Lindsay Olson

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Cover Letter Science (Not Really)


This is a guest post by Derek Pangallo.

Through much trail and error, I may have written the *perfect* cover letter. No — not bragging: I’m still getting turned down after each interview (I’ll write another post when I perfect that.) The simple method I have been employing runs contrary to conventional wisdom, but has taken me from a 1% to a 10% call-back rate.

After sending out a thousand applications and only landing about 10 interviews, something had to change. Literally my Gmail storage limit was maxing out from attaching my resume so many times. I decided to take a (qualitative) scientific approach at writing a better cover letter.

A student of Political communications, I subscribe to a lot of fundraising emails. A LOT. Most of them are pretty ineffective, all the way from subject to signature; after automagically knowing my name, “Derek–”, there isn’t much feeling of personalization… it’s all “me, me, me; donate donate donate” (Here’s looking at you, Barack.) I thought hard about what language hit the right nerve in these emails.

Next, I dug out the cover letters that actually worked (one of the better ones was addressed to Lindsay.) I went through each, looking for common words, phrases, or conventions. Synthesizing those letters into one, I ended up with the standard four-paragraph template you could read about on any number of websites, but with one notable exception: parentheses.

What could it be about use of parentheses — usually discouraged in formal communications — that made my letters click? I wasn’t sure, but was confident enough to keep using them. And while continuing to apply for the same kind of jobs, my success rate increased by 10 times. After further thought, I now understand what makes parenthetical commentary so

Parentheses let you be personal and professional simultaneously.

No one wants to read a cover letter. The letter is the arbitrary barrier to entry, the price of admission showing you’re willing to research a company, caring enough about the job to invest the time. Parentheses let you prove you understand convention while giving you carte blanche (almost) to speak as yourself, making a personal connection with the reader.

Parentheses are an aside, the inside joke between two professionals. Where the letter is the white-washed outside persona, the parentheses are a just-for-you nudge and whisper. You’re able to convey personality with a sense of humor and amicability — without using exclamation points, emoticons, or saying “I” too much (as feels like a problem in this post,

Long story short: write a standard cover letter, then spruce it up with parenthetical commentary. Some of those annotations you might turn into “real” sentences. You’ll create a more enjoyable read for the hiring manager and will likely be rewarded Just don’t over-do it (you wouldn’t want to come off as schizophrenic, either.)

Let me know how it works out: @derallo or derek.pangallo[@]

Derek Pangallo is an Online Community Manager, Communications Consultant and Advertiser aspiring toward a Political New Media career on Capitol Hill. He hates talking about himself in the third person and thinks anyone whose Twitter bio is written as such should be banned from the Internet.


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