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Location: Tampa, Florida, United States

A girl living in Tampa Bay for the last 11 years. I mostly fill my time with friends, creative hobbies like community theater and arts and crafts, movies and tv, and other random fun things to try.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cover Letters: No, Really

Today I'm going to rant a bit about cover letters because I'm currently helping my director to find a replacement for a colleague I worked very closely with. This new hire will also work closely with me as a business analyst. We received over 40 applicants for the job and I just wanted to share some of my observations.

I should explain that an IT business analyst is a unique position in our group because the main responsibility of such a person is more communication, written and verbal, than highly technical. There are many arguments to be made that all jobs require communication, but I think a BA has extra responsibility in that arena. I often tell the uninitiated that I am a geek translator. I have to solicit software requirements from a customer who a) knows nothing about IT, b) knows a little but not a lot, or c) thinks they know a lot about IT but really don't, and then transmit that information to a programmer so he/she can understand and implement a solution. It takes a skill set that is focused on appropriate, often individualized, communication. And don't get me started on the political sensitivity that is often required.

With that in mind, I am surprised at the number of resumes that are so terrible. Some lack cover letters altogether. I know that our University does not require resumes, but I would think if you understand what sort of job you're applying for, you would want to put your best written communication forward. For those that have cover letters, there are all kinds of problems.

A fair amount of the applicants (and I'm not yet halfway through all of them), have not formatted the cover letter like a letter at all. They leave off the date (a standard on any letter) and other header information, such as addressee. Some use no addressee at all and either leave it out, jumping straight to the body of the letter with no "Dear . . ." One woman put just simply "Hello," as if it was an email. Now I agree that our University should put the hiring manager's name on the postings so letters can be properly addressed, but it doesn't excuse a complete lack of addressee.

I really dislike the use of "To Whom It May Concern" on a cover letter, because that seems more appropriate in business writing for someone addressing a complaint or compliment to a place of business. Kind of a polite way of saying, "I don't know who handles this, but just in case you care . . ." My dear friend, Anne Jones, who used to teach business writing at our University always recommends "Dear Hiring Manager" when addressing a cover letter if you don't know the person's name. I don't mind "Dear Sir or Madam", which is an old-fashioned standard, but just putting "Dear Sirs", as one applicant did, really offended me. It was as if to say he assumed that no women would be in a position of power to see his resume for a hiring decision! Perhaps this was the standard at one time, but it is outdated and misogynist. The ladies are here and they're reading your cover letter with disdain, sir!


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