What’s the value of a Cover Letter? How about: a job offer before you can be legally employed!

Friday, April 24th, 2009 - Article, candidate, career management, career planning, cover letter, credit crunch, Education, Employment, tutorial

Value of a Cover Letter?

Virgin 747 over England
Creative Commons License photo credit: ahisgett

Many ask, and you may well be one of them: what is the value of a Cover Letter? Here is a very personal story which lead to the offer of employment before the person in question was of legally employable age – and all she wrote was a Cover Letter!

A few years ago, I was at the house of a friend of mine, at the end of a very long day. His partners two children came in – daughters, aged 11 and 8 – whose father now lived in Norway with his new wife. The younger daughter was a proverbial Duracell Bunny – bright as a button, energetic, educational, thinking, doing things: like a replica of her mother. The eldest daughter had just heard the previous day that she had been turned down for her preferred secondary school, and would be going a little bit further – about 10miles away to be precise. This meant that she wouldn’t be at school with her existing friends, and would have to get up 30mins earlier.

Now, much as though I and many other adults find it difficult to deal with teenage angst, if I was subject to the current British system for choosing which school you go to through your educational career, I’d have a tantrum or two as well. In my day it was based primarily on where you lived, or if you passed the 11plus exam. Hence my parents who moved quite regularly thanks to my fathers job always first checked out the local schools, and then choose where we would live. Now, you can live on top of the school – as my friends house was, less than a quarter mile away – and still your 11 year old daughter has to commute 10miles. Is this really supposed to be an educational system suited for turning out adults for work and adding to society, or one which creates kids who know the system has something against them?

So, I am faced with a stroppy teenage girl who just missed out on her local school, and who is now taking some serious ear ache from her mother who also wants the last six pieces of Kumon homework done. So I said to Lizzy, who was now in a right strop “Sorry to hear about the school, what is it you want to do when you finish school?” At this she sort of picks up physically, and strop turns to smiling face – you know, how 8year old kids do it!

“I want to be an airline stewardess” she says, with a very proud tone and without any of the strop or angst of the last 20mins: it is like God has cleared the air!

“Why” says I? Now this was a daft but purposeful question. Firstly, she had told me this before; I gambled on her not remembering that. Secondly, she flew fairly regularly with her sister to see her father in Norway – although for the last few times, he was more interested in fitting them around his new wife and baby, as opposed to making time for them.

Lizzy now went into an 8minute virtually non-stop soliloquy of why she wanted to be an air stewardess, and not just any air stewardess: one for Virgin Atlantic if you don’t mind. As a once regular flyer, everyone knows that Virgin stewardesses are the best, the brightest, the smartest, flew to the nicest places; and even if you weren’t flying on their plane and were lost in the airport, they helped you out!

As the words started to slow, and Lizzy started to drift off in a beaming smile I said: “OK, so here’s the deal. I help you for the next 30mins or how ever long it takes getting your Kumon done and up to date. We then take a 10min break with those Custard Cremes and a cup of tea, and then we write a letter to Virgin Atlantic to ask how you could become an Air Stewardess. Deal?” About a minute later, I had one happy 11 year old sat next to me with eight pieces of Kumon homework – little bit further behind than she had said – and going at it great guns. 40mins later I had a cup of tea and two Custard Creme’s with her mother in the kitchen, who commented that she had never seen Lizzy do her homework so quickly!

After finishing my tea, Lizzy and I sat down in the lounge with her piece of paper which listed all the above reasons. We turned that into a second paragraph, added a nice piece about her flying experience, and then set up a simple question: what do I need to do to become a Virgin Atlantic air stewardess? We finished it off with a thank you. Rough draft completed, we then went to the internet and found the name of the air stewardess recruiting manager – at least it was a named person, and was below Sir Richard Branson

The next day as instructed, Lizzy re-read it, and after making a few changes typed it out on the computer, and sent it that day to Virgin Atlantic HQ at Gatwick. Her mother and my friend said she was happy, and her enthusiasm had returned in bounds – and none of us thought any more of it, thinking all was OK with Lizzy.

Until about two week later, when my cellphone filled with shrills of Thank You Ian! Virgin Atlantic had written back, and offered Lizzy a day’s tour and some training at their air stewardess training facility at Gatwick. For scheduling reasons associated with the summer rush, theĀ  eventual arranged slot was some five months later, where Lizzy was given a grand tour from 08:00 until 18:00 of the Virgin facilities, selection process, and training of an air stewardess. This included fitting her out for the day in a uniform – they suggested they may not be able to find one her size, but seems the tailoring department at Virgin Atlantic knows few limits – and after a hectic day of chats, training and etiquette, they gave her a schedule of what she had to do to possibly become an air stewardess, together with a certificate of training.

I guess the last few years have flown by, and the 11 year old girl now has a first aid certificate, swims 1500metres easily, has a full life savers gold medal, and has worked summer jobs in both travel agents and make-up stores. She also as expected didn’t do as well as expected at school, but got eight GCSE’s all at A grade including three languages and one in what I would know as home economics. She also managed to join the Air Training Corps, and got a basic certificate in flying gliders and represented both the ATC and her county in national level junior athletic meetings.

The result of all this? Lizzy has a job as part of the Virgin Atlantic terminal checking-in team starting in the summer. They actually wrote to her every 12months as promised, and had her scheduled to join the flight attendant training scheme sometime in the autumn, but the credit crunch and reducing staff numbers means they don’t need cabin crew right now – but they do want to retain people who do want to work for them long term, and will take almost any job to do that.

I am really pleased for Lizzy: one day and one letter has made a real difference to her life, and I am sure when the first flight attendant training scheme opens up she will be very pleased to get the famous red uniform on and apply her wings. In the mean time its honing her skills and working for the company that she wants in a different way – it is always good to have open options and keep your eye on the end goal, particularly at present: although Lizzy drew the line at working for BA or EasyJet!

So, to answer the question: what’s the value on a Cover Letter? Making your dreams come true, and getting paid for it – that’s what.

Good Luck!

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