (at no cost to the employer, with almost nonexistent paperwork!) that graduating from a U.S. university entitles me to into service of a company that rescues lost dogs. As a former teenage dog trainer, programming your web site is a dream come true.”
- American Sign Language (“ASL”) interpreter.
- People always find that interesting but have no idea what that means they did.
- It’s tough to quickly summarize the huge range of things done in 6 years.
- Currently learning coding adequate to apply to junior software developer jobs.
I Googled “junior developer jobs” and clicked the second one that showed up. A “benefit” in the listing was, “chance to talk about sports daily” (it was for a sports-related company).
- “Actually, I talk about sports daily!” the interpreter beamed.
PERFECT – we can run with that.
Don’t boil the ocean
- Don’t try to summarize all transferable skills gained in 6 years.
- Let some of the skills be pleasant surprises making you a rockstar your new colleagues love, and that you get to tell stories about picking up as in interpreter.
- For a cover letter, pick one or two transferable skills that seem relevant to any given job listing.
Sports = ASL = teamwork
Here’s an example of picking just one aspect of the interpreting background and pairing it with the the sports job description:
“I do talk about sports every day – and I can communicate it to a diverse range of people, to boot! ASL interpreting isn’t just about bridging communications gaps between signers and vocal speakers. The subject matter is infinitely varied in context and sensitivity as well – everything from artistic expression at the theater, to life-critical issues at the hospital, to putting things in words that small children can understand at school. I bring comfort and confidence to people all throughout a collaborative process, and it shows in the teamwork I do to bring great software products to market.”
Instant accessibility experience
A hiring manager from the State of Minnesota who was in the audience pointed out that normally, the value of always thinking of accessibility has to be continuously trained into people whose only career experience is in software development.
This manager thought our interpreter would instantly be recognized as bringing things to the table that are needed at the state as they focus on refactoring for accessibility and building accessibility into more projects from the get-go, and encouraged the interpreter to put their “accessibility” foot forward in cover letters.
- Liberal arts degree
- Customer service career history
- Administrative assistant career history
- Currently learning coding adequate to apply to junior software developer jobs.
Your “transferable skills” are probably a little more obvious to you than the ASL interpreter’s – people already have some preconceived notions about what great “customer service” or “administrative assistance” feels like when they’ve received it, so while you totally should pick stories from your whole career (but again, don’t boil the ocean – cherry-pick and tailor to individual job descriptions), obvious stories to fall back on are ones that play into experiences everyone assumes you delivered in those jobs:
- Communicating calmly under pressure
- Making sure people who actually have to use/do a thing feel empowered to actually use/do it
- “I think I’m allergic to the word ‘I.’ I use so much ‘we’ language – I’m really shy about taking credit for my work when everything I’ve done has been a collaboration with other people.”
Considerate = good
Firstly, that’s fantastic. Lean into it – you can say “we” more than you say “I” as long as there’s some sort of “I” in there. It makes you look like the considerate, generous team player it sounds like you are. People are going to be excited to work with you when they see that.
A fellow attendee said, “See if you can get someone to interview you and draw stories out about you, probing for details about how you personally supported some of the team successes you’re proud of being a part of.
Grab a friend and ask them to be both interviewer and notetaker (so you can just relax and answer – or get a second friend to take notes).
The wonderful thing about letting other people filter you onto paper is that they can’t hear the self-doubt in your brain. They can only hear the words that come out of your mouth. The notes they take will suprise you with how great you look, after they’ve forced you to say nice things about yourself out loud.
Two prompts I like are:
- Giving: What tasks and moments in your work have made you feel like a bit of a rockstar, or a superhero, or delightfully clever, or satisfactorily effective?
- Taking: What tasks and moments in your work have made you happy about having the job you are/were in? What kinds of things can make a day a good one?