Covering letters: dos and don’ts
Award-winning talent executive Simon Wright has seen his fair share of covering letters and knows exactly what channel executives are looking for. He tells us how to make sure your covering letter gets noticed for all the right reasons.
Your CV looks great, you’ve got your lists of contacts to send it to and you’ve seen a fantastic job that you want to apply for. Then you stop and think, `What am I actually going to say?’
Rush the covering letter or email: Don't make it so your email reads “Hi, here’s my CV, I’m available for work now, ta!” Tailor each email and CV to the individual you are sending it off to. Never just cc an email to a whole group of contacts as it looks lazy and like you are rushing.
Cut and paste: People can tell when you’ve done this. A friend at Channel 4 received an amazing cover letter which was ruined at the end by the line “I’m really keen to work at the BBC”. That’s just sloppy!
Go too far in your research: “Oh, I googled you and I saw you were at the Prince concert last week”. That crosses the line from “thorough” to “stalker”.
Be too casual or flirty: No ‘lols’ or text speak. However, don’t overdo it on the formal business-speak either.
Be aggressive in your emails: This is not The X Factor auditions, and no one wants to hear a sob story. “I’m finding it so hard to break into TV” may be true, but keep it positive.
Let negativity creep into your writing: If you are feeling rejected and a bit low, then stop, write down all your achievements and take a moment to feel proud of them.
Talk about the company: Talk about their output, a particular programme: “I’m a huge fan of ITV, and in particular Coronation Street….”
Talk about how your skills and experience tie in directly to the job: If there is no job advertised, then talk about how your skills fit directly into the output of that company/department. “I’m an experienced researcher used to working on fast turnover studio shows, therefore my skills closely align with The One Show….”
If there is no job to apply for, ask for a meeting or advice. “I’m developing a number of ideas about xxx that would really fit in with in with the programming at xxxx, I’d really like to meet for a coffee to get your opinion.”
Flatter people with your knowledge: Knowledge of the output that is, and particularly, if contacting producers or executives, your knowledge about programmes they have made.
Follow up in a positive way: Don’t say “I emailed you two weeks ago and you still haven’t got back to me!” If you want to get back in touch think of a positive reason to do so. Talk about their new show that was on last night or how you’ve updated your skills after working on a programme or completing a course.
Good luck and start getting those covering letters and CVs out!
Simon Wright is currently Group Head of Talent at The Mill and a former talent executive for BBC Academy. He is the author of several CoP articles on finding a job in broadcasting, including “Networking Dos and Don’ts” and “Social Media: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself”. This article originally appeared on Simon’s blog.
Write a cover letter for all speculative job applications
Learning how to write a speculative cover letter successfully can really pay off if you are looking to switch jobs or gain a step up in your career path. It shows you are pro-active, keen and can even get you considered for roles that are not advertised yet. Getting the tone of a cover letter right, especially a speculative one, takes a lot of consideration. This article help you to:
- Address the letter to the right person
- Format it correctly
- Say why you are a good candidate for the company, the position or the department.
Applying for a job without a formal invitation to do so does not mean that you are being presumptuous, so go for it!
Who to address a prospective cover letter to
When you are writing a cover letter for speculative application, it is advisable to address it to an individual if possible. Avoid sending a speculative cover letter to the HR department of a company or the sales director since these are likely to get nowhere.
Find out who the hiring decision maker might be in your field and address that individual directly. This may mean phoning to find out or looking up the relevant personnel details from the corporate website.
Bear in mind that addressing a prospective cover letter to the right person has twin benefits. Firstly, it will help you to get noticed by the right person. Secondly, it will show that you have done your research and this will demonstrate your professionalism in its own right.
How to format a speculative application
By setting out your cover letter formally, you stand a better chance of your speculative application succeeding. This means adding your name, address and the date on the top right and the addressee's details below this, on the left. Begin with 'Dear...' and end with 'Yours faithfully,' which is the correct format if you don't happen to already know the person you are writing to.
In the body of the letter, add three or four paragraphs. Begin by explaining that you are looking for work and try to be as specific about the sort of work you want, ideally highlighting why this means you have identified the company you are writing to as a potential employer.
Make a quick summary of your skills and what benefits you could bring to the organisation or company you are writing to. Separate each paragraph with a line break to make them more accessible and easy to read. Choose a professional looking font and avoid emoticons and slang.
What to say about yourself
When you are being speculative, it is best to keep your options open, so don't focus on one particular skill or qualification. Showing that you are an all-rounder can be much more effective than being a specialist.
Key information, such as stating that you are a second-jobber looking for career progress, can be helpful. These details are a chance to say that you are ambitious – something that most prospective employers want to hear. Make sure that you include a preferred means of contact, ideally your phone number or email address.
Don't sit back and think the job is done once your cover letter has been created and sent off. Follow up any that you send with a phone call after about one week. Even if your letter hasn't been read yet, this can help to personalise your contact and increases the chances of a positive outcome.