There are no fool proof systems, because fools are so ingenious (Will Rogers), so there is no way to write complete directions on not writing a bad cover letter, because the foolish writers always find new ways to do it wrong.
There is, however, one good rule that can eliminate a lot of mistakes: Write it to someone – know who you are writing to.
The various web sites and broadcast software of the IT revolution make it possible for you, the job seeker, to send out inquires to dozens or hundreds or thousands of people at a time, so the fools among you (present company of course excepted) write or more likely copy a boilerplate and shoot it off in bulk to every recruiter and job opening in the country. The even more foolish send out boiler plate covers to each one individually.
Here an example:
“To Whom It May Concern:,
I am contacting you to explore employment opportunities with your organization. The accompanying resume will provide you with details regarding my professional experience, education and culinary skills.
You will note that I have a wide range of experience in all areas of culinary arts and have built a reputation as a diligent employee and professional who is able to complete detailed and complicated tasks in a fast paced and accurate fashion. In addition, I work effectively with a kitchen staff in efforts to produce maximum results and food that is exquisite.
I am convinced that an individual with my talents, combined with my commitment to quality performance and that “can do” attitude will make a valuable contribution to your team.
At your convenience, I would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the goals and objectives of your organization and how my experience and abilities will help in fulfilling those goals.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
You are not going to hear from me or any of my colleagues sooner or later because:
1) We have all read this cover letter a thousand times.
2) There are no opportunities in my organization, which means, that you are too lazy to look. My people are chefs. They can’t be lazy.
3) Granted, you did take a little time to tweak it – “food that is exquisite”. My guess is that your sense of exquisite and mine don’t quite match. The term “full of himself” keeps bubbling up. Of course I haven’t taken time to look at the resume, because the cover letter is not inviting.
4) If I take you as a candidate, I do work, for which you pay nothing. I at least expect you to respect me enough to look up what company you are sending this to. In other words, nobody is a whom it may concern.
5) “You will note that I have a wide range of experience in all areas of culinary arts” Bogus. No I won’t. You don’t. Nobody does. You have some experience in some areas of the culinary arts. You really weren’t thinking very much when you wrote that. Chefs have to think about a lot of things at the same time. Smart is a requirement.
6) “I am convinced that an individual with my talents, combined with my commitment to quality performance and that “can do” attitude will make a valuable contribution to your team.” Self esteem is at times positive, but your belief in your own value is hardly going to change anyone’s interest level.
7) You look forward to hearing from me soon. That’s a bit pushy and audacious, and it saddens me to think that you may be hanging by the phone waiting for a call, but it must be. That little nudge adds a bit of insult to injury (or rather minor annoyance to minor annoyance.) I have several hundred people at any time, and you want to take time out to discuss your abilities, but you haven’t spared a a thirty second Google search to find out who I am. What kind of work ethic is that? Am I going to do this to a client?
8) My guess is that you didn’t think. You figured this is how it is done and just did a quickie cut paste and tweak job, but what does that say about your work ethic as a chef? Not a lot really. Nor does it say much about your respect for the people you work with or want to work with, and good chefs and managers respect others.
So, let’s summarize. Your short cover letter presents you as lazy, not too bright, uncreative, full of yourself, demanding, lacking of grace and disrespectful of others. Why ever would I think of bringing you into my organization?’ You’ve managed to make a fairly rotten first impression, which reduces your chances of making a second impression.
If none of this applies to you, you need to show it by putting a better foot/cover letter forward, or don’t send one. Shorter is better. I scan them for important content (where you seek work, your unique circumstances etc – and I delete them if there is nothing of value. Sorry, if you were proud of the letter, but try again. It serves you poorly.
The bottom line: Write your cover letter. Don’t use it as advertising, don’t make demands of the sender, and above all know who it is going to – or at least how you found them. All it takes is something like, “I discovered your opening on waltersjobsite.com and would be interested in being considered as a candidate. I have 12 years of experience in all positions and three as Executive Chef, my final overseeing three locations. My ideal area of employment would be New Orleans, but I would be open to relocation. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.”
Now that, would tell me something important.
It’s really perplexing that something so simple could be done so wrong in so many ways.
Oh, and Zorg: Don’t cut and paste that. Write your own.