In 7th grade, I was taught to write the Hamburger Essay.
It was a hard lesson to learn, first because my English class met right before lunch, and second, because I subscribed to the “write as you talk” philosophy (I wasn’t astute enough at the time to realize that though).
(And for those of you keeping score at home–yes, blogs reinforce “write as you talk.” I’m guilty of it for sure.
Although most federal positions do not require a cover letter, it is a great idea to keep your writing skills polished and honed. We all have to write and employers consistently, with LASER focus, tell me that writing is the number one skill they desire most. (I will write a blog in the future about whether they can spot good writing or not, but for now, I will focus on the cover letter).
As some of the carnivores out there may know, the Hamburg Essay works like this
- Start with the best possible ground beef to create a succulent, tantalizing burger
This is your thesis and you are prepared to defend this burger. In fact, you have a set of great reasons why your burger is the best–your toppings.
- Cook this burger to order
You must write to your audience or they will give your burger the thumbs down.
- Set this burger on the bottom bun
This is your intro paragraph that catches the reader’s eye and is a good platform for your thesis (it doesn’t go soggy).
- Add your favorite toppings (lettuce, tomato, onion, but NOT pickles…common!)
These paragraphs support and prove your thesis and make it even better. BUT don’t add too much–you don’t want ketchup to distract your reader by getting on their pants.
This hamburger is a cohesive unit, but your audience is here for the burger, so write clearly and concisely without typos and grammatical errors that distract from your main points
- Then wrap it up with the top bun
The concluding paragraph restates your thesis and tells the reader that you just proved your thesis.
Hungry? Good. I’ll exhaust this metaphor in my next blog.
For now, I need to get something to eat.
Cover letters can make all the difference of whether or not you are hired. I remember on one of the early cover letters I wrote, it talked about my writing skills. I was soon advised that my cover letter should prove how good my writing skills are, not talk about them! Also it leaves most room for other skills and traits that set you apart from the crowd.
taste, er, show not tell, as they say 🙂 Love this metaphor to writing a cover letter. I will definitely keep it in mind next time I write one!
Paul – how do you feel about any special formatting in a cover letter (i.e. a border around the outside, a photo, a special header, any unique formatting to make it “pop”)? I mean, some people like jalapenos on their burger to make it memorable.
Keep it simple and classic: lettuce, tomato, onion. Depending on the audience, of course.
I have ALWAYS struggled with writing cover letters. I find talking about myself and my talents very awkward sometimes. I will certainly use this as a reference next time I have to write one!
Yep, sauce on the pants is a terrible distraction.
Great post, Paul! I especially like #2. That is really the key–cook to order–target the audience. This can be applied to many facets of our life, our businesses, and our jobs as well. With that said, I will take your extra pickles. =)
@Dorothy – A side tip: cover letters should be about what you can do for the employer and introducing them to the resume. If you change your mindset from having to write about you, to writing about solving their problems using Paul’s analogy, the words will flow easier…hopefully. <g>
@Corey – I agree. Even though they are not required on most federal job announcements, I advise my clients to take advantage of submitting a cover letter. It is another way to stand out and convey you are the best candidate for the job.
@Andrew – Personally, I am a fan of technology. Take advantage of it. Make it appealing and visually compelling to entice the reader, then capture the reader’s attention with the content. Curious to hear Paul’s opinion as well.