Hello, my name is Lou and I am obsessed with excellent cover letters (and CVs).
I often wonder if I am only obsessed with a strong and well thought out cover letter because I did not start out on my 'job journey' in the TV sector. In the commercial world a 'stand out' but 'by the book' (i.e. Dear Sir/Madam, Your Sincerely/Faithfully etc.) cover letter is imperative - anything less generally goes in the bin. TV however *appears* to be more forgiving. Don't get me wrong, an email along the lines of Mrs Doubtfire's famous 'I. Am. Job' probably won't get you very far in TV - but, I have found that my media peers are a lot more forgiving about formalities when it comes to what they deem acceptable in a cover letter.
That isn't to say that a good cover letter isn't sought in TV - but, I think it is fair to say that generally, the rules surrounding one are a little more fluid than in the corporate sector.
Even so, TV is a notoriously competitive industry to both get into and progress within. Passion on its own is not always enough to get you by - and there will be times those amazing contacts just don't have a role for you, and you have to start sending out the CV. Here is where an excellent cover letter will serve you well.
I personally think that courtesy and manners are key - even if you are applying for a role with someone you already know. I also think that an introduction to how you are applying is a good measure too i.e. where did you see the job advertised, or how did you come about attaining their contact details. I am a big fan of:
'I am writing to apply for the role of XXX as advertised on XXX, and attach my CV for your consideration'.
A cover letter should sell you in a nutshell - about 60 - 70% of an sheet of A4 is a good size. No longer or they might stop reading. A cover letter should never be too long or too over packed: we (as recruiters) generally don't need your life story, and we don't need a summary of the contents of your CV - that's what we will look at next.
A cover letter should not be a blanket copy... nothing bores me more (personally) than reading a generic cover letter. Having a good template is fine - but take 5 minutes to personalise it to the job/company/person. It will make a difference - IMO. I think social media is an excellent way to suss out a person or company's 'personality' - that you can then tailor your cover letter towards.
An area often lacking in a cover letter is personality/a human side: this doesn't mean you should start telling jokes etc. but do talk feelings. Cover Letter's often list skills - but don't make example of them. Don't just state that you 'possess excellent communication skills' - evidence how and whilst doing so, show something about yourself:
'I believe I have excellent communication skills - developed whilst volunteering as a radio presenter at my local hospital on their in-house radio station. I hosted weekly phone in sessions - and received good feedback about my ability to develop relationships with our callers.'
Every word in your cover letter should be there for a reason... use them, don't abuse them!
OK - it is time to start writing your cover letter - what do you include having noted the above?
If the name of the person you are writing to is obvious or can be readily found, address them by that name! If not, then Dear Sir/Madam is appropriate.
Kick-start with an introduction to who you are and where you saw the advert/got their details/heard about the job.
Refer to the specifics of the job advert/inside info your friend gave you - keep it succinct but do briefly evidence/provide example to any statements of fact.
Never talk generally about interests and hobbies in your cover letter unless absolutely relevant to the job or the programme content - even then, nobody needs to know that you have been an active horse rider for 17 years and what your favourite breed of horse is.
Please don't make jokes/try to be funny/behave in an over familiar way when sending a cover letter - there is nothing more insulting than someone you have given your card to then writing to you and saying 'Alright babes, sooooo lols meeting you last night. Really up for that job you mentioned - sounds wicked'.
Please don't copy and paste your CV into your cover letter - neither should emulate the other.
End your cover letter with your availability for both interview and work - and state best method of daytime contact:
'I am generally available for interview at all times, and would be in a position to start with you, if successful, on XXX. I am available on my mobile number at most times/I am currently working so cannot readily take calls, but check email regularly/etc'
SPELL CHECK SPELL CHECK SPELL CHECK!
Sign off formally - cheers, ta, see ya later, etc is not acceptable.
So - that's what I think. I have shared this advice and supported creation of a 'new, formal' cover letter to several people I have worked with of late - and the feedback has been great. One example - an amazing chap with a good CV was not getting any work. A new cover letter and a quick tidy up of said CV and now he is solidly booked for the next 8 weeks. Coincidence? Maybe. I however, am all for the power of a top cover letter...
©June 2012 – Lou Gallagher