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The Art of the Successful Cover Letter

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by NickMordo, Feb 11, 2011.

  1. NickMordo

    NickMordo Active Member

    I wanted to devote a thread to cover letters in relation to what jobs you were offered because of said cover letter. I'm very critical of myself in terms of my writing (which is normal), but I am also highly critical of cover letters I send out to potential employers.

    I've struggled to get a full-time position and keep coming back to the CV and whether it's to blame. I have experience in different realms of journalism and am always learning more, and this site helps immensely and I recommend it to many others. With all the bright and inquisitive minds on this board, I know success has reached many of you in different ways. It's an inspiration to people like myself, and I know you didn't reach such plateaus out of random occurrence or a stroke of luck. (Well, maybe a few of you did and that helps, too.)

    So, what's the secret? Is the cover letter a be-all, end-all introduction? Is it overrated when compared to a resume and work experience? Can it potentially get you a second look rather than being immediately sent to the "trash" bin?

    Thanks again to all who help me every day without knowing it.
  2. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    A CV is not a cover letter. Frankly, this business is about catching lucky breaks. What jobs have you applied for? Did you see the job in Detroit Lakes, Minn., posted on JournalismJobs a week ago and apply for it, or every other job out there?

    Three years ago, I applied for the job in Detroit Lakes despite it being 1,500 miles from where I lived and no connection to the area. I got a call back, a quick interview and then a job offer, which they held for a few months until I was done with school. I wasn't a f*** stud, but I applied for almost any job under the sun and had two dozen phone interviews, with a realistic chance of landing some of the others.

    It's hard to guess what the issue is unless we know more. How many interviews have you had, how many professional clips do you have besides college clips, what did you do in your internships, how are your photography and design skills? There are too many variables than just having a poor cover letter.

    BTW, apply for news jobs.
  3. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    Do you mean cover letter ('Dear Mr Smith, Best regards...') or are you talking about a resume?
  4. Editude

    Editude Active Member

    A CV (mostly a European approach) is more like a resume than a cover letter. It is a more sweeping look at work experience that could include examples. A cover letter is just that -- a focused introduction tailored to a specific job. And, assuming there are no typos or glaring missteps, it needs to be appealing without being amateurish.
  5. Brooklyn Bridge

    Brooklyn Bridge Active Member

    If you need help, you could also go to one of the job sites: jobfox, monster, et al to get a review from someone online. Or you could check out a career counselor who will help you based on a fee. I recently hooked up with one at a local college who has been extremely helpful so far.

    I have been out of the job market for 10 years and had no idea where to start.
  6. JRoyal

    JRoyal Well-Known Member

    The only thing that strikes me about cover letters is their length. I've been involved in several hiring processes now, and the only time I've given weight to the cover letter is when it was overly long. If you're going for a journalism job, show in your letter you can edit yourself. Get in and get out, and make sure you don't have anything misspelled or screwed up. That said, a cover letter has never been that important to me. The resume and clips are what's important.
  7. littlehurt98

    littlehurt98 Member

    Perhaps this a dumb questions but why are cover letters even required? I have friends in other job fields that have never had to include a cover letter when applying for jobs. So what makes journalism so special? I would think the approach that JRoyal takes would have greater weight on the hiring process. A cover letter just seems like a waste of time and paper on everyone's part, but that is just me.
  8. ringer

    ringer Member

    The cover letter is key. I also think it's much more revealing than clips because it's self-edited.

    It very quickly tells the employer whether you can write clearly, concisely, and compellingly.

    Fail the cover letter, and game over. IMO
  9. mustangj17

    mustangj17 Active Member

    I've said this before, many people get jobs without cover letters. Many people get turned down even with cover letters. Every cover letter should be different for every job. It's a pain in the ass, but be creative and it will help.
  10. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    It's not just journalism. I can't think of any profession that requires education and experience that doesn't require a cover letter if you are applying blindly for a job. It's your first chance at selling yourself, summarizing your most relevant experience and (with some subtlety) telling the employer why you are what they are looking for based on your experience and what they revealed about the job. The cover letter isn't a waste of time. When you are getting flooded with resumes, it's a way for them to tell a lot about candidates and thin down the possibilities. Most notably, they can tell if you did any research about them and your cover letter demonstrates it. They can tell if your cover letter is original and tailored toward their specific job, or whether you are sending the same cookie cutter letter to a lot of people. And from your perspective, it is your first attempt at selling yourself and trying to separate yourself from the others who have applied. You can argue that in journalism, your clips are always going to matter a great deal more than a cover letter. And they do. But even in journalism, which might be different from other professions, it's still another way to evaluate a candidate and decide whether to interview.
  11. littlehurt98

    littlehurt98 Member

    I guess I don't fully understand the point of a Cover Letter or I have just been told the wrong way to do it, but if I am applying for a job what am I suppose to tell you in a cover letter that isn't included in a resume? I fell there are about 10,000 different theories on what should be included and I never know which one is the right way. If you look cover letters on the internet examples range from two sentences letter to full page essays it would seem. It just seems like you are taking your resume and putting it in sentence form to me and if that is the correct way (which I fully admit might be wrong) then why send a resume and a cover letter. Seems to me one or the other would do.
  12. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    little, Take this for what it's worth because I have had exactly one real job (that I had to go through the interviews, etc.), since college -- which as back in the Stone Ages. But I have helped a ton of people with cover letters and resumes, to the point that I feel as if I could make a second career of it. And right now, the person who means the most to me in the world hates her job that she has been at for 13 years, and she is desperate to get out. I have been helping her with her cover letters, which don't come naturally to her.

    They are not the same as your resume. Your resume is a biography. It includes everything you have done in summary form (hopefully in a format that is not too dense and overwhelming).

    Your cover letter is your first sales job. And you are selling yourself to separate yourself from the zillions of other candidates they are looking at. If it's a job listing, or someone you talked about a job to (take notes!), you basically regurgitate the qualities and responsibilities they are seeking from a candidate -- except you don't do it verbatim. You do it with subtlety, and you do it while pointing to specific things from your past experience that demonstrate you are the person they are looking for. You don't recite your resume. You highlight a few key points and do it in a targeted way that is focused on their job.

    As someone said, you don't drone on. Short, a few simple paragraphs. Short declarative sentences. People try to get flowery and that is where they fail. If you are using too many superlatives or adjectives about yourself, cut them out and let your experience speak for you, not you telling them how great you are.

    Then, I end with a paragraph that ties their job into your goals. Tell them why you are interested in their particular job -- how it will allow you to grow or expand your responsibilities in a way you are ready for or even how you think what they do is a worthy endeavor that fits your goals somehow. Don't do it in an ass licking way. But do it in a way that makes it seem like you are not applying for 10,000 jobs every day -- that this job looked particularly interesting and your are interested for specific reasons.

    If you do that in a well-written way -- and again, concise -- I have found it has a relatively good deal of success in getting a response.
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