I’ve just posted a job for my team at the Wikimedia Foundation, which comes with the traditional avalanche of resumes and cover letters. I’m not complaining – I love that there’s so much interest in the job (and come on, who wouldn’t want to work at WMF? Seriously. Talk about impact.) But I’m struck by one thing in particular: I specifically asked for a cover letter. SPECIFICALLY. And about 2/3 of the candidates aren’t sending me one. Come on, folks, I asked for a cover letter, and I did it for a reason: a large part of your day will be spent in text. I want to see if you can write.
As I whine about this to a friend, conversation ensues:
“Philippe”, says he, “well, what are you looking for in a cover letter? And please, stop drinking my vodka.”
“Good question”, says I. “Now pass me the gin.”
So without further ado,
What I’m looking for in a resume and cover letter:
Let’s start with a basic assumption: you’re qualified for the job, with appropriate experience
Grammar: Can you find a complete sentence without the aid of a map and a flashlight? Now is the time to demonstrate that. Get someone to proofread it. I’m not kidding. And don’t let it be that kid from your dorm that skipped English comp, he can’t write for crap.
A touch of flair: I’m looking at a resume today that is broken into sections with horizontal lines, and they’re red. It’s classy, and it’s eye catching. I’m not going to hire based on that, but she sure caught my attention.
Custom is the best: If your cover letter is clearly generic…… don’t waste my time. It’s the difference between “I’m looking for a position at your company because I believe in what you do” and “I’m interested in the role of Community Advocate at the Wikimedia Foundation, because your particular role of supporting Wikipedia’s users and editors in governance functions is a compelling one, because of my long-time interest in emerging governance models.”
Watch for the gotchas: Now, you just KNOW that the sentence you write to brag about your attention to detail is going to have a mistake. You know that, I know that, it’s a given.
Do your research: If you haven’t read everything you can find about me, my team, and our work (check meta. Check my talk pages on English and Meta. Check my volunteer account – it’s linked from my work account. Check my boss’s talk pages. Check HIS boss’s talk pages) then you aren’t the right person for this job. I’m not looking for someone who’s going to cut corners, and if you think you can bullshit past me in an interview… you’re wrong. Trust me. And on that note, feel free to mention in your cover letter that you read this piece. That’s gonna catch my attention. (See what I did there? You got a little reward for doing your research.)
Have a well-defined worldview: I don’t care if you’re new to online communities, show me that you’ve spent some time really thinking about them. Show me that you’ve considered our Big Problems (the “oh shit, slide”, perhaps? See, there’s another little hint…) and have some ideas. We may have already thought of them, but you’ll be showing me how you think.
Be graceful as a … something: Now, if you do all these things, and for some stupid reason we pass on you (maybe I am just a moron? That must be it) for heaven’s sake, don’t go out in a blaze of glory. One person did that once, and told me exactly what she thought of me and the company. Guess what? I had another role in mind for her, and I knew it was going to open shortly. Guess who didn’t get an interview for that one? Sometimes you’re not the right fit for right now, but you are the right fit for later, or for a slightly different job. Trust me. If you’re a fit, and I recognize it, I’ll make sure the hiring manager is aware.
Show your hidden talent: This is not the time to be demure. If you have a passion and a flair for writing complex SQL queries, I want to know about it. James could use the help. If you love to recreate the work of 18th century painting elephants, this is a good time to let me know. You’d be amazed how often we need some weird skill set. And if, for goodness sake, you speak another language, tell me about it! It should go without saying, but if you’ve edited Wikipedia or any of our projects, I’d like to know about it. Heck, I’d like to know about ANY collaborative writing you’ve done.
Don’t be intimidated by a degree requirement: Here’s the great secret: I don’t give a flip about your degree. I care about two things: 1) have you had the big idea and seen it through to completion and 2) are you easily intimidated, or do you barrel through obstacles? Now do you see why I list a degree requirement? Don’t think for one minute that the degree you’ve got gets you out of demonstrating your answers to these two questions though.
So there you have it. What I look for in a cover letter and resume. And a couple of sweet ways to get yours to the top of my stack.