I’ve been getting a number of resumes lately for a couple freelance positions I’m trying to fill and as I read through them this week it got me thinking that most people FAIL in the cover letter. Some people don’t even bother to send a cover letter. I got an e-mail today with two attachments - a resume and a clip. Um... delete.
Maybe I’m too demanding, but after spending a summer working in a human resources department in which I was in charge of sorting through the hundreds of resumes that cam in daily I know what I want to see and what I don’t.
Tips to constructing the nearly perfect cover letter:
Address the person by name. (If that is not immediately apparent do the research. I notice the extra effort someone put in to find my full name.)
Do not put To Whom It May Concern: (If you can’t find a name at least put Dear Editor or Dear Hiring Manager.)
Spell Check! (If you are applying for a writing or editing job and can’t get a couple paragraphs right - there’s a problem.)
Do not send a form letter. (You might think it’s not that obvious but it is. The typical: ‘I would be great for this position because I have a diverse background that would fit in well with your publication,’ is blah, unoriginal and thoughtless. Include the publication name, name of the position you are applying for an some relevant info about the pub that says you’ve seen it.)
Tailor the letter to the publication you are applying to. (If it is a gardening magazine, tell the editor why you are the gardening ‘guru,’ why no one else is as suited for the job.)
Don’t be cocky. (Yes, toot your horn! But don’t laud your praises in such an obtrusive blatant manner. Subtly will serve you best in this area. Instead of: “My writing is so outstanding, I’ve landed the lead story several times at XYZ publication.” Try this: “My writing has been featured in XYZ publication, where I was able to pen the lead story on TKTK.”)
Follow directions. (If an employment ad asks for a resume and clips, don’t neglect to send those along and mention them in your letter. “Attached you will find my resume and several sample clips...”)
Talk about you past experience. (Seems obvious, right? Well, a number of people miss this step. They say what they are applying for, how to reach them, how excited they are for the opportunity, and they never say why their past is going to better the pubs future.)
Keep it short. (A cover letter that is more than a few paragraphs is way too long. I don’t have the time or energy to read through all the reasons you’re great. Show your journalism prowess and get to the point.)
Include your name and contact info. (Duh. Yeah, but people leave it out. Send your e-mail, cell phone, home phone, website, blog address, twitter account, etc..)
Name drop publications. (Instead of telling me: 'I've worked for a variety of publications in recent years.' Tell me: Most recently I worked as a staff writer at Garden's Delight. For this southern-garden focus publication I handled the DIY column as well as the 'Profile a Gardener' piece.)
Be original. (You only get one chance at a first impression. Make the editor remember your cover letter, make it sound like you, make it stand out, make it unique.)