I’m looking at the title of this post whilst I’m writing feeling quite reserved – because I’m not 100% sure on the answer. What should a cover letter be like?
I’ve been reluctant to write a post on covering letters, even though I know this is one of the most widely sought-after topics for advice, and yet I’m doing so anyway. I thought I would write about my experiences, the advice I have read on it, and the cover letters I have completed. Because ultimately, this is what draws an employer in, it’s likely to be the first thing they read. If they don’t like your cover letter, they might not even go on to read your CV. I’ve read conflicting advice, including:
- Don’t include your cover letter in the body of an email, assistants may be ask to print off attachments to give to the editor.
- Write your cover letter in the body of an email, it will catch their attention straight away.
I really don’t know what the right answer is, or if there is one at all. There are obvious mistakes you should avoid: not making it too long, not rambling on, not making spelling mistakes, not addressing it to a vague recipient, but if you really really want to make an impression – what is the best way to go about it? I’ve written a fair amount of cover letters since I was around 15 applying for work experience, up until I got my job when I was 22, and I still don’t think I’ve mastered the art of a perfect cover letter, I think I’ve been lucky. It wasn’t my cover letter that got me my current job, it was my persistence and follow-up call that did!
So maybe this is still the beginning of my quest to find the perfect cover letter, or produce one that makes an employer go ‘WOW’. I did get an inkling from my current employer, that when she was hiring for an editorial assistant position and received quite a lot of applicants, having long-winded cover letters was NOT what she wanted to see. If you’re busy enough as it is, and you have 60 applications to sort through, ones that are extremely long or take a long time to get to the point will not be favoured. I think this is a downfall for me, as I have always been known to ramble on rather than being brief and to the point.
I think the point for journalists is that you have to be creative. Journalism is a creative career, with a focus on writing, so if you can’t come across well through the writing on your cover letter, then this isn’t a good start. But if you’re going for a job where imagination and creativity will be part of your daily roles, then reflect this in your cover letter. I once did a cover letter for work experience for LOOK magazine, turning one of their regular features into my cover letter, all about me! I was pretty impressed and although they couldn’t accommodate my work experience dates, it was still recognised.
A few advice sites I have taken tips from:
- Wannabe Hacks – Write an eye-catching cover letter
- Journalism.co.uk – How to write a covering letter and CV
- Huffington Post – How to write the perfect cover letter
This is hopefully one of many posts on cracking the art of the cover letter… stay tuned.