Cover letters

Let’s have a chat about cover letters and CVs

Although it was only a matter of months ago that I was doing my own cover letter and CV, the tables have turned. Yup. This week I spent a good several hours on Thursday morning reading through cover letters and CV for a shadowing opportunity, and they were bad. Really bad. And it wasn’t even funny, it was actually really demoralising that these people who I have no doubt are extremely passionate about a career in journalism, have no idea how bad their applications were. It may sound harsh, but they’re applying for this opportunity through a site that is DEDICATED to helping you with job applications, CVs and cover letters… and completely disregarded the advice.

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For a brief explanation, there was the opportunity to shadow a journalist (me) for a day at work. I wrote the advert and had about 30 applications for the opportunity which I had to read through. The first thing we read is the 100-word standout that you write to make me want to read your cover letter and CV – I chose the five that were the best. Then, when I looked at those five’s cover letter and CVs, I wasn’t impressed. So I went for it, and read through all 30.

The applications ranged from people finishing school, to those in college, those at university, as well as graduates who just need a bit extra experience on their CV. You’d think (as I did) that the likely successful applicant would be the graduate. Ohh no. In fact, NONE of the applicants addressed their cover letter to me – is it really that hard to read the advert, or send a tweet finding out who you should address it to? I’ve never been on this end of the job application process, and I now completely understand how frustrating it is, and how easy it would be to tidy up your cover letter to actually have a chance of getting an interview, placement, or even job.

Right, so after exchanging some frustrated looks with my colleague (the social media editor), I finally came across a refreshing cover letter that showed passion, understanding of the actual brand (the one one!), and who was in fact, one of the youngest having only just finished college. Here, is a very brief overview of what to avoid when you’re writing a cover letter. It really is simple, please take note!

  • Who should you address the cover letter to? Literally I have written this so many times on blogs, but call up, email or send a tweet and ask. It is so refreshing to see someone showing initiative and doing that.
  • ‘Your company’ is also the most irritating phrase of them all – what company? 70% of the applications made no reference to what publication they were applying to, and that cover letter could have easily been sent to 20 other publications.
  • What does the company actually do? Okay so maybe three people named the publication, but made no reference to what we did, why they wanted to do shadowing work there, or how their abilities match it.
  • Standouts kinda should mention journalism if you’re applying to shadow a journalist – okay so you love film and TV production or music, but if you’re applying to shadow a journalist, that’s what you should be showcasing.
  • I don’t care if you have a journalism degree if you don’t bother to pay any attention to the actual role you’re applying for. Don’t just tell me you have a degree, it’s not the be all and end all.
  • Formatting of cover letters is also quite important – make them look nice. The whole address in the corners, etc. I had a couple that looked like they were written in a 5-minute rush, that were about 5 lines long. Lay it out correctly, it’s not hard, Google ‘cover letter template’.
  • Relevant experience – showcase this as much as you can. I don’t want to see that you have worked in Waitrose at the top of your CV, and yet the fact you’ve freelanced for an online publication at the bottom. Just no.
  • Misspellings – oh God it’s so much more common than you think. Give your application to someone else to spell check if you don’t trust yourself.

That’s my quick tour because, if I was to write everything that was wrong with them I’m pretty sure I could cover a 2,500 word essay. By FAR the biggest problem was that no one (apart from the successful applicant) proved they knew what we did as a company, what our tone was, who our audience was, what our aims were. They could have sent their letter to any other publication, because it wasn’t tailored. I scanned every cover letter before I read it to see if the publication name was in there, sometimes it was, most of the time it wasn’t.

I feel like I’ve moaned so much that I can’t even begin to go onto CV formatting. I’ll save that one for another time, yeah?

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