Or… Stuff I’m sick of #1,874: writing covering letters.
I am still without a job. It’s tough out there! The last time there was a proper recession, I thought that kissing girls was a revolting idea, and that Def Leppard were wicked. Economic conditions aside, I am being selective about which jobs I apply for. As I am not facing imminent starvation, I have the luxury of carefully applying for jobs I want rather than carelessly applying for jobs I don’t.
This, for me, means spending a couple of hours researching the company I’m applying to, then spending a couple more hours writing a covering letter that corresponds with the impression I get of the company. I try to imagine the kind of person who will open my email, and tailor my prose accordingly.
‘I saw ur ad 4 a job and i want it, lol!!!’ might have cut it in the dot.com boom years, but in leaner times a carefully targeted introduction is called for. Covering letters are awful propositions. You must present yourself confidently without arrogance. You must sound professional, but not stuffy. You must be clear and concise, but not superficial. You must avoid cliché, but it is impractical not to draw upon a few stock phrases.
This is particularly difficult when you consider the subjectivity of these things. One man’s confidence is another man’s arrogance. One man’s brevity is another man’s reticence. But there is one important rule which applies to all covering letters, no matter who the intended audience: It must be grammatical.
Now, I am often told I write well. And I do. I drive well, too. But I don’t really know how an engine works. When I’ve finished a difficult sentence in a covering letter and read it back analytically, everything I thought I knew about my mother tongue goes out the window.
I was not taught formal grammar at school; I am of the generation that was expected to infer grammar from reading. The same goes for punctuation – have I used semicolons and dashes correctly in this paragraph? Are my tenses consistent? For me, it’s more a matter of instinct than reasoning.
English grammar is a hideous, repellant subject. I feel nauseous nauseated thinking about it. Should it be ‘The couple were drinking Martinis’, or ‘The couple was drinking Martinis’? Are you sure? Is it writer’s block, or writers’ block? If you have writer’s block, it’s just you. You are the writer with the block. But if all writers get writer’s block, then surely it’s writers’ block. Wait, writers writing together have writers’ block. Right? Where am I going wrong? Seriously, tell me!
Sometimes people screw up their faces when they hear Alan Sugar asking a potential apprentice, “Why wasn’t you out there selling?” when of course he should have asked, “Why WEREN’T you out there selling?”. But wait! ‘I was’, ‘He was’, ‘She was’, so why not ‘You was’, if speaking of a singular ‘you’? It doesn’t make sense! There is no explanation. Well, there IS an explanation, but it requires so many technical terms as to make it nonsensical to a layman. And I always say, if you can’t explain the gist of something without using jargon, it’s probably bollocks.
Some people gasp with horror when they realise most people don’t know the difference between a verb and a noun. ‘A Verb is a doing word; a noun a naming word,’ they tell you. But what about this?
(i) I am suffering terribly.
(ii) My suffering is terrible.
In the first example, ‘suffering’ is a verb; in the second, a noun. But the information conveyed is identical! Do my skills match with the job description, or are they a perfect match for it? A man could go mad thinking about it / thinking of it / thinking on it.