A stud horse covering a mare.Usually the second part of the application is the ‘compelling’ cover letter, detailing how my qualifications, experience and interest position me perfectly for the job opening. It has to be direct, succinct, comprehensive and as with the resume, so magnetic that the reviewer is as drawn to it as iron filings towards a magnet.

The problem is:

There is no one problem: there are many. A few people that hire have told me they never look at a cover letter unless the resume sings to them. Others have told me they only look at the first paragraph of the cover letter to see if basic grammar and spelling are there and then set them aside in favor of the resume. One particularly enlightened person told me they don’t ask for them unless there is something about the resume that is intriguing, and only then request more information.

Bottom line, I find it really hard to know what to do: spend hours crafting the ‘best’ letter that is perhaps not read at all, or read only for an excuse to discard? On the other hand it could the most compelling part of the application. If that is so, it does make sense to make the extra effort; however in my experience, it has not proved to be so. If I compare letters out to phone calls and emails in, well, you might not be reading this journal…

What is the solution?

Not sure. I have created a few standard, one page letters with 3 bullet points of tremendous accomplishment and success and a request for follow up and offer of additional information. In a way, this is a particularly frustrating aspect of my search, the one place where my voice and style have a little chance to peek through, but again, formatting and space limitations seem more important than content.

I feel that what this does is render the cover letter yet another blandishment, and becomes somewhat meaningless. I do have tremendous compassion for the hiring organization, with so many qualified folks out there, and the job announcement reaching literally millions, how does one wade through and find the best candidates?* A side effect of instant and global communication is that a very large percentage of applications received for any job are simply and utterly irrelevant. So someone has to figure out how to discard all of those completely inappropriate replies, sort and vet the ones who might be good, then begin the process of checking on truly possible candidates.

All I know

Is there has to be a better way. However, in the meantime, I keep refining and polishing, attempting to read between the lines of the requirements and qualifications to see what they really really want, and show my ability to do a fantastic job.

* We’ll talk about recruiters soon!

If you’ve got questions and would like to get in touch, you can contact me here or call on 310 828 6979.

Cindy Lauren - Lauren Associates - non profit consultingCindy Lauren is the Principal of Lauren Associates – non profit consulting

As well as advising Executives and Boards on all aspects of nonprofit management, the firm specializes in developing fundraising solutions for all sizes of organizations.

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