Ask A Progeek: Cover Letters And Formality

Ah, cover letters.  So important, so often forgotten.  So let’s see what one of our pro geeks out there wants to know about them:

How casual are you allowed to be in your cover letters?  I want to sound like a person, not a term paper, but I don’t want to seem like I don’t care about formality.

Cover letters are the first thing most people see in my experience – resumes are second – so it’s natural to worry about them.  A cover letter is often the “first impression.”  So the real question is what kind of first impression do you want to make.

There’s where you start.

So what do you want to say in your letter?  How do you want to communicate things about yourself?  What do you want to tell people?  How do you want to come off?  That’s your guide.  It’s making a first impression, just like you’re meeting someone for the first time.

Yes it’s risky.  Yes it could be that you make the wrong impression.  But you have to tell people who “you” are.”

So it’s not so much what you “should” do or how you “should” appear to people.  It’s how you want to come across and using the proper social queues and approaches to communicate you.

The “should” parts come in communicating you.

Your letter, tone, approach should be socially appropriate to communicating yourself.  Maybe you want to be casual – or serious.  Certain things are obviously right out like obscenity or slang (well I assume, who knows).  You don’t get too long in your letter or you risk TLDR.

So that’s it.  Be you, just in the right way.

As a geek of course, it may be a bit troublesome.  You want to make sure that you communicate the positive side of you.  But you also have unique edges as well . . .

Now a confession.  Me, I actually don’t tweak my cover letters much or write new ones each time.  I found one that communicated “me” well and I only modify it slightly as needed.  It certainly seems to work, and has worked for about a decade.  No endless adjustment of letters, no worrying, no six different cover letters.

Just me saying hi in a polite way.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at