When you’re on the job hunt, the cover letter you attach to your resume
will give employers their first impression of you. So you better make
it great. Here are some tips.
Let’s be honest: we, as journalists, are generally fascinating people, but all too often we fall into the trap of sending out cover letters that are reminiscent of a stuffy, suit-wearing, no-nonsense accountant. It’s always important to make our cover letters reflect our personalities, but during a recession, it’s crucial.
So what colour would your copy wear? Susan Johnston, a freelance writer based in Boston, poses this question in her blog, The Urban Muse, after proofing her younger brother’s cover letter, only to discover it painted the picture of a “stuffy, soulless corporate” candidate instead of a hip, young budding ad exec. She writes:
“He was writing as if he were wearing a scratchy wool suit and really ugly shoes (possibly a size or two too small). But the agencies where he was applying were the kinds of places where you could get away with wearing a vintage blazer and Steve Madden shoes. They didn’t want corporate clones. (And fortunately for him, he’s actually the kind of guy who looks great in a tweed blazer.)”
And she’s got an excellent point. An employer could be looking for someone just like you, but since your cover letter will be his first impression of you, if it doesn’t properly reflect your attitudes and personalities, it could be swiftly tossed in the no pile. Even worse, an employer could see your by-the-book cover letter and think you copied it from a template, and assume you’re not really interested in the job.
When applying for your dream job, forget everything your high school careers teacher taught you and think about two things: your potential employer and what you want that person to think of you. Taking this approach is tougher, no doubt, but it will show you really understand what the company is looking for, and will hopefully give you a leg up in the selection process.
However, there’s really no way of knowing what an employer is looking for, so in the end, just go with what you feel best reflects who you are, and drop the wool suit (unless you actually like wearing wool suits).
Big thanks to Corinna vanGerwen and her Dream Job TK blog for drawing attention to this post. If you’re currently on the hunt for a job, or even just trying to be prepared for the next hiring season, vanGerwen has some great tips of her own on writing cover letters.
(Image modified from a photo by SOCIALisBETTER. Used under Creative Commons license.)