You might be your cover letter, though. (Sorry!)
It’s the only handshake you’ve got before somebody sweeps in and offers a face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversation about a job or an internship.
I know you’re a hardworking, passionate, busy-till-the-sun-comes-up-tomorrow kind of gal, but the world doesn’t yet.
Your cover letter is the window to your future job, so if you love what you do as much as you act like it, the best thing you can do is create something that showcases all you have to offer in a one-page letter.
A few years ago, I thought of these suckers as arbitrary top pages for short story submissions. I was a small fish in a big, loud, rambunctious crowd. My confidence in the publishing industry was miniscule.
In the wake of looking for an internship, an honest-to-God, get-my-hands-dirty internship, I hit the backspace button on that theory. That spring, I wrote nearly 90 cover letters.
A few weeks ago, I received a message from an old high school acquaintance who wanted some hands-on advice for her fellow college grads and undergrads. They were wading into the water, hesitant to jump into a career path, but even more so to begin putting themselves down on paper.
I could understand that. I could totally, gut-stirringly understand that.
That’s why I began writing passionate, but economic cover letters. Nobody wanted me to tell them in a 1,000-word essay why I had always dreamed of working for them (thank God I only said that, with total honesty, a handful of times – there are only so many ‘dream jobs’ we can envision at the ripe age of 21).
It boils down to one question: why should they spend more than five minutes reviewing my file before tossing it out – what can I do for them? Why does my experience matter?
Three words for you. Connect. Those. Dots.
Writing those letters becomes the art of dissecting apart our past to barter towards an ever-changing future. The best we can do is work hard, put our time where it best suits, and learn all we can to leverage it weeks or months or years down the road.
Let me propose a few alterations to the throwaway self-introduction.
Part One: You Love Them + They Should Love You Because ______.
You’re writing to inform them that you (really want this job, basically) because you have experience (in the same industry, in a similar industry, in a similar position, doing similar things) and, because of that (really think they ought to consider you).*
*Everything in parentheses is broad and/or slang for something professional and specific.
Part Two: You Told Me What You Need, So Here’s How I Own That
You’ve got the job description in front of you — use + abuse it for two things:
1) You’re sure this is the right fit for you? Sure you’d like to spend some time trying to win over a gaming company hiring a programmer when you have never so much as picked up a controller but always did know your way around HTML – close enough, right?
2) You’re writing this section with an armful of actionable “I can do this and this and this” phrases in your back pocket. Please hold—you already do 95 percent of what’s in the job description? Did you mention that or hope they would infer from the job titles?
Part Three: So Those Programs? I Am Like A Jedi With Those Babies
Creative job descriptions are unique in that they tend to list every program your eyes ever scanned as a requirement or preferred qualification. Depending on what you’re applying for, you’ll be waist deep in a bulleted list of coding languages or design software or customer databases or social networks.
(A great reason to start loving your MacBook Pro until it spits out a beautiful new graphic/website/story/advertisement/business card/logo design/email campaign every single week. People love samples. They also love honesty. So if you can honestly own the whole Adobe Creative Suite, that’s something to write about – in half a sentence, of course.)
Part Four: Here’s Why My Work Meshes With You, Part II
One last call for winning them over. Better tell ‘em who they’re dealing with. I tend to write that I work well in fast-paced, detail-oriented environments. And yeah, it’s like, “Suuuuuuure you do.” But then, if you look at the jobs I’ve had, you start thinking that’s exactly what was required of me in all of them. So it’s legit.
What can you say about how you work? Why do you really love them and this opportunity they’ve got waiting to be filled? What two sentences can pack a punch before you thank them and sign off?
Part Five: Thanks For Not Using This As A Trash Can-Bound Basketball (Yet)
Sincerity + gratitude go a long way. Finding a perfect candidate in a mound of 200+ resumes has got to be tough. So when someone does get your cover letter + resume and makes it to the final paragraph, please oh please thank them for doing so. Just make sure it’s with a little more confidence than that section header above.
I’ve learned that practice goes a long way – not just with writing cover letters, but with work samples too. Also: please, oh, please, tailor them to the individual (person, if possible; company and position, if nothing else).