The Perfect Cover Letter

The Perfect Cover Letter

You have decided it is time for a new job.
You have done your research, as Stephanie suggested, and have focused on a specific sector and type of job (which may, or may not be in editorial).
You have written a good cv.
You are ready to submit your application and wait to be asked to that all important interview. Right?

Um, no. You are missing one all important step – the cover letter. I have said it before, and I am sure I will say it again, but if you want a job in Publishing, a simple “I am applying for this job, see my CV, thank you” will not get you very far. Your cover letter and CV work together, and a well written cover letter helps you stand out from the pile of 100 other cover letters a manager has to read.

Now, by “stand out”, I do not mean pink paper, or flashing font, or jokes. (You’d be surprised at what I’ve seen…) I am looking for a letter that does the following:

  1. Clearly lays out how you have the skills I (the manager) need you to have
  2. Shows a little bit of who you are as a person
  3. Shows you have taken the time to read the application and made some effort to tailor your application

Some don’ts:

  1. Use a crazy font – just… don’t. If I can’t read it, if I have to fight font options in Word, that takes time and makes me grumpy. You won’t like me grumpy.
  2. Say “I am applying for X job at Y company” when you are really applying for B job at C company. You’d be surprised at how often this simple mistake is made and is a direct effect of using a generic letter. TAILOR IT PEOPLE!
  3. Go over one page – exactly as a CV shouldn’t be more than 2 pages, ideally a cover letter shouldn’t be more than 1. The purpose of the letter is to grab attention. Leave something to talk about at the interview!
  4. Get creative with punctuation, grammar, or spelling. We aren’t all editors, but we can all use spell check. And text-speak, slang, and abbreviations are a big no-no. Keep it professional.

So how do I actually write this thing? Tell me the formula!
Ah. That’s the tricky question. Cover letter writing is much more an art than a science. I know a good letter when I read it, the same way I know a bad one. All cover letters, however, tend to follow a similar pattern.

Paragraph 1: a positive, formal introduction. “I am writing to apply for the role of Publishing Assistant as advertised by Atwood Tate.
Paragraph 2: why should an employer be interested in hiring you? Outline why you are interested in the role and why the company attracts you. Use this to demonstrate your research and how the opportunity fits into your career plans.
Paragraph 3: summarise your strengths and how they might be an advantage to the company. Make sure you relate your skills to the competencies required in the job.
Paragraph 4 (if necessary): emphasise what you can do for the company, not vice versa. Outline a relevant career goal, for example if you are applying for Sales positions do not say that you are training to be an airline pilot.
Paragraph 5: thank the employer and say you look forward to hearing from them soon.

Keep these things in mind:

  • Don’t rewrite your CV – the cover letter should provide edited, juicy highlights from your CV. Distil the key themes into one place.
  • Use your own words not formal long-winded clichés. There are some statements that are used all the time such as ‘I have excellent interpersonal skills’ and we have read them so many times they no longer have meaning.
  • Answer the question “Why should I see you?”
  • Do your research on the company and into the role to which you are applying.
  • Try to avoid using ‘I’ too much. A page of I did this and I did that is not appealing – it says to the employer that you haven’t thought about them.
    Do not use abbreviations.
  • Check and then recheck your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Get someone else to read it through also.

My final tip (because I am forever getting it wrong!) – If you start with a name (e.g. “Dear Ms Smith”) you should end with “Yours sincerely”. If you start with “Dear Sir or Madam” you should end with “Yours faithfully”.

4 Comments

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4 Responses to The Perfect Cover Letter

  1. Pingback: Talking about the job market – at Women in Publishing (part 1) | Atwood TateAtwood Tate

  2. Pingback: The Five Realities of Recruitment in Publishing - Atwood Tate

  3. E Watton

    Great advice, thank you! I’ll go through my latest coverletter to see if it fits with this blog post.

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