I’m fortunate enough to be the internship supervisor with 20/20 Visual Media and I must say it’s one of my favorite parts of the job. The opportunity to educate, mentor, and give students a real life, hands-on experience with a production company is something I truly value. And since I value it so much, I’m pretty particular with a lot of aspects of acquiring an internship.
I’m not going to sit here and wag my finger at you and tell you these are the rules of writing a cover letter. There is no strict set of rules. And someone you’re writing to will definitely have different standards than I have, albeit higher or lower. Every cover letter anyone writes is going to be different and every cover letter you write better be different.
I’ve seen some great cover letters and I’ve seen some abhorrent cover letters. And that’s not a word I use often. These tips are just some things you should keep in mind while you’re writing.
So let’s get into it. First off, make sure you get the basic info right:
Who is the cover letter to? There’s always a way to find out. We’ve had cover letters addressed to the “Hiring Manager”, “To Whom It May Concern”, and no one at all. We’re three people. We’re all on the website. You have a 33% chance of getting it right. 100% chance if you read my LinkedIn or website bio.
Spelling counts. If I get something (and trust me I have), addressed to “Ruddy”, it’s not a great start. There’s absolutely no excuse for spelling someone’s name wrong. You have the Internet. What you need is on the Internet. Think about it this way. If you can’t spell the name of the person you want to work for, that means you didn’t take the time to do it right. In my mind, as a producer, that means there’s no chance you would take the time to color correct, balance audio, or focus a shot to the best of your ability. Things aren’t looking good for the applicant who thinks Ruddy is on the 20/20 Visual Media payroll.
Where’s it going? I’ll be honest about this. You don’t absolutely need to put an address on your cover letter. Should you know the address? Sure. Because if you’re lucky, you’ll need it when you go in for an interview. But we live in a world where we don’t wait for the mailman to deliver cover letters. If you are going to do this, and I still recommend doing it because it’s common practice, make sure it’s all right:
Street Name and Number
City, State, Zip Code
Seems easy enough, right? People still get it wrong. We’ve had things addressed to 20/20, 20/20 Visual, Visual Media, and 20/20 Media. We’ve even had things addressed to different companies. I wish I were making that up.
I know you’re applying to more than one place. Chances are pretty good whoever receives your cover letter has written tons of their own. I know the easy way out is to pour all of your passion into one “master” cover letter and just change a few things depending on the job. Don’t do that. It’s so easy to tell. And when someone can tell, the laziness factor creeps into the consideration. Don’t be lazy. Not that I’ve endured this, but, believe it or not, there was once a time when people had to type out all of their cover letters on a typewriter. They couldn’t save a template. They couldn’t automatically spellcheck. They couldn’t email it. It actually took time. So, take the time. Because I’ll bet a good amount of the letters you’re sending out will be to people who remember having to use a typewriter and they probably already think you’re lazy.
So, you’ve got your header. Now, let’s start to actually write the cover letter. But before you even type a word, start by setting the tone:
Open with a joke. Totally kidding. Don’t do this…even if you’re applying for a job as a comedy writer. I’m just throwing this in there to see how many people are actually reading this post thoroughly because, as you can tell, I know how to detect laziness.
This cover letter is not all about you. I cannot stress this enough. If you take away one thing from this blog post, please let this be it. A video production cover letter is going to be different from a marketing cover letter or accounting cover letter and so on, but they’ll all have something in common: you’re filling a position. The résumé is about you. The cover letter is about them.
The company you are applying for will be a company before you apply and after you apply. You’re not going to convince anyone you’re an all-star, hall of famer who’s going to get the company from last place to the World Series overnight. At least not right out of college.
Think of the process like trying to board a moving train. The train is going. The train has a destination. It is looking for people to help it get to its destination, but it doesn’t need you. So, your job in the cover letter is to make them want you. Your job is to make the train’s journey to its destination as easy as it can possibly be.
The 3 R’s. Read the job posting. Research the company. Realize exactly want they want and are looking for.
Read: If they include it in the job posting, it’s pretty damn important. Be their target, but don’t lie. I’ve always heard the term “fake it ‘til you make it” when looking for a job, but I know too many people who don’t like their jobs to encourage anyone to fake passion for something they don’t ultimately want to do. If you can’t fill a need, don’t lie. If it comes up in an interview, be honest, but make sure you’re working to fill the company’s needs. Reading the job posting could also show you exactly who to address your cover letter to.
Research: What are the goals of the company you’re applying to? What type of work do they do? Where are they located? What are the people who work there like? You can usually answer all of these questions with a little research. Then, you can implement that research into your cover letter. You want someone to read the cover letter and say you did your homework. You want someone to know you care. You want someone to think you’re already ahead of the pack. Research will accomplish all of that.
Realize: Be certain this is a job you should even apply for. No one wants their time wasted, you included. Make sure you’re what this company is looking for. While applying, I’ve seen jobs for on-air work that mention they’re specifically looking for a woman. Unfortunately, I had to accept that I could not perform that task.
Be yourself. I know it’s lame advice, but being yourself will always match you with a job that suits you. Maybe not forever because we can change in our careers, but you want to be on the cover letter the same person you can be at work. Molding yourself into someone else’s standards nine hours a day, five days a week will make you a worse version of yourself. And you shouldn’t let your career do that.
Remember the part about how it’s not all about you? Let’s stay under that umbrella as we start to actually write the cover letter:
Poke your I’s out. Really try to limit the use of “I” and “my” in your cover letter. This is tough. You can’t eliminate them completely, but it can come off as narcissistic and repetitive if you pack your cover letter with “I” and “my”.
The first impression. One of the biggest mistakes I see is the first line of the cover letter. I often believe this line is going to tell me everything I know about this person. The first thing you want to do is thank the person you’re applying with for the opportunity. You are appreciative. Make it known right off the bat.
What to avoid to be employed. Do not tell me your name and who you are and where you went to school. That should all be on your résumé. Do not tell me your life story. If it’s that interesting, we can talk about it at work one day. Don’t tell me you’re interested in the job. Duh. Do not exceed one page. You shouldn’t have trouble getting your point across in an 8.5” x 11” space.
Review it. Make sure your spelling and grammar is perfect. And review it twice if you’re applying for a job that requires writing. If you can’t write a cover letter, they won’t consider you to do work they’d pay for.
Here’s a great tip for reviewing. When you finish your cover letter, copy it, go over to Google Translate, paste it in and have it read back to you. I know how often people can miss things they write in their own work because you’re so involved with it and want to get it done, you sometimes pass judgment on your own work assuming you didn’t miss anything. Listen to your cover letter though. Aside from grammar and spelling, you might catch things that you just don’t think sound right. Google Translate isn’t 100% foolproof, so have your letter up to follow along while it’s translating.
The end. There are tons of ways to end the cover letter. I think it’s best to thank the recipient again for the opportunity and maybe sum up the letter to drive home your strengths and how you can be an asset. If you have more materials you can send, make sure to note that those are available if they’re interested.
As far as a closing, you have some options. “Best”, “Best regards”, “Sincerely”, “Kind regards”, “Warmest regards” are all fine. Pick something that suits you. Some make you sound like a British poet laureate. If it doesn’t fit you, go with something else. But don’t put “Peace” or “Deuces” or something silly like that. Then, all you have left to write is your name. And spell it correctly. But you knew that.
So, you should now have a good idea of how to create a really effective, unique cover letter that will benefit you and your hopeful employer.
If you’re going for an internship, I’ll leave you with a final tip. Your work is not done when you get the internship. On the contrary, it’s just beginning. That will be the case with a lot of jobs you apply for too. I’ve seen people send out very compelling résumés and cover letters, do great in the interview, follow that up with a handwritten thank you note and then coast during the actual internship. That’s not a good way to be. One of the biggest benefits of doing well at the internship is being hired full-time by that company or at least coming a way with a good recommendation. It all matters.
People often say looking for a job is a full-time job. I would support that. If you’ll do the work it takes to work, you’ll get to work.
Please feel free to send me any cover letters you’re working on at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to look them over and give you feedback.
Oh and if you’re an employer, please email me if you ever receive a cover letter that opens with a joke. And send that person this blog.