Godin says, ‘A product for everyone rarely reaches much of anyone.’
Some job seekers ask us to write cover letters for them, the implication usually being that this one letter will be used in applying for all jobs. It's sin enough to use the same unaltered résumé for every job for which one applies; to package the résumé with the same cover letter should get prison time.
Cover letters that might be thought to be ‘for everyone’ probably reach no-one. The point of crafting a cover letter is to make it as clear as possible to an employer that the prospective employee could match the vacancy.
And Godin says, ‘People are selfish, lazy, uninformed and impatient. Start with that and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find.’
- Selfish: Employers want to know how the prospective employee will benefit them. It's only a relatively small fraction that appears to understand that knowledge of each applicant's own (sincere) aspirations, values, and so on would make it clearer who to hire. Assume selfishness.
- Lazy: Employers don't learn interviewing skills; in many cases they don't even check references, let alone network to learn about an array of prospective employees in advance. They crib the same, tired interview questions from whatever source seems convenient and never trouble to think whether they are relevant. Assume that you and the client will need to do most of the work (in spite of the fact that employers have much to lose when arrangements fail).
- Uninformed: Many small- to medium-sized business enterprises will advertise for a 'computer programmer' or 'software developer' when they really need someone to do user support, or network and systems administration, or technical sales, or ... you name it. Since they are uninformed (and did I mention lazy), when they do the interview they cannot tell whether the specimens they have attracted fit the desired category (or will in time prove to be just what they advertised for). Assume that employers are stunningly uninformed about what they need, or at least about how it should be described, and be prepared to investigate on their behalf.
- Impatient: Use two pages in a résumé only if you've been president of a successful, big software start-up. Otherwise, keep it short, eh.
‘I discard a résumé as soon as I find the first typo or grammatical error.’
‘If an applicant for receptionist lives west of Yonge Street [Toronto] I toss out the résumé. We don’t pay enough for those people to drive cars and there’ll be days in winter when they don’t make it in.’
‘Can you come in for an interview at 9:15, 10:00 or 10:45? I don’t have any afternoon slots left and we need this done by Friday.’
Don't expect scintillating conversation at any point in this sequence. And don't expect anyone to ask you for clarification. Clients: memorise your script.