Last week I launched a new offer that I’m beyond excited about: Ten Pages Today.
It’s exactly what it sounds like: We meet for one day and you leave with ten new pages on your Work In Progress (WIP).
There’s several exciting benefits as well! First, if you don’t leave with all ten pages I’ll refund your money. If we only write nine pages I’ll refund ten percent of the purchase price. If we only write five pages I’ll refund fifty percent. Second, if we finish our ten pages earlier than the six hour deadline you have the option to use the remaining time to write EVEN MORE.
For more information on Ten Pages Today you can click here.
This blog post isn’t really about Ten Pages Today. This post is about advertising to academics. One of the things I love about working with academics is that they have a healthy sense of skepticism.
Getting your money back for not writing the full ten pages might be comforting but do you want to pay when you don’t know whether or not I can really help you write ten pages in six hours?
Of course you don’t!
That’s why I decided to do my best to prove my superpower. To do that, I let my Instagram followers pick a topic of their choice so that it wouldn’t be a topic in my specialty area (just like your topic probably isn’t in my specialty area). The topic chosen by the Gram was why cover letters are both pointless and evil.
Topic in hand, I took a picture of my document showing the word count, day and time. I wrote for an hour. Then I took another picture of word count, day, and time.
In one hour I wrote just over 7 pages in standard format (one inch margins, 12 pt., Times New Roman, double-spaced). The final part of proving my superpower to you is posting the essay I wrote so you can see that, while not perfect, it is seven brand new pages of content and argument.
The One-Hour Essay
In the United States it is common for employers to ask job seekers to submit a document with their resume known as a cover letter. Like a CV in other countries, a resume tells an employer where you have worked previously, how long you have worked or how often you have switched jobs, and gives them an idea of both your skills and how you apply them. With so much information covered in the resume what could be the purpose of the cover letter? The stated purpose of the cover letter is to create a narrative from the raw data of the the resume.
While the resume tells an employer what you’ve done and when, broadly speaking, you did it the cover letter tells an employee why that matters to them. In academic terms the cover letter answers the “so what” question telling the potential employer why they should care about your experience.
This leads us to the real, often unstated, reason for cover letters. Cover letters exist to set you apart from other candidates with similar qualifications. A strong example of this is in the song “Cost of Living” by country music superstar Ronnie Dunn. Like many country songs, “Cost of Living” takes the form of a first-person narrative. In this particular song the protagonist portrayed by Dunn begins by stating, “Everythin’ to know about me/Is written on this page/A number you can reach me/My social and my age.” This represents Dunn’s protagonist stating the qualifications of his resume or, as stated before, the data of his employment history. In the chorus, the protagonist states, “I got a strong back, steel toes/I rarely call in sick, a good truck/What I don’t know I catch on real quick/I work weekends, if I have to, nights and holidays.” The chorus represents the protagonist setting himself apart from other applicants who may have similar job experience, be older or younger, or who state they are unavailable to work on certain days and times. The reason that he has to do this is stated in the final pre-chorus when Dunn states, “I’m sure a hundred others have applied/Rumor has it you’re only takin’ five.”
“Cost of Living,” sung from the perspective of a job seeker at an interview, skillfully portrays the role of the cover letter in seeking a job. The cover letter serves as a typeof pre-interview that tells your employer why they should give an interview, and potentially a job, to you over the many other candidates that have applied.
“Cost of Living” also illustrates why cover letters are both evil and pointless.
While cover letters may seem like they are designed to be helpful to both job seekers and employers there are actually a crucial part of maintaining the unsustainable wage gap between the rich and the poor in end-stage capitalism throughout the world and particularly in the labor markets of the United States.
Let us briefly return to the protagonist in “Cost of Living.” It is immediately apparent that this song is from the perspective of a worker in the United States because of the repeated lines of the chorus, “I rarely call in sick, a good truck/What I don’t know I catch on real quick/I work weekends, if I have to, nights and holidays.”
It is worth taking these, the songwriter’s core statement of what it means to be a hard worker, point by point.
First, the protagonist states that he rarely calls in sick. This is obviously of value to the employer because it allows them to plan around a full schedule of workers at all times. However, the idea that an employer would judge or disqualify someone from employment because of the amount of sick days they take is problematic in several ways. First, even in the United States, it is actually illegal according to labor laws guaranteeing sick days and the use thereof. It is also illegal because it is inherently discriminatory to folks with disabilities who need to call in sick.
While these protections are written into law they uncomfortably co-exist with at-will employment which is recognized, in some fashion, in all fifty states. Under at-will employment an employer has the right to terminate your employment at will. While they cannot fire an employee for being sick too often they can fire an employee because they are re-organizing the company structure. In the most extreme at-will employment states, an employee can be fired with no reason given.
The United States leads the world in unused sick and vacation days and one reason for this is because workers are well-aware that, without protections in place, too many sick days or actually using their accrued vacation could result in the loss of their job.
While losing a job is almost never pleasant, in the United States it is a tragedy of a particular kind. The United States is alone among OECD nations in making health insurance dependent on employment. We are the only country where people regularly go bankrupt because of major illness or pregnancy.
This creates a terrible paradox where, in the United States, you need full-time employment to get health insurance but to keep full time employment you must do everything possible to not use your sick leave. The problems this creates are numerous and obvious, the largest of which being that sick people regularly come into work and get other people sick and this is particularly acute among service industry workers and caregivers who have high interactions with people, often handling food, and whose employment is particularly precarious as this work is highly gendered and overwhelmingly done by women, and women of color in particular.
As I will show later in this essay, the insistence on cover letters by hiring teams also systemically disadvantages women and women of color.
For now, let us return to “Cost of Living” and analyse the next phrase where the protagonist states that part of what sets him apart from other candidates is that he has, “a good truck.” Part of why this is important for job seekers in the United States is because of the dearth of reliable public transportation. While employers cannot legally ask prospective employees about their class status there are a number of markers that they use to weed out people who they suspect of being working class. One of the most insidious of these is asking potential employees if they have reliable transportation. This question is not about making sure that employees will be able to be to work on time. Instead, it serves as a prompt for applicants to state what their transportation is. People who state that they have their own vehicles reveal themselves to be more affluent than people who state that they rely on public transportation or, given the sad state of public transportation in many major US cities, simply state that they do not have reliable transportation or, better yet, see that qualification and do not even apply for the job.
Beyond the class implications of the statement (and the implied question) lies the fact that American workers are often asked to subsidize the company by using their own equipment rather than having the company provide necessary equipment. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the plight of American teachers who have to provide their own classroom supplies or ask parents to supply them instead.
While employees being asked to subsidize their employers (and their employers share holders) through using their own equipment and supplies it happens in numerous industries such as the labor job Dunn’s protagonist is applying for. While he may have simply mentioned his truck to show that he is reliable and middle class it’s also possible that his employer may ask him to use the truck to haul company property or do other things for which the company should rightly provide a truck.
Later in this essay I will elaborate on how the same class gatekeeping measures that require US workers to provide their own supplies are also at work in cover letters excluding the working class.
In the next line of the chorus Dunn states, “What I don’t know I catch on real quick.” As yet another cost saving measure, US employers provide the bare minimum of training to their new employees. Thus, someone who can learn quickly represents a significant potential cost savings to the company. In some instances, not only are employees expected to train themselves but they are also asked to pay for the privilege. For instance, it is common in food service jobs for employees to pay for their own food handler’s license which is a fee to the county and a several hours long course which the employee is expected to pay for and pass often before any offer of employment is made.
As I will show later in this essay, cover letters also represent an extensive investment of time and labor on behalf of potential employees before a job offer, or even an interview is extended.
In the last line of the chorus Dunn states, “I work weekends, if I have to, nights and holidays.” As I stated when discussing the issue of sick leave, US workers represent the largest population of earned but unused vacation days. In our peer countries such as France and Australia, it is common, or even mandated, for workers to go on leave for two or three months a year. In the United States, a break of two weeks is seen as lavish and something only the most senior or high ranking of employees might even attempt. Again, at-will employment means that employees are very aware that they may be terminated for taking too many of their earned vacation days even if their right to take those days is legally protected.
In the United States, workers are expected to sacrifice time with their families, their leisure time, and their legally protected time-off to compete for good jobs (i.e. jobs with health insurance). Whoever is willing to sacrifice the most and meet the demands of the job regarding class and increasing shareholder profits is the person who gets the job.
At least, that is how the system is designed to work and it is brutally effective.
That sacrifice of time often starts with the cover letter itself or, at least, the expectation of it.
This is because a good cover letter is a time-consuming affair. Beyond weaving together your experience into a narrative your employer can understand (and isn’t that supposed to be the job of HR anyway?) the purpose of a cover letter is to show that you want the job more than anyone. To do this, cover letters are expected to be tailored not just to the role but to the company. This necessitates that potential employees, as they apply for the job, invest their time in researching the company and the role.
The tragedy of this time commitment is that, precisely because it is expected, it is rendered meaningless. Therefore, cover letters only exist as yet another means of marginalizing women, people of color, people with disabilities, and the working-class without providing any significant benefit other than exclusion of “undesirables” to employers.
So, do you wanna borrow my superpower? Schedule an appointment with here: