Thursday, January 2, 2014

Covering Cover Letters


Thank you, as always, for stopping by The Midside, the place where I hold a critical lens up to life and the world. Whatever's happening to me personally or in the culture at large becomes fodder for analysis. Today the topic straddles both those realms--cover letters.

Generally, I'm able to write well in any form. Cover letters are the exception to that rule. I loathe them. That feeling isn't an exaggeration. Every time I sit down to write one, my mind goes blank like Cody Banks trying to talk to a girl. Despite possessing a Masters degree and experience in a multitude of jobs, I can't think of one thing relevant to the specific position to which I'm submitting an application. Instead of the usual swirl of words and ideas that are in my head mid-composition, my stomach is filled with anxiety and dread. Nothing I've done seems impressive. If I emphasize my history, won't I be transparently embellishing or, worse, lying? What employer would want an employee like that?

The most ridiculous part is that when I taught Business Writing at Clemson University the syllabus included a section on cover letters. I know the form. The issue isn't technical. It's content. As I think back upon the different majors of the students I taught, I wonder if skill type is the issue. If you're an accountant or engineer, can't you just list your credentials and the jobs/projects you've worked on? Writing is a skill that everyone seems to thinks they have when very few actually do--but how do you prove you're one of the able people in four short paragraphs? Then there's the meta-concern of a cover letter essentially being a work sample for a writer. If you're an accountant or engineer, a poorly written cover letter doesn't necessarily disqualify you. If you're a writer it does, immediately, perhaps even with one sentence or word.

As we enter this new year, I hope you'll consider me as one of your favorite writers. I have some exciting plans that I'd love for you to see and be a part of. You know where to find my Twitter, Facebook, and The Midside. If you'd like to let me know about any areas I can improve on or expand to or you just want to give me a compliment, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Kind respects,
Justin M. Lesniewski

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