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ryerson, can i haz job pls? (cover letter edition)

Since I’m definitely trying a whole new approach about doing pretty much all my professional activities in a very transparent and public fashion, I figure I’d share my cover letter for Ryerson that helped land me an interview.

I already posted my cv on this site as well as posting it on github – where the ever lovely John Fink actually made a pull request to correct a spelling error.

One of the things I’m doing with my CV is that I write in markdown now because I hate word processors and I use too many different OSs and versions and everytime I tried to update my resume I’d have to fix the formatting again. Super annoying. I also have about a bajillion different resume files scattered everywhere. I rarely ever need to consult an old CV (why would you?) but I’m leery of just deleting them all….

So version control! Plain text! You’ll note on the github project that I include markdown for making my CV into an HTML page. I’ve written a fairly basic CSS template. And viola! My formatting always look exactly the way that I want it too. Updating is super easy and I can always roll back a version if I’ve done something catastrophic (as well as having a handy backup). For getting what I submit as application, I just open the HTML document in Chrome and print it as a .pdf (which pretty much all employers will tend to accept). While I realize this sounds complicated, once I had the initial setup and CSS, when I updated my CV for this application, it took about five minutes to change stuff, generate the HTML, and print the pdf.

For the cover letter…

This is probably the easiest time I’ve had in a really long time writing one. It took me maybe an hour (at the most) to write most of it. I think I spell checked and re-read it once. I had planned to write more but a number of things prevented me from completing a paragraph and writing a bit more (I just deleted the paragraph).

What changed? Especially from my previous torturous experiences with writing cover letters?

First, I took about a two month break from applying. I’ve been steadily applying and looking for a FT position for almost three years. It is exhausting. I’m lucky enough to have a PT position that I enjoy and love and pays just enough that taking a break was a feasible thing to do. This break was necessary for making me feel less cynical and blase about the whole thing. It was a great idea.

Second, no more reading or listening to any of the cover letter writing advice. The break helped me cleanse my mind of all the sorts of things people say generally and the advice I’ve received personally. This is, more than anything, what created the biggest barrier to me writing than anything else. I found most of the advice confusing, contradictory, and rarely useful. It also meant that I kept trying to write in a way that didn’t feel natural to me. Which meant that my cover letters always seemed stilted, strained, and just plain boring (very likely because my writing process was similarly stilted and strained – pulling teeth is about accurate).

And this is a funny thing, given that I blog. And I blog with a reasonable amount of frequency (I kind make posts in spurts, I know). I spend a fair amount of my personal time writing things. Or thinking about writing things. While I’d never call myself a writer (especially not a good writer), it is at least something – after years and years of school and practise – something that comes fairly easily to me nowadays.

Third, the fresh approach.

Yes, I still made sure to look at the job posting and figure out what I wanted to say based on that. This is probably the most consistent bit of cover letter advice in existence: your cover letter must be on topic (and the topic is the job posting).

I also decided to talk a narrative approach. I described what I enjoyed, where I did it, and what I learned via doing it. That is all. By doing so, I think I was able to list what I could do without making a boring list of skills. It also allowed me to stay focused on what I could do and what I do know without feeling like I was trying to cover up what I couldn’t do (but want to learn).

On this note… I also have to say that I focused less on the mentioned qualifications and skills in the advertisement and more tried to understand the nature of the position. As in, why they might want these particular skills and qualifications.1

That was basically it. And, at least this time around, it definitely helped. I mean, this is my first callback for an interview since I got my current position and my first one for a proper FT academic position.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really expecting to land this position and I feel just happy and thrilled that I was asked to do an interview. It has been a struggle to even get to this place. At the end of it all, I’ll be glad to have the experience.2 Because all of this is the hardest part for me. While I get very very very anxious/nervous about job interviews, I actually interview pretty well, particularly for things I’m interested in and excited by. My big issue has always been getting the interview. So. I’m feeling encouraged and hopeful again and this? Is invaluable to me.