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It is usually commonplace for me to come across a job listing that does not name the company that's looking to fill in the job and just has a list of expected tasks/responsibilities for the job. But every once in a while, one of these listings also states that they need a cover letter along with the resume.

There isn't a statement saying what it is the company does. Without much to aid in writing a cover letter for them, I am forced to be more generic in my approach. What should I take out of companies that post an ad like this, since I cannot really tell them how I may apply my skills to their business?

How should I write a cover letter when I have very little info to go by?

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    @Ramhound, you can't always deduce the company's main line of business from the job description. The job in question is IT-related, so it can be anything from an IT agency/consultancy to a major food distributor that has its own IT department. – Chris C May 1 '12 at 16:34
  • @Angelo, good idea, it skipped my mind that sometimes the same listing is copy-pasted over several places. I may also find out exactly for how long the job's been available if I find older listings. – Chris C May 1 '12 at 16:36
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    Comments are not the place for answers or semi answers they are for clarification purposes only. – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 1 '12 at 17:07
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When the actual employer is not named, you are dealing with a recruiter who has placed the ad hoping to get a bite from a qualified candidate. In my experience, quality recruiters are retained by the company doing the hiring and will simply name the company in the job description. Job listings where the company isn't named are usually "long shots" as far as getting to an actual interview is concerned.

If you decide contact one of these (*) do not worry too much about the cover letter for the initial contact. As @bethlakshmi pointed out, only go as far in your cover letter as the job description deserves. If you get the recruiter's attention and they seriously want to present you as a potential candidate, they'll follow-up fairly quickly and tell you whatever you need to know about the job (including the company name and job functions). At that time, you'll have a chance to refine the cover letter as much as you see fit and if you're saavy you might be able to pick up some juicy backstory on the job, the manager, and why they're hiring.

Keep in mind that once you've talked to a recruiter and submitted your resume to the recruiter, it is not wise to skip them and engage directly with the employer. Doing so will piss off the recruiter and prevent the employer from considering you.


(*) Before responding to the first listing, it might be useful to do a little research. You can do this even with the very slim set of clues provided by the anonymous job description.

  1. As I indicated in the comments to the question, "anonymous" job postings often have multiple listings with different recruiters. Before doing anything try googling characteristic phrases from the job description and see what you get. Some listings might contain more information or identify the employer. If not then at the very least you can choose which recruiter to deal with.

  2. I have even gone as far as searching google maps for office parks in the geographic location mentioned in the description. Many office parks have the tenants listed. If you're able to rule out dentist's offices, accountants, and car-dealerships , etc, it is not that hard to end up with a manageable short list of possible employers.

  3. LinkedIn can often generate clues. Hiring managers who have a decent relationship with a recruiter are likely joined on linkedIn. I forget if linked in lets you see "third connections" in some of the premium memberships. Once you get 100+ connections, you have an amazing number of 2nd/3rd order connections.

  4. Finally, local business publications, blogs, chamber of commerce newsletters often have articles blabbing about "growing" employers who are on a hiring binge (and thus generate many "anonymous" listings). Again, it may be possible to "connect the dots."

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Write to the opening as best you can. Often when I encounter un-named company job reqs, I do find that there are some indicators as to the industry of the company - for example "small e-Business", or "financial sector", or something similarly generic.

I try to keep the time to write the cover letter proportional to the quality of the job opening description. I figure that if they only took as much time as needed to jot something generic on the back of a napkin, then I am not going to waste MY valuable time trying to be pyschic.

However, often even when the company is not identified, they have clearly spent time trying to put some nuances into the words that they chose to describe the position. Things I look for that I will speak to in the letter:

  • how much of this job is self-directed? What examples of that can I cite?

  • what words are they using to describe interpersonal communication skills? What skills/roles have I held before that I can point to as a good match up based on these words?

  • Any gaps between my qualifications and the job - make it clear that you read the position, know there IS a gap, and how you can either address it, or why it is not a big deal (for example - I don't have Certification X, I have Certification Y - which is all of X's topics and more....)

  • What work/life tradeoffs are listed, is there a useful way I can respond to that, even if it is not a wonderful thing. For example - "I thrive on a 24X7 support role, because I thrive on the heroic act of taking responsibilty in a crisis".

Most important to ANY cover letter is proving that you actually have read the posting, and taken seriously the items listed there. You wouldn't believe how many resumes get weeded out simply because it's clear from the cover letter that the applicant has absolutely no clue about what was listed in the posting.

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    +1 for actually reading the posting. As I told my students, the key to the cover letter is to tell a (short) story that pulls together the ad and the resume, such that the person reading the letter wants to read more about you. That "story" only works if you read the ad -- whatever may be in it or not. – jcmeloni May 1 '12 at 19:05
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I see unnamed companies on Craigslist all the time. One reason they don't name themselves might be due to an ex-employee that held the position and might find it interesting that they're hiring when they just let him or her go.

I remember an interesting looking ad a long time ago (late 1980s) for a company that 'paid full time for 5 hours a day of work'. One of the things they sold was 'colored TVs'. What this meant was black-and-white portable TVs that you could get in red, green, or blue. This was obviously a company that operated on the fringe, and therefore would rather not publish their phone number or address.

Sometimes advertising certain positions exposes competitive intelligence. One ad that ran fairly recently was '$1000 per day programming PLCs in South Texas'. One has to 'know the codes' for this one. 'South Texas' means oil pipelines and gas compressor plants and similar equipment - generally Eagle Ford Shale stuff. PLCs are Programmable Logic Controllers, the devices that measure and control motor speeds, pressure, flow volume, etc. This is a skill in short supply during normal times, it's exacerbated when there is huge amounts of growth in an industry segment. '$1000 per day' means days one is working, which might only be three or four a month - although generally by the time an ad reveals this much desperation there is likely to be several months of backlog. That fact alone is extremely interesting to certain parties, some of whom might be competitors and others of which might be investors.

For a really vague ad like 'Computer Programmer - immediate hire' I would send something like this:

Greetings:

I have 20+ years background in software development, with a focus since 1999 in Microsoft Access, SQL Server, and C#/Winforms. Once I know a bit more about your company and your needs I can send a full resume customized to address your particular requirements.

Sincerely....

Most people could figure out pretty quickly whether you're in the scope of what they want. There is no point in flooding someone like that with a lot of detail - the most salient facts are enough.

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