Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How NOT To Write A Cover Letter

(This is a re-print. I published it so long ago, though, I feel it's not really cheating you to put it out here again. Considering the source [me] it's surprisingly good advice.)


Many years ago, when I graduated from broadcasting school and I was first looking for work in (logically enough) broadcasting, I sent out demo tapes to a number of radio stations. Accompanying those tapes were the following cover letters.

I assumed that, since this was a creative type of business I was trying to get into, a creative cover letter would be appreciated. I failed to take into account the fact that, while the end of the business I was attempting to get into called for imagination, your average programming director has the imagination of a sea slug. And I might be doing a disservice to sea slugs by saying that.

In any case, the following letters received zero response. I was amazed, at the time, because I figured at the very least someone might want to get a look at the nut who wrote them. The tapes I sent were amusing and did showcase a decent array of vocal styles.

Oh, well. As usual, I overestimated the intelligence of the people I was dealing with and, as usual, it was a fatal mistake. Here now, the first letter.


Person In Whose Hands I Am Placing My Life
Same Address As On The Envelope

Dear Form Letter Recipient:

Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm the idiot who thinks that he can forego writing a personal letter, yet still believes he will receive a personal reply. My name is Jim Sullivan. I will more than likely commit suicide unless you offer me a job immediately.

Whew! That's quite a first paragraph, wouldn't you say? I'm willing to bet that this is the first cover letter you've ever received where the person applying for work states right up front that he is both mentally deficient and suicidal (not to mention egotistical enough to think that you'd care, even though he didn't take the time to find out your name.) Well, that's just the kind of guy I am!

Enclosed you will find a tape almost as inane as this letter. I'm sure that you'll find it quasi-amusing, if only for the poor production values. I will further besmirch my already-soiled reputation by admitting to having produced, written, and voiced it all on my own. It contains a number of voices that will not be immediately recognizable as my own, mainly because you have no idea what my real voice sounds like. My repertoire, such as it is, includes another forty or so vocal characterizations that I will gladly inflict upon you in person, should you be foolish enough to offer me the opportunity.


Given the chance, I'm sure that I can prove my worth to you. I will happily attempt any sort of vocal gymnastics you might desire. I'm easy to work with and take direction well. In addition to my strengths vocally, I can write copy, wash windows, sweep floors, piss coffee, and shit reel-to-reel tape.

In the final analysis, I am not only desperate but also despondent. I no doubt have a rope around my neck and a gun to my head as you read this. Only YOU can prevent me from making the world a better place to live!

Please listen to my tape and then give me a call. I'll kill myself if you don't.

Have a nice day!

Jim Sullivan

P.S. If I'm not in when you call, please leave a message. I'm probably playing softball.


Amazingly, not a single call came in. I was ready for this eventuality, though. I sent out the following letter as a follow-up.


Person In Whose Hands I Had Placed My Life
Same Address As Before

Hello From Beyond The Grave!

Well, it seems that you weren't all that impressed by my threat to kill myself. You didn't offer me a job immediately. Therefore, in order to prove my sincerity to you, I have killed myself.

Tut, tut! It's too late now to offer me that job. I'm dead! If only you had believed me. You could have saved my life and given me the opportunity to show you how valuable an asset I could have been to you. As it stands, though, you will now be saddled with unbelievable guilt for the rest of your life because you failed to realize how desperately despondent I actually was (not to mention how much of a talent I could have been.)

Believe me, if it were in my power to come back and save you this misery, I would. I mean, it's hardly your fault that I was psychotic enough to kill myself just because you didn't offer me a job. However, all of that is beyond my control now. We both had our chances and we blew it.

I can offer you some slight hope, however. Interestingly enough, there is another fellow named Jim Sullivan who is pursuing a career in broadcasting. By the most ridiculous of coincidences, he moved into my apartment the day after my death. While he doesn't have my suicidal tendencies (indeed, he appears to be almost pathologically sane) he does possess pretty much the same vocal range and abilities I did. To be honest (and I'’m dead, so why not?) he may be slightly more talented than I was, as hard as that may be to imagine.

"How does that help?", I hear you asking in your guilt-ridden state. Simple - you could give him a call and offer him the job you would no doubt offer me if I were still alive. This won't assuage all of the guilt you feel, but it couldn't hurt.

Well, that about wraps it up from here.

(You know, I'm not really sure where "here" is. There are plenty of free cigarettes and loose women, but it's a bit too warm for my taste. However, I digress.)

I hope you are able to put together the fragmented pieces of your shattered life. God bless you.

Yours In Perpetuity,

Jim Sullivan (The Former)

P.S. If the other fellow isn't in when you call, you should leave a message. He might be out playing softball.


Again, nothing. I had a third letter, though.


To: The Person I May Have Confused
From: Jim Sullivan

Dear Programming Director:

I sent you a demo tape quite some time ago. Obviously, it did not have the desired effect. You have thus far not offered me a king's ransom to be a performer at your station. Perhaps I didn't make myself totally clear in my cover letters. I shall attempt to rectify that situation now.


That should leave no doubt. That sentence is about as clear as the English language gets. You think up anything and I'll do it. Want someone to walk a tightrope between the Hancock Building and the Prudential Tower, just to build your ratings? Need somebody to wrestle alligators at Downtown Crossing during lunch hour? Do you have a promotion in mind wherein a DJ boxes Mike Tyson for three rounds? I'm your man. I'll do it for minimum wage.

Aside from being a full-fledged, top-shelf, first-class fool, I can also write, announce, produce, operate a board, sweep the floors, clean the toilets, and do any of the other mundane duties which you might think are beneath me. They aren'’t beneath me. Nothing is beneath me.

I'’m serious. Give me a broom or a Johnny-mop. I'’ll do anything to get my foot in the door. Once I'’m in, it will become abundantly clear to you that my value as an all-around talent is considerable. What have you got to lose? A few dirty toilets? Four bucks an hour? You won'’t find anybody else willing to scrub porcelain and fight reptiles (the alligators, not Mike Tyson) at these prices.

If this letter has intrigued you, and you wish to listen to my demo tape one more time, please don't. It obviously didn't impress you the first time around or I wouldn't have had to send you this letter. Instead, give me a chance to talk to you, live. Either invite me in for an interview or give me a call. If my actual presence, or a reasonable facsimile thereof via telephone, isn't enough to impress you, I'll never darken your doorway (or your mailbox) again. All I want is a chance to let you see my pitiful puss in person, and for you to say to me, "Good Lord! You really are an idiot!"

I await your reply with baited breath, but I'll use mouthwash before we meet.

Yours Somehow,

Jim Sullivan


You know the result by now. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Which is why I am where I am, writing this for you.

(Which is an absolute joy, of course. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Or at least anything less than five bucks an hour.)

Soon, with more better stuff.


CSD Faux Finishing said...

Matt tried a similar approach to your first letter once, I just shook my head and he seemed as shocked as you when nothing came in. Though he didn't do anything quite as poignant as your follow up letters. If I had a job to hire out and received letters like these that person would at least get an interview for making me laugh to my toes. You must have been applying to a bunch of stiffs.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Dear Jim Shawn Sullivan,
I'm delighted that you chose to re-run your cover letters. I might otherwise have missed out on these gems since I discovered your site only yesterday. Yes, I am a returning visitor!
I worked in a Personnel office reading cover letters and making hire & fire decisions for 27 years before my retirement (although not from the broadcast industry.) Your first cover letter would have been enough to classify you as a person of interest -- and one who would be crazy enough to work for our company. I could have used your talents!
Thanks for the laughs!

Buck said...

I'd have called you... for what that's worth, and it's not a lot, admittedly.

You're THE most entertaining of my daily reads, none.

Balcony Gal said...

This explains so much about you. Love it!

Jeni said...

I will NEVER understand why people who read cover letters and resumes can't also have a little bit of a sense of humor and see the creativity behind letters like this?

lime said...

well i have to look for a job sometime soon. this will come in handy! thanks!

Janet said...

You had me at "Dear Form Letter Recipient:"

The Mountain Man has been advertising for a couple of positions lately. While the resumes he gets are quite entertaining, they weren't intended that way.
Yesterday's example:

To obtain gainful employment in a formal setting. I am proficient in medical experience, exceptional communication skills, and well-developed English grammar, punctuation, and usage skills. I work very well alone or as a team.

Minnesotablue said...

I think I would have hired you immediately

Rooster said...

Those letters are terrific - but obviously too many people in business are not interested in laughs or creativity.

When I applied to Dartmouth, the application had a question that said, "Provide a quote that best describes you and explain why". I was highly qualified, and had already had terrific interviews with Dartmouth Alumni. The quote I used that I was sure would seal the deal was:

"The wonderful thing about Tiggers is I'm the only one".

Like you, I never heard back from them.

Suldog said...

I'm certainly glad to know that, the next time I need a job, so many of you are willing to hire me!

Thank you, very much.

Lime - Feel free to use my letters in their entirety, if you wish. However, expect similar results (unless you send them to the other people who responded here, of course, in which case you'll be hired immediately!)

Janet - "I work very well alone or as a team." You can't make up stuff like that. Hilarious!

Rooster - I would have hired you on the spot. Obviously, those folks weren't acquainted with Pooh. Either that, or their heads were full of it.

John-Michael said...

How grand it would have been for one of those addressees to have had the intestinal wherewithal to write back a "How I do wish that this place was as much fun to work in, as you would obviously be to work with." letter. (Though that was certainly the message sent by default.)

Sure enjoyed this My Friend!

Hilary said...

I have to echo the others in saying that I'd have hired you in a heartbeat too. A sense of humour goes a long way. Clearly you were too much for them. ;)

Cath said...

Oh my goodness that is so funny! I do not understand why they didn't contact you just out of curiosity! I would have. For a young lad at the time (I presume) that is incredibly creative. Inappropriate, but definitely creative.

Did you have a wake for this other Jim Sullivan guy who died before you moved into his apartment (unwittingly)?

I am sending this to the 18 year old as he currently job-seeks (for full time as college finishing now.) It will be a strange concept to him that our generation were willing to do literally anything for minimum wage. What was important was employment.

Anonymous said...

dude that's awesome!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I will plagiarize these if I am ever in the job market again.

Lisa Johnson said...

I do wonder why they wouldn't have wanted to just meet you based on the letters. They had to laugh at least a little and be a bit intrigued. If not, then I guess they had no sense of humor and you probably wouldn't have been happy working there anyway.