Dear Hiring Manager…
Ack, I think, skimming the cover letter I’ve pulled up on my work desktop. Ack! Another generic letter.
I’m on the search committee for a very creative position at my place of employment. I’ve been looking forward to reading some dynamic and exciting job application documents.
I have been sincerely and severely disappointed.
I want to write to the people behind these stilted generic letters, these bland and unrevealing resumes, and say this: ALL writing is creative writing. Your light should shine from these documents as much as it shines from a poem you write or a story you craft.
Everything we write offers a chance for our unique and wonderful voice to shine through. But the voice radiating from these documents is like that boring teacher’s voice in Ferris Buehler’s Day Off:
“Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?”
Nope. No one that I can see.
I want to call each applicant and say to them, Write us a letter that reveals who you are. And here, I want to add, are a few creative writing tips to incorporate into the most prosaic of business writing.
1. Consider your audience.
“Dear Hiring Manager…” REALLY? An all-purpose salutation? How hard is it to find the name of the person who manages the department into which the job you’re applying for falls? Or failing that, to discern the name of the human resources director? Get on the website, I want to say; do your homework. If needed, pick up your phone and make a call. Find a name–find a PERSON–to whom you can address your letter.
How different, “Dear Ms. Nichols,” sounds than, “Dear Hiring Manager.” Using a name connects.
And it says you’ve taken the time to personalize your letter. So does naming the organization to which you are applying. Why not say, “I am excited to see an opportunity at Mudlarks Parks!” SO much better than saying, “I can be a benefit to your organization.”
Use the organization’s name, I want to tell those applicants, and then add a detail or two that shows you’ve done your homework. What is it about Mudlarks Parks that makes it a place where you’d like to work? Talk about their philosophy or their product or their audience. Talk about their beautiful architecture or their wonderful employee benefits.
Connect, connect, connect. Consider, and reach for, your audience, just like you’d do in creative writing.
2. Tell your story.
There could well be hundreds of people applying for this job. The search team has to weed through the qualified applicants, looking for that elusive ‘fit.’ How will they know you’re a great fit, I want to ask, if the real you does not shine through?
After the twentieth letter that reads, “Although I have enclosed my resume, allow me to elaborate on my accomplishments,” I’m ready to jump up and down and quit the search.
Even worse are the letters that just say, “Please see my resume; I meet and exceed all of your qualifications.”
“Do you, now?” I want to respond. “But you’re not interested enough to show me how? How badly do you want to be considered for this job?”
Every kind of writing is story-telling. You don’t want your story to read like this:
- Uses templates.
Job documents give the writer the chance to weave their story into the story of the place where they’d like to work. The letter should show that the applicant has carefully read the criteria. Then it should take those criteria and braid them with the writer’s background.
“I see,” a letter might read, “you’re looking for someone with customer service experience. One of my proudest professional moments, to date, was the day a valued customer at the dry cleaners where I worked in college sent me a cookie bouquet. We had worked together to resolve an urgent need…” Suddenly there’s a YOU in the mix, a vibrant, lively person who trouble-shoots and problem-solves. Suddenly I see a personality emerging. Suddenly I think, this is someone with whom I’d like to work!
“What attributes are sought?” I want to ask those generic applicants. Are they looking for dependability? Creativity? The ability to lead? The capacity to function as a vital part of a team?
Does the applicant have that attribute? Then she should share her story; he should tell his tale. And they should remember the first rule of good creative writing: show me, don’t tell me. They should be specific and give interesting examples.
3. Consider your tone: don’t be casual, and don’t be stuffy. Be yourself, your polite, seeking self, I mentally counsel the applicants. No, “Hey! Please choose me!” and no, “I believe I am the individual you seek for the position your organization endeavors to staff.” Avoid contractions and slang, unless there’s appropriate professional jargon to be used. Be polite and professional and cheerful.
There is always that small chance that a reader will see your wonderful self shining through and think, (that foolish person), “Ick. I don’t want to work with someone like THAT.”
And if that is the case, guess what, dear applicant (I want to say)? You just dodged a bullet. This is NOT a person with whom–and that is not a place where– you would ever be happy working. Sigh of relief, and move on!
4. Edit, edit, edit. Make sure you didn’t slip and leave the name of the OTHER organization you applied to in your last paragraph (If you did– Hear that noise? It’s the trapdoor opening; it’s your application falling through!) Check for spelling errors and for punctuation woes. Get a trusted, grammar-y friend to do a red-pen read. Make sure your format is professional and attractive. Use a font that’s readable and inviting.
Use all the care, I want to tell those applicants, in this endeavor that you would use in editing a paper or a story for submission.
(I just learned, on Facebook, about a writing assistance site called Grammarly.com. I have only briefly browsed, but what I’ve seen looks very helpful. It’s here: https://www.grammarly.com/?q=grammar&utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Brand&utm_term=grammarly%20com&matchtype=e)
All good writing combines creativity and craft. Our writing should be recognizable by those who know us, whether our names are emblazoned on the cover sheet or not. Make sure your cover letter falls firmly into that class, letting the real you shine through.
That’s what I want to tell those applicants.
I’m heading back, now, to my cover letter reading, feeling better about making this point: all writing, even–and maybe especially— job application writing, should be creative.
If you know someone who’s eagerly seeking employment, would you pass this on?
Happy blogging, my friends!