Thursday, September 25, 2008

oDesk September Provider Newsletter: Writing a Killer Cover Letter

The oDesk Perspective
There are thousands of ways you can ruin a cover letter. Buyers often have to weed through a list of 30 or 50 or 100 candidates. Every little detail that's off irritates the person who reads your cover letter. It's your first -- and perhaps only -- chance to impress a potential buyer. Mess up and you'll be immediately crossed off the list. Providers who understand this harsh reality can use it in their favor. Want to write more refined and effective cover letters? Follow these tips to help your letter stand out from the crowd (in a good way)!
Keep it short. If your cover letter is as long as this essay, cut it by at least a third. All the buyer wants to see is a polite greeting, a sentence or two summarizing your profile’s relevant highlights, and perhaps another sentence or two about things that don't show up on the profile -- you recently completed two projects similar to the job at hand, for instance. Then a polite closing.
Follow directions. If you're asked to answer specific questions or include a key word in your reply -- do it! Beware of typos: Write in word processor, heed the spelling & grammar checks, and read your letter out loud. Try asking a friend to review it before you send it in -- even native speakers will benefit from the feedback.
Never use a canned cover letter. Buyers can tell. The right few hundred words will prove you read the entire job post, including the requested skills, links, and oDesk work history.
Watch your tone. Even if the buyer writes in a casual voice, you should sound serious, yet relaxed. This is a letter from one professional to another. Don't be funny, wordy or overly flattering. Be helpful and confident, not arrogant, and especially not needy.
Easy on the jargon. Use technical terms correctly and cut the marketing-speak. The buyer won't be impressed by your plans to "actualize" your "proven potential" to "deliver maximal results" to "drive customer satisfaction." Contrary to some job-hunting guides, you cannot hypnotize the buyer with "energizing" buzz words.
Link to examples. List and link to or attach work samples to demonstrate your aptitude for the job. If your profile portfolio doesn't already include the relevant items, don't forget to add them afterwards!
You've worked hard to polish your profile. But the buyer will never bother to look at it unless your cover letter serves as a concise, effective teaser. If Hollywood can boil a two-hour movie down to a 90-second preview, you can get your cover letter under 300 words and manage to leave your audience wanting more.
Success Stories: DIGICorp
Just six months after signing up as a provider company, oDesk jobs account for 25% of five-year-old Ahmedabad, India-based DIGICorp's workload. We talked to cofounder Abhishek Desai about oDesk's part in the rapid growth of his online custom application development business.
Q: Some providers describe a learning curve before establishing themselves on oDesk. When did it click for you?A: I think the best thing I did was creating my profile and my company's profile as per guidelines provided by oDesk. Also, I apply to carefully selected jobs that I think we are really capable of doing. And I write personalized cover letters for all my applications. I don't believe in just copy-pasting readymade cover letters. Because of all these, I can say I hit the ground really fast after becoming a member of oDesk.
Q: When you're choosing which jobs to apply for, what tips you off about the best opportunities, versus the ones you decide not to pursue?A: We tend to apply to jobs of a certain size, usually four weeks or longer. That does not mean we don't do smaller jobs -- if a job is interesting enough, we tend to pursue it. From the job description a buyer has written, you get to know how much the buyer is interested in really going forward. I like to work with a buyer who is equally excited to have his/her project up and running.
Q: If a buyer asks you how to attract the best providers, what's your advice?A: Carefully choose them by reading their cover letters first. Make sure you have providers who have written a personalized letter for you. This means the provider cares about your job and he/she has already spent time understanding it. After that, it depends on the interview. Go for the provider who is as passionate for your project as you are.
To read the full interview, click here.
New Features
360-Degree Feedback
For all completed assignments, we will be displaying both provider and buyer feedbacks, side-by-side, in the provider profiles and buyer facts. This will give the feedback scores and comments more context.
Team Room Improvements (Beta)
We've redesigned the Team Room to be easier to use than ever:
Team members tiled four across so you can see more (or all) of your team without scrolling.
Time zone conversion...finally! See at a glance what time it is in each team member's location.
See who's online now or has worked in the last 24 hours.
Sort your teams by name, role, and when they last worked.
Hide Unwanted Teams
If you have multiple teams, you can hide the ones that aren't currently active. This won't delete them, just make 'em vanish until you need them again (even if that's never).
IMPORTANT NOTICE: Discontinuing Support for Internet Explorer 6
We are discontinuing support for IE6, because it limits our ability to deploy new technologies to make your oDesk experience better and more secure. Please upgrade to a current generation browser -- it's easy, fast, and free.
Round of Applause
634 providers from 55 countries, including Macedonia, Malaysia, Moldova, Nepal, Netherlands, and New Zealand got their first jobs last month. These 634 providers have already racked up 30,851 oDesk hours and over $320,474 in just one month. Congrats to the providers who landed their first jobs in August and September!
A special round of applause to the top new providers by total earnings:
Janet S, Matthew S, Kim C, Tomasz M, Mateusz G, Dmitri S, Jacek B, Sharif M, Dmitri GWant to see your name listed here next month? Apply to job openings.
Provider Spotlight

Dima GHTML/CSS/JavaScript/AJAX and PHP/MySQL developer, Web designerTotal oDesk Hours: 72Feedback: 5.0Comments: "My experience working with Dima has been nothing short of exceptional."

Gelyn CSmart and Reliable Virtual Assistant,Researcher,Writer,Data Entry ProTotal oDesk Hours: 326Feedback: 4.9Comments: "Gelyn did some great writing for us, thank you for your hard work."

Douglas DFileMaker Expert Win/Mac Database DeveloperTotal oDesk Hours: 436Feedback: 5.0Comments: "Douglas is professional, competent and organized. I highly recommend him. Enjoyed working with him and will use him again in the future."

Maynard VMCP, MCSA, MCSE, CSSATotal oDesk Hours: 38Feedback: 5.0Comments: "Maynard is absolutely perfect to work with... pays very close attention to detail and provides clear documentation about the work he has done."
Partner Spotlight
oDesk has been making friends left and right. If you look at our partners page, you'll see some new faces in that distinguished crowd:
The Intelligent Communities Initiative aims to help local businesses see how easily they can move from brick-and-mortar to a virtual operations paradigm, including using remote talent. ICI offers certification programs for U.S.-based telecommuters, which are available to oDesk providers and can be promoted on their profiles.
Clarizen is a leading provider of collaborative online project management software that allows businesses to easily manage projects, resources, timelines and budgets in a single environment. Clarizen's software-as-a-service (SaaS) structure helps teams and projects get up and running instantly and is well poised to enhance oDesk users capabilities in managing complex projects.
Zend is the center of the PHP universe, and it will support staffing marketplaces like oDesk through the Zend Certified Engineer (ZCE) program. The ZCE program is a rigorous test of a candidate's skills and, with 3,500 ZCEs worldwide, the certification has become the de facto standard for the global PHP industry. oDesk providers can register their ZCE certifications in their oDesk profiles, providing valuable additional information to businesses looking for PHP experts.
The nonprofit BSD Certification Group is crafting a global certification standard for system administration on BSD-based operating systems. We're partnering with them to promote a high standard of excellence in FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, and DragonFlyBSD. Information related to these skills can be seen at oDesk FreeBSD Administrator trends. The BSD Certification Group promotes jobs to its user base and oDesk encourages any BSD administrators to get the best BSD certifications available.
Speaking of making friends, this “Buzz@oDesk” thing is really taking off. For months, we've been encouraging oDesk users to spread the word through their blogs and message boards, and we've given out a carload of T-shirts (up to five a month) to our favorites. This month, though, we hit new heights. Lovely Aquino, a freelance copywriter in the Philippines not only talks about oDesk on Kitchenwitch Writes, the blog dedicated to her work, she also managed to get herself (and us!) into the Philippine Daily Enquirer, one of the country's top newspapers.
As if that weren't cool enough, we also had our very first press release submitted by an oDesk provider (SEO Specialist Abdul Hayi Mansoor). If there's one thing that makes oDesk special, it's members who go the extra mile. Way to go, Lovely and Abdul!

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