On Cover Letters

The big cross-country move is fast approaching (approximately three months wooo) and thus begins the great apartment and job search. Dreaded things because they involve a lot of time, emotional energy, in some cases money, a lot of faith, and the inevitable possibly of rejection. After applying to and be rejected from about twenty jobs I was definitely capable of performing here in my current state, I need some good news. I mean, other people my age have jobs using their degrees and not working retail, so what about me, what about Zoidberg?

Like many people, I find the most tedious and painful part of the job application process the cover letter. One of the lessons that my mother consistently reminded me of, and that I internalized was ‘no one wants to listen to you talk about yourself.’ That advice was mainly given to me when I was dealing with the shyness and social anxiety of my youth, how do you make friends? You shut the fuck up and let them talk about themselves! Even when I was younger I wondered at the effectiveness of that statement. Presumably their parents were teaching them the same thing, so what was to prevent us from coming to an impasse where neither felt comfortable speaking? It’s one of the many lessons from my childhood that were well-intentioned but ultimately detrimental to my adult like (it is true what they say about the road to hell). Good advice would have been “Don’t be a braggart” or “don’t be so caught up in yourself you stop listening to other people” or perhaps the best for friend building “ask them about themselves so that you can find common ground” NOT “make it all about them, don’t talk about yourself.”

This drilled in idea of modesty makes writing cover letters super difficult. In proof reads I always find myself undercutting my own achievements, indirectly saying “Really I’m not that great, someone else is better I’m sure…” Sheesh, no wonder I’m not getting hired! I wouldn’t hire someone who was was telling me how average they are!

It feels so unnatural to talk about how amazing I am, even when I know that I am perfectly qualified and eager to fulfill all the tasks in a job description. I am so desperate and eager to have a job in my field, a job that I enjoy and can be proud of doing, but I have not yet been able to successfully translate that into a cover letter that sounds professional and excited. Sometimes I wonder if my excitement for certain positions is professional! I suppose logically companies and organizations are going to be more apt to hire someone with passion and enthusiasm than someone whose cover letter reads like a Clear Eyes commercial but I haven’t yet discovered how to strike that balance.

Were I to write an honest cover letter, I would speak candidly about the frustrations I am facing in today’s job market (though I know I am hardly alone) and how anxious and excited I am to use my skills in degree in a job that I can be proud of, that my willingness to have this kind of job means that I am open to learning any and all necessary skills I may not have, and that I am actually a quick learner! That the line where I say I am a fast worker who exceeds expectations is actually, honestly, true!!

Ask a Manager seems to support my idea that it’s not the greatest to write a sterile, unenthused cover letter, but I struggle to find the balance. I also know that prospective employers want to hear about what I’ll bring to the job, not just how much I want one, and I struggle with the fact that I am in the same boat as some many other under or unemployed young people, I fear sounding the same as everyone else with nothing to distinguish me from my peers.

I don’t doubt my capabilities, I doubt my ability to convey my capabilities, and I lack a certain amount of confidence whenever I talk about myself. I wish there had been a class way back in maybe elementary school where you were taught how to talk about yourself fairly, and how not to be ashamed of your strengths while not being a giant asshole. Hopefully my fear of failure with override my discomfort talking about myself, and I’ll get myself an excellent job. Hopefully.


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