I have been a hiring manager for many recruitments in IT, and I am a huge fan of the cover letter.

Here are my general guidelines for what makes a good cover letter.

  • Keep it short, but not too short. Your cover letter should be about 1 page or a little less. More than 1 page is a lot to ask the hiring committee to read. Less than half a page is not good, because people might think you are not motivated.
  • Show knowledge of the job. The cover letter must absolutely demonstrate that you understand WHAT job you are applying for, and should highlight special things about you that would make you a great fit. You can say things like “I see that you are looking for X, and my experience with Y has really prepared me for that because… etc.”  Try to refer to the specific requirements in the job posting and connect them with your unique experience.
  • Be less formal. The resume is typically a very formal instrument and can leave people wondering about some of your details. The cover letter gives you a chance to fill in details that might not be clear from a resume. For example, if you had a stretch of unemployment and you think people might find that odd, you can explain that in your cover letter. If you changed jobs a dozen times in one year, that’s probably worth a quick mention.
  • Watch for tone. You can be a little less formal in the cover letter, which is why it is great, but don’t go too far. I have had applicants go on and on about irrelevant details and even practically threaten the hiring committee in the cover letter if we didn’t hire them. Don’t go there! Just keep your tone positive, enthusiastic and professional.
  • Show attention to detail. Like the resume, you should have absolutely no typos or grammatical errors in your cover letter. Give it to someone else to proof-read. I don’t generally throw out applications for typographical errors, but I have been on hiring committees that did.

And that’s about it! Have fun writing your cover letter. When you’re done, read it and ask yourself: would I hire me? Even better, have someone else read it for you and answer that question.

And good luck in your job searching!

There are many online services now that offer great feature sets. Even the most paranoid grey-hat security guru is probably using at least one or more cloud services (okay, maybe not Richard Stallman, who eschews even web browsers because he can’t trust them, but that’s a pretty extreme case).  There are over a billion people on Facebook, practically everybody with Internet access uses Google as their search engine, and a lot of people are using services like DropBox, Flickr, Instagram, etc.  You get the idea.

Many of these companies offer “free” services, and you would be a wise consumer to ask “how are they paying for that?”  The answer varies from company to company. Google still makes their money largely on ad revenue. They provided a service that attracts eyeballs, and then stuck ads where those eyeballs were looking. Facebook – same idea. Some services, like Wikipedia, are funded by donations. Some, like Coursera, make money by offering premium services such as certification.  Non-profit organizations aside, it’s important to remember that cloud services are offered by businesses, and businesses need to make money. If they are giving you something for free, they must be extracting value from the relationship somehow.

It turns out that for many companies, that value is your information. There has been a lot of talk since the Internet gained popularity about privacy. And we are all big hypocrites on this topic.  One moment we are complaining that our primary care doctor can’t just share our medical files with the specialist we need to see, and in the next moment we are decrying the move to provide coordinated care by consolidating medical records.  We love the convenience of being able to share information with our friends on Facebook, and then are overcome with worry that Facebook will do something bad with that information.  More than likely the thing Facebook will want to do with that information is pretty lame: they will use it to try to target advertisements at you. Google has admitted to mining student information to target ads, even in Google Apps for Education. Target (their name is ironic in this case) used data mining to send targeted coupons to consumers, which, if you think about it, is actually kind of cool. But people don’t like the idea that their behavior can be analyzed and distilled into a statistical algorithm that predicts how likely they are to be interested in buying something.

But there is another kind of privacy concern that maybe has more merit: our own government is getting on the data mining bandwagon (to be fair, data mining has been going on forever; it has just become faster and more efficient with advances in technology).  And there is something vaguely and maybe not so vaguely menacing about the government having access to our information about our likes, behaviors, and personal communications.  There are plenty of depressing examples of government using national security as an excuse to investigate “domestic threats”.

Okay, finally to my point: cloud service providers will turn over your personal information to the US federal government. All of them.  I feel like we have all known this for a long time, but I keep getting hair-on-fire reminders from people both within IT and outside of it. Not long ago, several Telcos and ISPs allowed the federal government to do warantless wiretapping.   DropBox admits they can decrypt your files and turn them over to the feds if required to do so, although they say their lawyers review the request and they will advocate for their customers’ rights (I want to believe them). If there is a company out there that refuses to turn over user data, chances are they will be in hot water.  That’s not to say I think this is okay.  But unfortunately the US Constitution and Bill of Rights don’t include an explicit right to information privacy, unlike some countries who wrote theirs more recently than 200+ years ago.

So what can we do?  The answer is: be a little paranoid. Don’t put anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t happily post on the cork board at the public library, or more accurately, on every cork board in every public library in the whole world.  If you need to put sensitive data on a cloud file service, encrypt it first (you can use 7-Zip to zip up files and password protect the zip. Office files can be password-protected from within the application). A really paranoid person who has gone to too many security conferences will tell you that encryption can be broken, passwords can be hacked, and so on. But taking a few simple steps is like locking your car doors: you make yourself a harder target, and maybe the bad guys will move on to easier pickings. It’s not a waste of time to be cautious with your data.

I’m sure lots of people have written best practices for protecting your data online. Google that, or ask Richard Stallman to use his script to fetch the webpage with wget and email it to you (for maximum paranoia) and take a little time to protect yourself. Then write to your congressman and advocate for better privacy protections.

Fun Facts:

See mistakes or disagree with something I said? If so, let me know in the comments. Thanks!

Welcome to Bits & Bytes.  Herein you will find tidbits about the Information Technology industry, IT at OSU, the history of computers and technology in general, and whatever else catches my eye.

“Bits & Bytes” is a reference to an educational program I played on my Commodore 64 when I was 9 years old. It was my first computer, and one of the first programs I remember running on it. I don’t actually remember what the program was called, but I believe it came with the computer. In the 1980’s, personal computers came with software that was designed to teach you about computers, how to operate them, how to program on them, and so on.  It used to require a bit more to operate a computer; they weren’t as “user friendly” as they are now. Anyway, consequently I was introduced to the concept of bits and bytes, to binary, hexadecimal and other mathematical and computer concepts.  I am not a programmer or even a “CS person” by any stretch of the definition, but I have to think that this early introduction to computers didn’t hurt.