I was actually going to write a whole post about this, but Jan - one of our awesome summer interns - serendipitously did it for me yesterday:
The catalyst for my own plans to write about this mostly came from our current search for a receptionist. We don’t often hire for non-technical roles (the nature of what we do - building beta products - inherently means that the vast majority of people who work here are engineers and designers), so this particular job post has resulted in a very different kind of application.
Namely, to massively generalize for a sec: engineers and designers mostly seem to understand their worth and how sought after they are in the market right now. They are not afraid to be themselves, and if they do include cover letters (which is pretty rare), they’re short and to the point. As in: “Hey, the stuff you guys are working on looks pretty interesting. Let me know if you want to grab a coffee and chat.”
In contrast, the receptionist applications we’ve been receiving include cover letters 100% of the time, usually a full page long. And these tend to be cover letters that completely dehumanize the person applying. I’m seeing a lot of:
- Dear sir or madam
- "the résumé enclosed herein"
- I feel confident that my skills will be an asset to your firm
- Please don’t hesitate to set up a time to discuss this further
…omg I can’t. Basically, we’re receiving dozens of copy/paste jobs of what cover letters are “supposed” to sound like. The thing is though, at betaworks (and most startups) personality is a huge part of what we’re looking for. Especially in a non-technical position where your preexisting experience and skills really aren’t as important to your success in the role.
I don’t mean personality as in your hobbies and sense of humor; I mean just showing that you have one. Specifically, to us, what matters in every hire we make is that you are smart, motivated, passionate, and creative. Everything else is secondary. In Jan’s case, no one cared about the great things listed on his resume until he set himself apart from the competition by doing something silly. In most cases, I don’t even look closely at a resume unless the cover letter shows some real signs of life.
To summarize, some quick tips if you’re thinking of applying to betaworks or any other similar startups:
- Yes, you do need to include a resume. But focus more on simplifying it and stripping it down to what matters. I would rather see a half page resume that just lists relevant facts than a three page resume full of buzz words.
- Speaking of buzz words: kill them. Kill them all. In both your resume and your cover letter. This is not high school; we are not judging you on your ability to follow directions. We want to see creativity and understand what sets you apart from everyone else applying.
- Include a link to your twitter. If you’re not on twitter, get on twitter. If you really hate twitter, have some other web presence, even if it’s just an about.me page (which you can make in two seconds). It’s a good sign that you understand the internet and are excited about it. Kind of mandatory.
- In your cover letter, yes you should explain why you are a good fit for the company and/or the role, but that should be like two sentences tops. What I really want to hear is why you’re excited about us. (And with a company like betaworks, there is a ton to get excited about. Surely you love digg, instapaper, poncho, dots, giphy, or one of our bazillion other companies or projects. If you don’t, there is undoubtedly always someone else who does and I’d much rather hire them!)
- Think: WWJD (what would Jan do)? Include a funny photo or gif. Tell a joke. Tell a funny story about yourself. Don’t be super weird right off the bat, obviously - but humanize yourself. We’re funny people. We want to surround ourselves with funny people. Be yourself!
Hope this is helpful. And if you love betaworks and want to join our operations team, the receptionist job is a great way to get your foot in the door. Email me and practice your new cover writing skillz!