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.]

Communica­tion is key: Giving the hard sell on “soft skills”

(Cross-posted from Medium.)

A row of women seated in front of what appears to be an enormous telephone switchboard

Today at school we got an hourlong presentation on using LinkedIn effectively, which ended with a summary slide of statements we were to evaluate as true or false. One of these was “You should add soft skills to your skills,” and the “correct” answer seemed to be, more or less, false. My hand shot up, and I said that well, actually, soft skills are extremely important in tech, as they are everywhere, and that if you’re an excellent programmer who can’t communicate with other people, nobody with any sense is going to want you on their team.

Continue reading “Communica­tion is key: Giving the hard sell on “soft skills””

Degristling the sausage: BBEdit 11 Edition

Women in uniforms standing at long tables, handling sausages.

Almost two years ago, I wrote a post called “Degristling the sausage” to explain my method of using BBEdit to get a list of which CSS classes are actually applied in a given EPUB file, out of the sometimes hundreds that are included in the stylesheet. Apparently I’m not the only person who needs to do this sort of thing, because that post has stayed in the top four pages on this site ever since, and clever people keep linking to it.

Continue reading “Degristling the sausage: BBEdit 11 Edition”

Manually editing ruby on Chinese characters in InDesign

WARNING: The following is exceedingly geeky, but I’m posting it here so that six months from now, when I’ve utterly forgotten how I did this, I can look it up. And who knows? Maybe someone else will want to know how to do this, too. Or will want to tell me I’ve been doing it all wrong.

Although the Chinese-owned publishing company where I now am managing editor mostly produces English-only books, occasionally I do have to deal with Chinese characters in InDesign. This week, I started working on a series of dual-language poetry books that were previously published in China, and I want to rework these into a single parallel-text edition for U.S. readers, particularly students. Fortunately, the Chinese edition was set in InDesign—this is not always the case—so I’m able to rework the files we received from the original publisher.
Continue reading “Manually editing ruby on Chinese characters in InDesign”

PDFs in EPUBs: Test results

Trojan Horse

What a thing was this, too, which that mighty man wrought and endured in the carven horse, wherein all we chiefs of the Argives were sitting, bearing to the Trojans death and fate!

—Homer, Odyssey (translated by A.T. Murray, 1919)

A couple of weeks ago, Hugh McGuire tweeted this:

and then he blogged the replies he received at Including a PDF in an EPUB.

This is something I’d been wondering about for a while, too. I remembered Joshua Tallent of eBookArchitects mentioning at at least one workshop that it was possible to embed a PDF in an EPUB, but I’d never tried it. The company I work for publishes a lot of craft books whose print editions have patterns and templates in the back, and so far we’ve either had to suppress the e-book versions entirely or supply those patterns to our e-book readers through the Web. Hugh’s post reminded me that I’d been meaning to test Joshua’s tip to see if it would help solve our pattern problem, so I finally just did that.

TL;DR: Yes, you can embed a PDF in an EPUB so that all its pages are viewable in iBooks and Adobe RMSDK–based readers, but display is wonky and not necessarily readable, and you can’t print the PDF at full size, if at all, so it doesn’t solve my particular problem. It might solve your problems, though, so a more detailed breakdown of what I found follows. Continue reading “PDFs in EPUBs: Test results”

Degristling the sausage

One of the things I do at my job is clean up and beautify e-books that have been produced by a “meatgrinder”—the sort of automated conversion process that an outsourcer uses. My company has worked with a couple of conversion companies, and there are definite differences in the quality and markup philosophy of the files they produce, but one problem that appears to be chronic is that the EPUBs come back with CSS files containing tons of unused style declarations.

I’m talking thousands of lines, when two to three hundred will usually do.

This makes the files extremely tedious to troubleshoot and rework, so one of the first things I usually do if I know I’m going to be spending a considerable chunk of my day living in a particular EPUB is to cut down that stylesheet to what’s actually being used.

Continue reading “Degristling the sausage”

“you will need to pick an attractive font”


An amazing opportunity! If only I were a cover designer . . .

Book Cover Designer Needed For Regular Work (Anywhere)

Date: 2010-09-13, 9:43AM EDT
Reply to: job-u6jz9-1951195804@craigslist.org

We are looking for a book cover designer for regular work. Have 10 book covers that will need to get done immediately.

Note that we will provide the background to use for each cover, you will need to pick an attractive font (some will be provided) as well as colors to match the background, position the titles appropriately and make sure the PDF file meets our formatting requirements.

Thus, no original design other than text and minor boxes here and there will be required.

Will have regular work. Pay is $15 per cover. Will have dozens of them every week. Payment through Paypal.

The following are required:

  1. Ability to work fast and meet deadlines.
  2. Illustrator/Photoshop Skills
  3. Good eye for fonts/colors and the ability/passion for making beautiful covers
  4. Excellent communication skills and availability by Skype email.

If interested please email with:

  2. Resume.
  3. At least two relevant design samples
  4. A paragraph on why you think you’d be a good match for us.

Thank you for your time!

  • Location: Anywhere
  • Compensation: $15 per Cover (Paypal)
  • Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.
  • Please, no phone calls about this job!
  • Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.

PostingID: 1951195804

(Spotted in new york craigslist > manhattan > jobs > art/media/design jobs by No. 2 Pencil.)

Photo: darts by sethstoll / Seth Stoll; some rights reserved.

Vanessa Davis, computer whiz and more!

Vanessa Davis, computer whiz

The charming and talented Vanessa Davis has a new comic about past jobs, good and bad, over at Tablet, which is Nextbook’s reconceived, redesigned, and mostly restaffed* online magazine: Vocation, All I Ever wanted!

Vanessa’s also, after a long period of dormancy, reorganized and relaunched her own website, Spaniel Rage. With a blog and everything! Yay!

  • Yes, yes, I’m going to clean out my office today, finally, I promise.

(Cross-posted at Clusterflock.)


Update, 7/16: There’s a great interview with Vanessa over at Largehearted Boy: Antiheroines: Vanessa Davis

Nextbook’s swank new pad

Tablet Magazine home page, June 9, 2009

My erstwhile coworkers have been toiling their little hearts out for months, rethinking and rebuilding Nextbook’s online magazine, the former Nextbook.org. The shiny new publication, which launched today, is called Tablet, and it was designed by Prem Krishnamurthy and Rob Giampietro. Tablet‘s Liel Leibovitz has posted a little slideshow in which the designers talk about what they did: Our New Look.

The new site has a WordPress backend (the old one ran on some weird Perl CMS), which the firm Hard Candy Shell set up and filled with all the previous magazine’s content.

Go visit, and tell them what you think of the new digs. If you don’t know what the old site looked like, you can find some screenshots in my Flickr collection.

(I made no contribution to the redesign myself, having [mostly] resigned from my post in January so that I could concentrate on school. The fabulous Abigail Miller, assistant art director, held the fort on her own all spring, while Alana Newhouse, editor in chief, dealt with the designers and developers directly. Nextbook’s new art director, as of about three weeks ago, is the mighty Len Small.)