My Cover Letter that Shocked My Senior

Recently, while thinking about a sales email at my job, I began to think how cover letters were drafted for some reason. If you think about it, they’re pretty much the same thing (i.e. you’re trying to sell yourself in a cover letter hoping they would open up the attachment to read your resume). So now, I’m trying to sell something hoping potential clients would open up the attachment that introduces our product further.

If you’ve been following my blog from its first inception, you might have learned that I never wrote cover letters for my first couple of teaching jobs. Actually, I don’t remember if I did write about that. But anyhow, for my first teaching job, I used the Japanese standard resume form to list my education, work experiences, and other personal details. And it was only at the end of the form that I wrote what the Japanese call “志望動機,” which simply means “reason for application” like “because I need money”. It’s basically the space where you write your motivation in applying for the position and how it matches with your background or interests. Of course, given my language skills (or lack of) then, I needed assistance from my Japanese language teacher. She wasn’t exactly my teacher since I’ve never taken any of her classes, but I got referred to her and she was very passionate about helping me land the job, which I eventually did. She’s a huge benefactor, although I have no idea where she is now. Last I heard, she was working in Hong Kong. But I digress.

About a year later teaching at public schools and corporate clients, I left for a translation company. I actually found the translation job through Gaijinpot, which was among the many sites I hunted and then sent out hundreds of applications for translation jobs across the country. Since it was posted on Gaijinpot, the company was looking for foreigners, and so I didn’t have to struggle too much with my cover letter since I could do them in English. I wrote it up and submitted it, and when I was asked to attend an interview, I headed to Tokyo from Nagoya via the Shinkansen over the weekend, which cost me about $400 SGD then. When I got the job, I went over another weekend to look for apartments which set me back by another $400. I don’t think I was ever more motivated to get any job till then. Because I had wanted to do translation since I was 17, I really wanted to get that role even though it was more of a Project Manager than a Translator position. But that got me started on translation work and it all turned out well.

At the company, the person in charge of my training was a lady just a few years my elder. She was one of the most capable person I’ve ever met, and I respect her a lot. I can’t deny I learned the most from her and am glad I met her during my early working years in Japan. Although I did have nightmares about her a couple of times, regarding which I told her and she simply laughed her head off.

Once, while working, she randomly mentioned the cover letter I submitted when I applied for the position. Her comment on my cover letter was, “すごいですね,” and I was wondering what it was that was so “すごい.” She then told me, she’s never seen anyone write a letter about themselves so daringly.

I thought back about my cover letter and was surprised because that was my idea of a strong cover letter. But for Japanese people, it was overwhelming apparently. Thinking back about the “reasons for application” in Japanese resumes, it really is very different than what we (or I?) write in cover letters. In the Japanese forms, I wrote exactly what I wrote above, i.e. why I chose the company and how it matches my background and interests. But in my English cover letter to the translation company, I listed out the qualifications I have that are relevant to the position, what I can do for the company, and how I’m confident about my performance through my past experiences. It was like a “I have XX, YY, ZZ qualifications and I’ve got experience in AA, BB, so I am confident that I can do CC, DD, EE for your company.” But my senior was like, “I would never dare to write about myself like that.”

While I did eventually get the job, I’m curious how do you guys write your cover letters?

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