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 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.

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.

Nov 112010

Or how to showcase your talent  subtly:

Every now and then somebody says that as a professional you have to be humble. Depending on what they mean, they are very wrong.  When you vying for a position, the last thing  you want to do is hide your light under a bushel. If you have qualities, your job search is the time to let them show.

The employers you apply to don’t want you to be humble. They want to know what you can do and why they should hire you.  Most don’t want anyone who appears arrogant, and that’s your conundrum: Strutting your stuff without appearing full of yourself. Showing your value without appearing arrogant is your goal, not humility or even modesty.

You have every right to be proud of your achievements and skills, and your pride and self assurance should be visible  in your life in the industry as well as your job search. Quiet self assurance, on paper or in an interview, is impressive, but putting it on paper is challenging. It can be done, though.  Here are a couple of tricks. Or really one: Share credit and don’t brag.

1: Bragging – I received five stars for my fine cuisine at La Chose. Not bragging: During this period as Executive Chef La Chose received five stars. Eh voila! You still get all the credit, and you have shown yourself to be a team player to boot.

2. Bragging: I opened this prestigious restaurant. Not Bragging: I was the opening chef/sous chef / manager for this five star restaurant.

3. Bragging: I brought down the food cost and increased sales by 35%. Not bragging: During my employment as Executive Chef the restaurant’s food cost was reduced by 12%, while sales increased by 35%.

4. Avoid the first person singular  if you can in any way. That, for those who don’t love grammar, the words ” I”, “me”, “my”.  Instead of I was voted the best restaurant, try “We were voted the best restaurant.” Or: The Plains Dealer readers voted Chez Shorty the best new restaurant of 2001. If you were voted best chef (obviously something you don’t share), try to avoid the pronoun. (“Voted best chef of 2007 by Foodstuffs Journal”)

5. Self praise stinks. Rather than stating on  your resume that you are “an exceptional leader,” a “skilled culinarian” or a “gifted chef”, let your history speak for you. Few employers give much credit to statements like “I am a consummate professional and an exceptional manager.”  They will see as much if you say you managed a staff totaling 75, training college students where experienced staff was not available, or that your duties included creating maximum cooperation between the service staff and kitchen to assure guest satisfaction.

As you see, it’s easy to display your achievements without “hogging” the credit. You show yourself to be a team player as well as the splendidly talented professional you are.

It’s not what you think you are that impresses employers, but what you can prove you have done. Don’t hesitate to lay it out clearly. If you developed a green waste management program  (or better  if you worked with the management team to develop one), let it be known. (“My responsibilities included working with the local utilities commission to develop a .etc.)

What if you received awards? That’s different. If they advance your case, state them. If not, leave them for an interview.

Every so often someone in an  interview says something like, “I’ve had the privilege of working with a terrific staff.” I know I am dealing with a star when I hear that.