A *solicited* opinion on cover letters

(Cross-posted from Medium)

a table with two signs attached to the front: Bad Advice: 24 cents. Free Advice: 25 cents.
photo: rda

A fellow alumna of my programming bootcamp DM’d me on Slack today to this effect:

Hey, sorry to bother you, but I had a question, saw you were online, and highly value your opinion. I just got my first referral (yay!), but I don’t know if I should send a cover letter with my résumé. I’ve gotten mixed answers.

Aw, gee, shucks. I am ever ready to give an unsolicited opinion, as friends and foes alike would probably attest, but it’s nice to be asked!

My response

In general, one should always include some kind of covering note. Even if I’m sending my résumé to someone so they can pass it over the transom, I include a version of what I would put in a cover letter,

  • highlighting how the job matches my experience and interests,
  • pointing out anything relevant that might not be obvious from looking at my résumé, and
  • touching on why I’m interested in working at that company.

Then if that person wants to, they can either forward the whole e-mail or cut and paste, per their discretion. The goal is to make it easy for them to refer you.

And if you’re applying through an online form but then adding a referrer’s name, you should still include a cover letter, because you never know whose hands your application will actually end up in.

Pro tip: Use your imagination

Composing a cover letter as if you’re sending it to someone whom you know, for them to forward on, is a good way to avoid the zombielike tone that tends to make such letters awful both to write and to read.

Imagine someone who likes you, someone who wants you to succeed, someone who cares, and give them the information they need to pitch you to their boss.

Because that’s essentially what’s happening. Everyone wants to be the person who finds the person who gets hired—even when there’s no referral bonus involved. They want to be able to fill that position. So they’ll be excited if they see a note that lets them believe that you might be that person.

green peas arranged in a spiral
visualize whirled peas • photo: Tim Ellis

Applying for jobs can make you feel worthless and like everybody’s slamming doors in your face all day, but in reality it’s not all antagonistic, behind those closed doors.

Even if you don’t know for sure who’s going to be reading your cover letter (and you did at least try to research this using teh Google, didn’t you?), it helps to imagine that you know them, so you can strike an appropriate tone of warmth, respect, and poise.

[Intellectual property theft alert: I expressed similar sentiments when I first discovered this correlation between readable cover letters and relative familiarity with the recipient, nearly a decade ago. If you wish to read that crankier batch of advice, which was issued from the perspective of a hiring manager who had no HR department to screen candidates, see the post Job application tips on my non-Medium (Maximum?) blog.]

One hour and eleven minutes of me trying not to swear

The awesome Laura Dawson invited me to do a webinar on the basics of book design, as part of a series for Bowker’s SelfPublishedAuthor.com. Our kindly hosts/co-presenters at Data Conversion Laboratory have posted a video of the session, so now you can follow along with bated breath as I try to remember not to say “fuck” for more than an hour.1 Can she do it? Watch the video to find out!

Because the video is video and my slides are about fiddly details, I’ve made my segment of the presentation into a PDF, so you can see what I’m talking about: “Making Beautiful Books” webinar slides (2 MB)
Continue reading “One hour and eleven minutes of me trying not to swear”

  1. Yes, my portion of the presentation ran about fifteen minutes too long, because I hadn’t timed it beforehand and couldn’t see my system clock while screen-sharing the slides from PowerPoint. Sorry, Allan. []

What stupid is

illustration of four cats, one of which is wearing a dunce cap

I was sitting on my couch hoarding a “Sharing Size” box of Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies and clicking and re-clicking “x new Tweets” this evening, when I was rescued by a friend who was having some technical difficulty with an e-book she was building. A few of our Twitter friends made suggestions on how to troubleshoot the issue, and I did, too, but to no avail. I asked to see the file, she e-mailed it, and not only did the file also crash on my machine, but it caused a seemingly permanent crash-on-launch issue with Adobe Digital Editions, the application we were trying to view it in. I use ADE every day, as I borrow a shocking quantity of e-books from the New York and Brooklyn public libraries, so this was not a crash I could just ignore.
Continue reading “What stupid is”

Because I am mean and like to rain on parades…

A parade in the rain

All day I’ve been seeing tweets from @kobo and friends about their having the No. 1 e-reading app in the iTunes store—e.g.,

Breaking News: Kobo #1 Rated eReading App on iTunes App Store http://t.co/pApB8j5
Jason Gamblen | Kobo

I’m so happy for them.

No, really.

For several months now, Kobo’s iOS app has been, mainly because of the stats and the activity tracker, my e-reading application of choice. That said, it’s my app of choice in spite of several intense annoyances, so I’d like to take this opportunity to point out a couple of things that drive me up the fucking wall about it. From the support ticket I just submitted:

Continue reading “Because I am mean and like to rain on parades…”

Cracking the coding code

Woman in 1940s garb standing in front of a huge machine with lots of rotors

Got an e-mail from a fellow book designer this morning asking, “Do you have a blog post about marking up a MS for the designer/typesetter?” Um, I couldn’t remember; had to search my own blog to find out. I found I’d written two posts in which such issues come into play—

  • May I take your order? (September 30, 2006)—in which I show the sample pages I prepared to instruct a typesetter on a moderately complicated book design
  • How stylish are you? (January 19, 2008)—in which I listed and explained the most common style names I use when marking up or laying out a bookish document

But both of these posts are written from the designer’s desk, whereas my friend was, he later explained, looking for information that might help a fledgling editor (in this case, an editorial intern) understand how to mark up a manuscript. To which I said, “Um, hello, the Chicago Manual?” I know there’s some discussion of markup right there in the front, but I realized I hadn’t consulted that section in the 15th edition in years, and I hadn’t yet checked it in the 16th edition at all. So I looked! And found that there is now a sizable chunk of appendix devoted to markup, with an eye toward producing multiple output formats—print, HTML, e-books, and more. That appendix is heavy going, though, and more theoretical than practical. How might a designer or production editor explain, in, say, under twenty minutes, how a clever intern should mark up a manuscript?

Continue reading “Cracking the coding code”

When, not if

Backup Tapes

Today over tea I was holding forth about backup methods, which reminded me that I’ve long meant to post something about how I’ve been handling it. To wit: right now, I’ve got a two-part system—constant partial backup online via SugarSync and less frequent but complete offline backup using Time Machine and an external hard drive.

Yes, I got backup religion the hard way, by having my laptop drive fail in 2006 when it was six months out of standard warranty. I was able to salvage most of my data using Prosoft Data Rescue, but only because I happened to notice before it went into a complete dive that the drive had failed its S.M.A.R.T. status test. Now I keep Smart Reporter in my menu bar, and I back up constantly and redundantly, over and over again, a lot. And I always fork up the money for AppleCare, which replaced that dead drive in a weekend.
Continue reading “When, not if”

Please, Mister Postman

post office

Oh, I think I need to make a field trip to the 11215 post office . . .

Dear Postmaster Potter:

I am writing to ask if you would please consider redecorating my local post office. Maybe you have heard of it: 11215. It’s the Park Slope Station in Brooklyn, New York, and I believe that a great many novelists spend time there, waiting to mail their manuscripts and galleys and quarterly estimated tax payments and whatnot, so perhaps it is the source of a great many written complaints. Or perhaps not. Anyway, may I elaborate on the nature of the problem?

The nature of the problem is choice of font.

Rudolph Delson, “An Open Letter to John E. Potter, Postmaster General” (PDF, 127 KB), February 12, 2007

Oh, but that is not the only problem, as it turns out. And these issues have been observed not only at the 11215 post office, as I’m sure many can attest. I particularly recommend the 10009 (Tompkins Square) location for psychotic signage (not to mention patrons).

I think I also need to get a copy of Mr. Delson’s novel, Maynard and Jennica.

(Via Manhattan Users Guide)

Big Is Beautiful


I like getting to play Dear Abby! Though lately my responses read less like sage advice and more like columns by The Non-Expert—only not funny. Yesterday Sarah wrote with some questions:

Since 2002, I have been editor for our local historical society’s 20-page quarterly. When I first started, I did it in an old version of WordPerfect and (you’ll laugh) actually cut and pasted together the booklet and took it to our local printer.

Then I got slightly more high tech and started producing PDFs from the WordPerfect files.

The next thing was a switch to the Atlantis program, which produces .rtf files, from which I made PDFs to send to our local printer.

So, I still have all the old .wpd and .rtf files.

The historical society is now interested in taking the old issues, indexing them, and publishing the old issues in books (putting several together per volume) or perhaps just putting the old issues online.

However, there is not much of a budget for new software. The new software would need to do indexing and be able to handle endnotes and read the old files.

I am looking at Serif Page Plus and SoftMaker’s TextMaker. Have you heard anything pro or con or about these programs?

As a side issue — I am also looking into producing Large Print versions of documents. It seems that there are all sorts of standards that different organizations have for producing large print books. Do you have any advice for what standard to use, and how to handle graphics for large print books (obviously the graphics need to be bigger, but I don’t know how much).

Continue reading “Big Is Beautiful”

Attn.: InDesign Salvage Operations Team

Relief workers inspect smashed carriages after railway accident at Camp Mountain, Queensland

Justin asks,

do you have any tips for recovering “damaged” files?

when i try to open a layout i was just working on, it prompts me to fix the file from recovered data, then notifies me that the file may be damaged; it starts to recover, but then the program quits altogether.

[. . .] if there’s no easy solution, this means a ton of work lost … are you familiar with this quandary? any suggestions?

Anyone? Anyone? I haven’t experienced this in a long time, so my response was vague:

. . . the first thing to try would probably be moving your preferences folder to the desktop and forcing InDesign to rebuild it. That’ll get the program to launch properly, at least, and then maybe you can recover the file from there. Details:
InDesign Secrets: Rebuilding InDesign Preferences.

The second option would be trying to get someone at Adobe to look at it, by posting a query on the forums. Sometimes they respond pretty quickly.

Finally, if the time you’d lose redoing everything would be worth $99,
you could send the document to Markzware for their voodoo file rescue
service: Markzware blog: Fix your Bad Adobe InDesign Files!

Other suggestions? If the file could be opened, I’d say export to .inx; that cures a lot of ills. When you can’t open it, though, I dunno.

I should also mention here that perhaps one reason this hasn’t happened to me in a long time is that I regularly create new save-as versions while I work—foo(1).indd → foo(2). indd → foo(2b).indd (a variant I’m not sure about) → etc. Doing a “save as” compresses the file, and I feel in my heart that it removes a lot of potentially corrupting gunk and thereby keeps my files more stable. Having snapshots of all those previous stages also makes it easier to roll back parts of a file, selectively.

An aside: Does anybody out there use Version Cue? I’ve never bothered. Does it help with this kind of stuff at all?