Apr 292015

The world is changing and the preponderance of people who get where they are by blowing their own horn rather than by working in places which demand quality is changing the expectations of hiring authorities.
I see ever more chefs whose resumes were reworked by a well meaning family member or friend in marketing or tech HR to make their qualifications pop out. The resumes are brash, over worked and for most food businesses less effective. Here’s why:

People in the tech industries are cogs in huge, generally somewhat homogenous wheel sets which use algorithms to presort possible hires. Restaurants and even hotels are more manageable, and their needs are more specific and unique to each property. While everyone is looking for stars, restaurants, ad firms, construction companies, restaurants are also looking for human beings – team players, creative minds, organizational talents – each weighed differently for the individual restaurants.

In the Food and Beverage world, unlike in the tech or real estate or retail world – there is evidence of the quality and nature of what a candidate has done. You made food or controlled a dining room, and people saw it. A chef or sommelier leaves a trail an accountant cannot. Still Food and Beverage job seekers try to compete on the same level as the rest of the world – by telling the person receiving their resume how great they are, rather than letting their background speak for them.

One of my amusements is the highlights section of many resumes. It is an introduction and not a bad idea, if you don’t want to just put down a summary of what you do, but it is meant to be highlights. That would be a selection of what you have done, what is in your mind most important. Not an entire list.

This is what I mean:

too many highlights.

too many highlights.

This candidate happens to have a strong background and to have done everything on the list, but it won’t work for him. (If he were applying to IBM it might, as they use electric scanning, but for a restaurant such as he seeks it would not.)

A highlight list this long won’t work for the candidate because in addition to looking for people employers in this industry are people. Working under stress the have short attention spans (everyone has a short attention span these days), so they a) will not read a “highlight” list this long and b) will not retain it.

As usual less is more.

So what should Chef do here?

Chose the five most important things. No more.
Write a brief cover letter explaining that he carried out all of the front and back of house management and administration for a restaurant of whatever size or hotel, or whatever he worked at.

Make sure that the quality of his background shines in the description of each property where he worked. He will be fine.

Jul 122013

I recently placed a short job alert on LinkedIn, ending in the following instructions:

“IMPORTANT; Only legal US residents can be considered. Applications must be made via the web site. (Consider it a test on intelligence and ability to follow instructions)”

The response consisted almost entirely of invitations to “please contact me”, “please send information about your firm” (This, of course, would be on the web site), and “please view my profile”. Only one person sent me a resume.

This is almost standard practice. Paid ads on Craigslist explicitly requiring resumes and elsewhere explicitly requesting resume submissions through our contact page receive responses such as “I am a widely respected Chef. Please view my web page” or get my resume on line, or call me ASAP.”

I am a recruiter. I recruit chefs for my supper, a process not much different from recruiting lace tatters or attorneys, I imagine – a client calls me with a profile, which I try to fill from my current stock of professional acquaintances, while I also do a bit of outreach. My job is then to amass a group of likely candidates matching the employer’s laundry lists of preferences and needs, screen them for any number of qualities from career path to star power to palate to  to common sense and then provide those who seem most likely to the employer to be discussed further. Among the qualities I seek are attitude, intelligence and ability and willingness to follow instructions.

If I provide instructions on applying for the job and you don’t follow them, you will not be my candidate, because 1) You did not take the time to read the entire alert, so you are not detail oriented, 2) You are arrogant enough to feel that you are not under the same constraints as others seeking the position, 3) You are simply not very sharp and did not understand the instructions, 4) You think I am stupid and won’t notice that you are playing me or 5) You,  yourself, are stupid. None of these are mutually exclusive, by the way. It is quite possible to encompass all of these qualities at once. So why ever would I want to send someone like this to my clients?

While I have been taking advantage of applicants’ failure to comply with my requests, I now learn that many HR departments are using instruction compliance in a far more sophisticated manner.

They actively create  instructions to weed out candidates. Candidates are provide with several directives: Please use the job description and number as your subject line. Please include a short paragraph on  the reason for your interest in this job and why you feel it is appropriate for you / you are appropriate for it. Keep your sentence under five lines.

Anyone not focused or intelligent enough to follow instructions is automatically excluded from the consideration. The wheat is immediately separated from the chaff.

Instruction based weeding can be more complicated: Once an application is accepted for consideration a questionnaire may be sent. Again, if the applicant does not fill out the questionnaire or send it back in time, they are excluded.

The first goal is to see if the candidate takes the time to think about the position offered. Neither a recruiter nor an HR department likes to waste time on candidates who expect positions to fall from trees – asking for candidate input in return for a responsible position makes great sense. An invested candidate is always a better candidate. What the reduced pool of candidates write is then a valuable tool for further consideration.

In some cases the instructions are negative: Please do not send pictures. Please send your application only as a Word document or a PDF.  That too, is a test, whether intended or not.

What this means to you: If  instructions are presented with a job description, you must follow them. Read them carefully, so that you know what is required, then do it exactly as requested.. If not you will probably not make it to the main selection process.

 Good luck with  your career.






Oct 262012

The agency is overwhelmed this week, but from what we are receiving in response to our outreach, it appears that the inhabitants of the culinary world absolutely need more clarification about how the job search process works, because it is fairly obvious nobody told them.

We have a nifty little piece about recruiters, which you may feel very comfortable calling “head hunters’, although that’s about as suave as calling San Francisco “Frisco”, but never mind. It bears reading.

It does not tell you how to deal with them. That covers a lot of area, so let’s just start with how to begin dealing with them.

Most recruiters are web based, so  you can look up their pages and read their requests for first contact, resume submission, etc. Since every recruiter has his or her own system or database, they may request your documents in Word or PDF or other format, or simply request that you add text to an email.  Most do not want pictures. If you are applying to an international firm, however, they require pictures. Not sticking to these requests/requirements prevent them from considering you. (Why should anyone consider a candidate for upper management who is unable to comply with simple requests?) so it is quite important to read the information on the web site and follow the instructions.

Most recruiters want a resume as the first contact. They appreciate a terse cover letter explaining your situation, but not an essay.  Some firms require cover letters, in which case the best advice I can give is to keep them to the point.

Overwhelming a recruiter with a dog and pony show does not endear you. Save your pictures, your self-praise, and, gasp, videos for later. Receiving fifteen pictures of your plating on my IPhone or IPad doesn’t impress me of your skills but rather of your lack of technical understanding, or worse, your lack of courtesy.  The web site question is still open, but if you have one you wish to share, you should not just a send a website and a note that you are a great chef, please look at my web site.

You  are not paying the recruiter and you are asking him  to help you. The exchange means that you provide your availability for free and they work for free, but do remember it is a free service and act accordingly.

Acting accordingly means:  It would be inexorably rude to send a recruiter a note asking if they know a great recruiter.  You should not make demands such as “Please call me ASAP” and I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience, because my earliest convenience belongs to my customers in New York or in Russia right now, and until you meet my needs, you  simply have  no right to ask for it.

It also means showing the recruiter the respect you feel you deserve yourself. There is no rule against working with several firms, although that can create complications, but you should treat each person you speak to with respect. That means not sending an email blast to fifteen firms.

Remembering that recruiters see possibly hundreds of resumes on a bad day, you might want to cut anything remotely resembling a snow job. We have seen it all (and occasionally have a good laugh at the sender’s expense.) Present them with the facts, just as you would a very professional recruiter.

Understand that Recruiters work not for you but for your clients, with the caveat that none of us wish to do any harm to anyone, so we are concerned for both sides of the hiring equation, but we need to focus on our clients and those candidates who fit their needs. If your background does not, we probably won’t be able to talk to you. It’s not personal.

We will, however, contact you if you fit our desired candidate profile, and if we cannot use your information now, we will probably put you in your files so that we can reach you later.

Sometimes a recruiter will contact you.  Since I have hardly met a chef who did not understand how this works,  I see no need to discuss it.

Occasionally someone will refer you to us. If they do, it is because we  have a position we have discussed with them, and they think you might like it. It this  happens, do not hesitate to call the office, sooner rather than later (as the great jobs go quickly). It will be appreciated and can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  If you are referred by a friend of the recruiter, furthermore, go ahead and pick up the phone.  If we are busy, we can ask you to send a resume. If not, we will probably be happy to hear from  you.

We, recruiters, do need a resume. A Bio does not meet our needs. Nor will a string of magazine articles.Most of  us do not have time or patience for spin. Bio’s are for customers and media. Resumes are for job searches.

It is for us nothing more than a tool that jogs our memory, allows us to find that terrific looking chef who worked in Wilmington and gives us an outline to present and discuss with our clients.  We know you are more than a resume, but we can’t work without one. If we are any good at all and enter into your job search with you,  we will try to get to know you and where you have worked so we can help our clients decide if you are a good match for their needs (If you are not, nobody is served).  You can help us by sending timely and correct information.

As for the rest, the tips on this web site are very useful. Enjoy them. They, too, are free.

Jun 182012

I store resumes in a database I created and refined  over the years.

The Readers’ Digest version of a database is an electronic filing cabinet containing folders with distinct bits of information about a thing or a person or a customer, which can be selected to call up a list of  things or people or customers meeting a select set of criteria. If, for instance, I need a chef with background in Indian Food who does volume banquets and lives near Dallas, I can enter these criteria into a form and pull up a list of such chefs.  This is not the whole process of finding a person, but it gives me a place to start.

My database, which has about 200 characteristics, contains two simple check boxes, “yes” and “no” in the search options, “yes” signalling someone of exceptional interest (most candidates have neither “field” checked)  in and “no” tagging a candidate as better avoided for any number of reasons.

Most of the “no”s are set before I ever speak to the candidate, usually on the first reading of the resume, although they can be triggered by red flags in a conversation or from research. They keep me from wasting time on that person. I have found it not in my own or my clients’ interest to waste energy on questionable applicants.

The main reason for “No” is resume content which does not correspond with my understanding of the world in which we function – for instance a claim to have been mentored by a great chef who was never in this country or two simultaneous jobs in distant locations.  There was the San Francisco chef who claimed to have the first four Michelin stars in the United States. An Indian chef claimed to have been the chef of the Georges Cinque over a decade ago. If it doesn’t wash it doesn’t wash. (An inquiry showed him to have been the violin player.  Who knew they had one.)

I take most training claims at face value, checking them only if the candidate moves into a final round, but there are enough fishy claims in the background portion of resumes to put a lot of them in what is essentially my electronic round file.  As a rule, the more “impressive” the claim or usually claims, the more questionable they appear.

One of these just arrived. A woman outside of the independent restaurant area seeking a logical job on the East Coast. The resume looks fine, and had I not given training a quick look, I might have called her at some point for a suitable position.

But then:

Under training this person lists two things. 1) A degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the United States. 2) An apprenticeship at not one but TWO of the most prestigious restaurants in Paris, albeit no formal or completed training in Paris, or for that matter, in the US. (In France apprenticeships are accompanied by a two year course in a trade school).

She might, of course, be mistaking a paid stage (which I suspect the “apprenticeships actually were) for an apprenticeship, which ends in France in CAP certification, which she does not claim, but then… With a platinum BA she should and probably does know as much, so she is ..how you say in English??..ah, yes, lying. Or mildly obfuscating.

She also lists among her accomplishments a French literary prize (“French Book Prize”), a fact unknown to the great Google, although an author with the same name, now long dead, did receive one.

So what? Everyone does it.

Actually they don’t. Smart employers in the area these people work know the facts and the turf they occupy and will see the ruse. They will either be amused or annoyed – after all, it is slightly insulting – but they won’t bother with the candidate. Nor will I.

The woman has a decent if not stellar history – a fact which further puts her training claims in question – and would be a possible candidate for a job, but her attempt to pass for something more than she surely is raises a lot of questions, one of the most interesting being whether she actually deserved any of the positions she lists, or whether she obtained those  on the basis of false assertions and was able to muddle through by manipulation of people there who were well acquainted with the needs of the job.

Equally important is what the claim indicates about attitude. Those who con their way through their careers invariably believe they are more clever than the people reviewing their history. Some may be (although not realizing that employers use Google wouldn’t support that theory very well), but really, would you want that arrogant mindset in your kitchen? I doubt my clients would.

A little spice, as a good chef knows, goes a long way. Too many claims of prestige, unless they correspond to the rest of a candidate’s career, raise suspicion.

If one has had the wonderful  experience of spending a week at a restaurant like Noma or Le Notre, then stating that one did so is sufficient. It shows determination and dedication, and I, at least, would probably want to speak with you and ask what it was like.  Inflate it beyond its context, however, and you are more than likely going to trigger a few red flags and end in the undesirable pile.

Actually, there’s a certain amount of Darwinism there. It’s a beautiful thing.

Mar 132012

Imagine you are at a party—-

Or at a bar and trying to make time with the person next to you. Or, for that matter one the beach. It doesn’t matter, but you are communicating and trying to impress him/her/them with your personality, your savoir affair, your knowledge and just your great you-ness.  Or better  yet, imagine them trying to impress you. Here’s what they say:

“Hello. My focus is and inspiring people to become better.”

“Hi, there. Employing a  Transformational Leadership  approach by enhancing motivation, morale and performance is my method.”

“Hi. My name is Jake. I provide the framework for unparalleled service. Instilling this kind of dedication in others is my expertise.”

How likely are you to take this dude home, to invite this woman out to dinner, to want to wake up next to this full of him/herself , messianic, inflated  popinjay?

I don’t know about you, but if we were at the beach, I’d probably whack him upside the head with my sand bucket and run like crazy. These are NOT great pickup lines. And yet, people try to engage me with these and similar jewels of maladroit self-promotion all the time.

It’s a pretty stupid way to try to start a relationship. Perhaps if we back up a bit and view the potential employment introduction process from another angle, namely that mentioned above – a first approach to an interesting person you are attempting to impress, we can make more sense of a good way to get there.

First, then, the people who read our resume are  just that – people – the kind who sit on beaches and go to parties and talk to people at bars or PTA meetings – and they have the same kind of reactions to what others say  in their work as they would in real life – in the above situation their reaction would be a wincing gag reflex with a thought bubble saying, “Gee, what a pompous, bs’ing jackass.”  Fortunately for them/me, in the hiring process there is no need for a pail of sand upside the head. “Click, Delete” is quick and effective.

Of course we know why you are doing this: 1) You are trying to impress us, and 2) you are in your deepest essence  a pompous bs’ing jackass. (In real life we use a slightly different term.)

The latter quality is something you might want to suppress,  but how would you do that?

For one thing stop telling people you are God. No matter how secure you are in the knowledge. It creeps them out. For another, don’t talk about you-the-oh-too-fabulous-person, talk about the thing you did or the place you did it. Where you worked, the people you worked with.

Back to the beach: How would, “Wow! That water is so warm and calm. Don’t you just love it here?  Oh, by the way, I am Jake/Sally (extend hand). The Bar:  Did you just hear that thunder? Or was that a garbage truck tipping over?”  Point: It’s not about you.

The same applies to the initial written contact with people you want to work for. You are courting them, not selling them a used Edsel. You are angling for a first date, AKA interview, and possibly a walk down the aisle, or at least an extended fling. A basic rule of the approach either professionally or personally is: Don’t be repulsive. The “I am the best person I know” type of introduction generally repels. Let’s try a slightly formalized wording on the cover letter.

“I’ve been fortunate in spending seven years at various restaurants of the Food Ville Corporation in which I have learned their policies of responsibility sharing and staff respect. Food Ville’s operations are highly staff and guest centered with a focus on guest satisfaction and smooth front / back functioning which permits frictionless operations in high quality locations of up to 400 seats. I am seeking an opportunity to move forward with the skills and philosophies learned in their employ.”

See? Not about you. I’d read that one without wincing. That’s progress.

Do, however, remember, that the job of a cover letter is to explain things the reader NEEDS TO KNOW, and that more is always less in writing them.






Jan 102012

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.




Well, Zorg,


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.

Dec 262011

In any day’s supply of resumes there is one which attempts one way or another to manipulate the recruiter or hiring firm into direct contact.

They read something like, “I am a qualified professional with the best abilities for your position. Please contact me ASAP, or, “After twelve years in the industry I have experience you will not be able to appreciate until you speak directly with me. I can be reached at xxx xxx xxxx. Please contact me at your earliest convenience.”

The irony of these approaches is that rather than being contacted ASAP, the writers are unlikely to be contacted at all.  Of course you want the employer to contact you, as you have an edge, but strong arming is never a good approach. The employer or recruiter will always take some time to look at the facts presented in a resume and possibly in a cover letter, to research past employment locations and compare candidates before he picks  up the phone.  When they have their facts straight, they will call the suitable candidates, but not before.

There is really no reason to state that you want to speak to the recipient of your resume or application. You indicate that when you send it. If you must, however, there are more polite phrases.

“I would be delighted to discuss the details of the open position at your convenience.”

“I hope to have the opportunity to discuss your open position with you.”

Or better yet, just leave it out.

Mar 312011

And don’t kid a kidder. Also: Stop kidding yourself.

Did I already say that? It bears repeating.

Like so many people in recruiting, both free lance like me or in restaurant groups, I’ve been around for a few years.  In that time I have learned what happens in various venues – clubs, hotels, tiny restaurants and hot spots – and I have a pretty good idea of and respect for what the people who have developed their careers have in their tool boxes – and a fair amount of disdain for those who convince me they have something else.

Applicants continue to surprise me by presenting me with statements of their qualifications which experience – it’s all in the mileage, son – shows cannot possibly be true, thus sending their resumes straight to the “We’ll call you when Hell freezes over” file.

What, for instance: A chef, really a kitchen manager, from a series of corporately held and managed family style restaurants or steakhouses like Olive Garden, Cheesecake Factory, TGI Friday’s maintains that he is an award winning culinarian known for his creativity. Let us be clear that any chef who has learned in these environments has positive talents, but they don’t rate awards and they are by definition not creative. The chef might want to be, but claiming the attribute is just plain silly.

A banquet chef of a Marriott conference center writes that he is specialized in Asian, New American and Haute French cuisine. Excuse me while I try to clamber up on the turnip truck I just fell from, but we who suffer chefs, even the fools, gladly, know the value of a banquet chef , but also know that his identity is not the newest trendy cuisine but strategic planning, development and oversight of items that have holding power and can be delivered in an organized manner and a profound sense of timing, plus some more neat stuff.

A manager from a chain claims to have a strong sense of fine dining. You get the blunt point.

The finer point is that this is a small community, and the people who hire for restaurant A probably know about the kitchens of restaurants B, C and W and fifty places and they read the papers and industry news, so misstating your qualities, whether through self delusion or in an attempt to get what you think you want will more often than not have an adverse effect.

Having aspirations and wanting to do something beyond the limitations of your current situation is a great idea. If you work at Morton’s steakhouse and are interested in a restaurant with a New World menu, you can state that you have had a deep interest in the cuisines of the Southern Hemisphere or that you are seeking a position offering you more opportunities to be creative, and someone may listen and give you the opportunity based on what they know about  your ability to follow structural guidelines (not a small thing) and organizational discipline. If you tell them you are an expert in the field, they will deep six your paper or put it in the ’86 file, as I do.

Saying you are coming from a strength which has not even got a toe hold in your visible employment history allows two possible interpretations, neither of which work well for you: 1) You are trying to have them on and do not respect their intelligence and 2) you are mildly clueless and don’t have a sense of what your own strengths and weaknesses are. Why would they pick up the phone and call?

Feb 282011

There are, of course, a whole lot of things which  can remove your resume from consideration, but here are a few you can control.

For anyone who has been reading these pieces, this is old news, but as the Swiss say, “A double sewn seam always holds better.”  While most resume variations are really of little importance, these are sure fire ways to sabotage your job application:

1)      Pictures. Clusters of grapes. Cute chefs. Toques.

2)      .txt format (Notepad).  It is assumed that grownups know how to write a resume in Word or RTF. (Rich Text).  (hint: Click file > Save As > Choose Rich Text Format.)

3)      Oddball formats of unique resume programs which cannot be opened on the recipient’s computer. Not everyone has ResumeGenius on their computer.  (see Nr 2).

4)      Jobs without dates.

5)      More than about ¼ page of introduction plus minimum information on  your previous employment, usually listed in as many lines as you have had jobs.

6)      Lyrical text or philosophy. “I believe my place in the Universe…”  “My commitment to my passion inspires the harmony of my plate.” People will also laugh at you.

7)      Bravado, Bragging, Posturing: “I am the chef for your job.” “My superb talent is exceeded only by my legendary presentation.”

8)      Missing information, innuendo, allusions. “Currently employed at one of the nation’s top locations” with no name.

9)      A lengthy, rambling, cliche ridden cover letter.

10)   Attempts to be cute or funny in any way. People will not laugh.

That’s it. Count ‘em, 10.

Dec 222010

Every time I read a cover letter I find my self scoffing at best and throwing things at the wall in the worst case.

There seems to exist a wide-spread and thoroughly  mistaken belief  that cover letters are some kind of essay contest,  whose winner will get the best job, confounded by the equally groundless idea that the more you write the better grade you’ll get.

Most of what people write is a list of how terrific they are and all the things they have done. Some wax philosophical and others poetic. Frankly, My Dear, from a professional standpoint, I don’t give a damn. Actually, I do give a damn. I detest the pages of self-congratulatory bullets and have a very hard time warming to  the people who write them, reminding myself that they just don’t know any better. With that in mind, it’s perhaps a good time to educate a few of you. Ready?

The purpose of a cover letter is to convey important information you would not put in your resume. Basta.  It should do so tersely .  It should not resemble your eulogy. It is not a recommendation written by you about you, who we all know are the least subjective person on the planet on that particular topic.  If you want to praise yourself, write your own obituary – not a cover letter.

It should state  in a few pregnant sentences (i.e. tersely) – why you are interested in my business or my  job.  It can tell me why you are leaving your job or moving  or specify just what you want to do. It should not contain more than three paragraphs. Four at the most. It might explain why you are approaching me. It’s a letter, remember, not a flier. It should not begin, “Dear Sir”, since a) I am a woman and b) I have a name. Letters beginning with, “To whom it may concern,” generally get thrown out, since nobody is concerned about them.

Here’s an example:

Dear Mrs Jones (To the management of Bob’s Burger Bar/ To the recruiter a Sams Chef Stable)

Our mutual friend Jim Francis referred me to you/I ran across your web site and saw that you have a position open for a senior director of purchasing, which interests me greatly.  As chef of DoWop Diners I have had full product acquisition responsibilities and command both Windows and Apple resource administration software.

Although I am currently happily employed in Cleveland, my wife has an attractive job offer in the San Francisco Bay Area,  so I will be moving there in June at the latest. If an earlier opportunity should arise, I would move out first. My current employers are aware of this decision and are available for references / I have not yet informed my current employers of this decision, but I want to provide them with  at least 4 weeks notice.

I can best be reached by message on my mobile phone, 555 555 5555.  I am impressed with what I read regarding Joe’s House of Burgers, especially your commitment to quality, and I would appreciate an opportunity to speak with you about the job above or other opportunities you might have available.

Joe Dokes.

Now that’s a good cover letter. Joe has something to tell me. His resume will speak for the size and nature of the places he worked and what he did there. He isn’t telling me he is a great anything, but mentioning the specific points which might interest me for a specific job.  He knows who I am or he at least knows the company I work for.  I will probably call him. The restaurant manager who reads this will take note.

Obviously Joe tells  a unique story.  You can have a different story – you worked in California and want to return, you are seeking something in a larger organization because you want to hone your volume management skills – you are selling a successful restaurant due to issues with the landlord. Fine. It means something.

“I am a chef with 29  years  of highly acclaimed experience” does not.

If you don’t have a story, don’t write one. Just say that you noticed the company has a position open that would interest you, and that you’d appreciate a call. (Never ask them to call ASAP. It smacks of arrogant foolishness.) Philosophical musings on the shape of todays economy or the industry are out of place: “In times like this it behooves us to think beyond the box and reach for the stars.”  Oy Veh.  Again, it is not an essay.

Keep your cover letter simple, and keep it short, or just write a couple of sentences in the email you attach it to.  It’s the only effective thing to do.