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March 11, 2011 2:23 AM   Subscribe

I have written a cover letter. I would like to know whether it makes recruiters jump for joy or punch the screen.

I've been applying for jobs for a while now and I don't tend to get many responses, if any. I've played with my CV and re-written it a dozen times and I'm more or less happy with it, but I'm not so sure about my cover letters. I've bought books on how to write them and been to a few advisors, and the result is below, but I can't decide whether I'm coming across as 'confident' or 'an arrogant douche'.

Letter:

====

Dear (Person in HR),

I am a prize-winning graduate with a 2:1 degree in English and Creative Writing, and I would like to apply for the Editorial Assistant position advertised at (company website / job page etc).

I have been interested in a career in publishing for several years and have worked to gain as much experience as possible. At university I joined a panel of reviewers to help publish a book of schoolchildren’s poetry, and I also recently spent several months volunteering as a script editor and proof-reader for an amateur publishing website, evaluating submissions and writing notes and minor articles on how they could be improved. Most recently, I completed a two-week work experience placement in the Editorial department at Random House Publishing in London, where I reviewed slush-pile submissions, proofread manuscripts and researched sales figures, and this experience has convinced me that publishing is an area in which I would like to work.

As per the requirements of your advert, I possess excellent communication skills and I am highly computer literate: I have worked with computers my entire life and have a good working knowledge of most common programs including Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer. I am also proficient in most common office tasks including mailing, filing, photocopying and answering phone calls, having spent several months as an administrative assistant. Finally, I have a wide-ranging interest in non-fiction literature with a particular interest in the sciences. I consider myself a hard and capable worker, and I know I can be an excellent fit for this position.

Thank you for your time in reading this, and please do not hesitate to contact me if you require any further information.


Yours sincerely,

(Me)


====

The 'prize' I won was a certificate and £30 cash for an essay I wrote in my second year. As far as I'm aware it's a piddling little thing that isn't worth going "oh look at me I'm not just any graduate I'm a PRIZE WINNER, hur hur" but at the same time I've been told repeatedly not to under-sell myself. So I'm not sure where the balance is. If anyone can point it out, then I'm much obliged.
posted by Fen to Work & Money (40 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not a recruiter, but I do get a lot of emails, CVs, and cover letters from people from similar backgrounds to you. It neither makes me jump for joy nor punch the screen.

On the plus side, you demonstrate the ability to write well, with correct spelling and grammar. That immediately puts you pretty high up. You also tell me what I really want to know - your work experience.

Having said that, it seems pretty dry. I don't get any idea of your passion or interest in the field, and most importantly, you don't seem to say anything at all about why you would be a good fit for this particular company. In fact, you could send this same letter to a dozen companies and it'd still be accurate, which is a bad sign. Speaking personally, I love it when candidates talk about the specific projects and work that our company has done and why they think they're suited to us - it shows they've done their research and they actually care. It happens so rarely that any such candidates stand out.

Also, I'm not hot on the 'prize-winning graduate', unless you tell me what the prize actually is; and if you don't want to, don't mention it at all. But that's just me.
posted by adrianhon at 2:38 AM on March 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


In British English you should avoid a comma before and (there are five instances in your letter).

I really like the tone and content, it would go in the "possibles" pile if I were recruiting.

Good luck!
posted by ceri richard at 2:43 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd drop "Internet Explorer". It's a browser. You click links. That doesn't scream "power user" to me. The rest of it... I'd be delighted to get a CV that was half as together (I'm in IT).
posted by Leon at 3:08 AM on March 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


There's nothing absolutely wrong with the letter, but there's also not much point to it. Pretty much all that information should be in your CV, which the recruiter will see when he looks at your CV. If the company also has a separate application form, a lot of the information will again be repeated on that. The letter you've written is completely unnecessary and could be viewed by some recruiters as a waste of time.

Your cover letter is where you add additional, crucial info that isn't really expressed or emphasized on your CV but that you think is important for a particular position. I assume you're in the UK because of your qualifications; in the UK, cover letters are usually extremely brief (though I'm not familiar with the publishing industry, which might have different standards). For example, my UK cover letters generally highlighted my interest in a particular position and noted that I had legal permission to work there despite all my previous job experience being in the US. This worked very well (again, though, I'm not in publishing). Use your cover letter to make the recruiter interested in viewing your CV carefully, rather than reiterate your CV.
posted by Polychrome at 3:10 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I should own up and say that the last time I wrote a covering letter was about 10 years ago when I was trying to get a graduate entry level job myself...ever since then I have been recruited through agencies or internally so this may no longer be the established way of doing things.

But at the time student services and their leaflets informed me that the covering letter was supposed to tell the addressee why you want to work in the field, why you want to work for the company, and why you'd be suited giving key highlights of your CV without repeating it.

Your letter summarises the highlights I might be interested, which is good. But it is a bit generic as adrianhon has said. You need to aim for more tailoring than addressee and job details.

In particular it doesn't really give me a flavour for why I should interview you as opposed to the other XX graduates with 2.1s who have applied for this job - they are all computer literate and most will have done some admin type work and a lot of them will have relevant work experience.

To make this more tangible - what makes you think you will thrive doing this job and working for this company. If you can bring that to the letter that would probably make it stand our more to the recruiter.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:15 AM on March 11, 2011


I'd rewrite it in a slightly more "triangle form". That is, put the most important information in the first paragraph, more detailed information in the second paragraph and so on. You want that first paragraph to do all the work of selling you as a candidate for this specific job - or at least of selling the idea of reading the rest of the letter.

Something like this:

Re: Editorial Assistant position advertised at (company website / job page etc)

Dear whoever,

While studying my recent English and Creative Writing degree, I took on a variety of volunteer reviewing and editing jobs. I found that I really love helping authors add structure and flow to their initial drafts - not to mention nitpicking their grammar - and working with people to make good ideas into great writing.

In addition to reviewing and editing experience I am great with computers and filing cabinets, etc etc bla bla.

I'd love to come in and talk to you about how I could fit into your organisation,

Yours Sincerely,

Fen.
posted by emilyw at 3:17 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's a bit simplistic, phrases like "prize-winning graduate" and "my entire life" are a bit fuzzy and childish, it could be a little more dynamic. The third paragraphs especially is waffly and begging and could be cut to a few punchy sentences. Stuff like -

I am highly computer literate: I have worked with computers my entire life and have a good working knowledge of most common programs including Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer.

Could really be shortened to "I am highly computer literate."

How about

"As per the requirements of your advert, I possess excellent communication skills and I am highly computer literate. I am a hard worker with relevant experience in the office environment as well as a passion for literature."

The more information you try to cram in to convince people of your suitability the less confident and convincing you seem. If you have the skills and the experience, just get that out on the page without too many caveats. Get a short, punchy paragraph with your experience and other good points first, then a second paragraph to expand a little on yourself and your experiences if you think it's necessary. Reverse the order of your 2nd and 3rd paragraphs.
posted by fire&wings at 3:24 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


The "2:1" in the first line bothers me. Maybe that expression is widely used in the U.K., but to my U.S. ears it sounds like extraneous campus jargon that immediately betrays your inexperience. Bad start.

Nthing things that have already been said: this letter doesn't address the particular needs of a particular position, and doesn't say anything that isn't likely to be in the CV already.

To me this letter says, "I'm an earnest, reasonably smart kid. I more or less have my shit together. I want to work in publishing, but I'm very green and don't really know what qualities you're looking for. Here's a bunch of things I've done. I hope they are relevant."

I also get the feeling that you're overselling parts of your skillset. The line about your "good working knowledge of most common programs" prompts me to think of the specialized but common software used in my work, which you are sure to be totally unfamiliar with. "Microsoft Office" is a big program. Do you really have a 'good working knowledge' of Word, Power Point, Excel, Access, Express and Outlook? If you do, either say so explicitly or simply say "I am very comfortable with computers." Internet Explorer doesn't even deserve a mention. Keep in mind that people reading this are trying to slog through dozens or hundreds of candidates. They want to make that pile smaller, which means they have to throw a lot of resumes on the reject pile. One of the ways they make those choices is by turning their bullshit detector dial to the super-sensitive setting.
posted by jon1270 at 4:17 AM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


as a point of clarification for non-UK folk - the reference to a 2:1 degree does make sense in the context as this is kind of a baseline requirement for a number of graduate-level jobs. It does not betray inexperience, but rather demonstrates that the applicant knows the rules of the game, FWIW
posted by coffee_monster at 4:52 AM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Another thing to consider: I'm sure you know this, but the kind of jobs you're going for are extremely competitive. (I certainly know; we've probably applied for a few of the same jobs). Handing out a lot of CVs and hearing nothing back is far from unusual.

I feel that every time I write a covering letter, I get a bit better at it. I rewrite my covering letter a bit every time I send a new job, making sure that I say why I want to work for the company and why I'd be the best fucking cyborg warlock master at the exact, precise responsibilities they're looking for. And each time, I think my cover letter gets a tiny bit better at doing that. I'll rewrite a clumsy phrase, or think of a new way of making my previous experience look even more relevant and awesome.

What I'm saying is that rewriting your covering letter every time you fill out another application isn't just going to get you a better chance at getting the job in question – it's going to get you a better chance at the next job. Practice really does help, and thinking of the work you did on the failed application for company X as preparation for the completely mind-blowing application you're going to do for company Y puts you in a far better frame of mind than if you think of it as a waste of time. I think my covering letter and CV are a lot better than when I started job-hunting, and I'm starting to get more positive results than I have in the past.

So even if you don't think you need to rewrite your letter for the next job, do it anyway. And then do it again. And again. You'll get there.
posted by dudekiller at 4:58 AM on March 11, 2011


To your question: You don't come across as "confident", because, as fire&wings pointed out, you are using "waffly" phrases, throughout. Among them:

"I would like to apply" (well, then, why don't you?) > "I am applying" or "I attach my application for"

"publishing is an area in which I would like to work" > "publishing is the area in which I want to work" or even better "I want to spend my career in publishing"

"I consider myself a hard and capable worker, and I know I can be an excellent fit for this position" > "I am a hard and capable worker and an excellent fit for this position" (they know it's your opinion, so you don't have to tell them you "consider" and "know"

As an English/Creative Writing major, you should be able to pick these kinds of things out yourself. If you want to sell your editorial skills, apply them to this letter. Take a step back, don't try to thread some kind of needle between confidence and arrogance, and just present yourself clearly, concisely and unequivocally.
posted by beagle at 5:00 AM on March 11, 2011 [17 favorites]


The "2:1" in the first line bothers me. Maybe that expression is widely used in the U.K., but to my U.S. ears it sounds like extraneous campus jargon that immediately betrays your inexperience. Bad start.

Jesus Christ. Ignore this. Given that you are evidently British and are (presumably) applying for jobs in the UK and not the US or Canada, you know your audience correctly.
posted by dfriedman at 5:31 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The "2:1" in the first line bothers me.

Yes, do ignore that. My mistake.
posted by jon1270 at 5:45 AM on March 11, 2011


To me, a cover letter is something like :
---
Dear Madam or Sir,

In regards to the position advertised as [reference], I believe I am very well suited to the role, and it seems like the perfect opportunity for me. I hereby submit my resume for your consideration.

I look forward to discussing this opportunity further. You can contact me at any time via the following means:

email:
mobile:
[other]:

With regards,
me.

---
In other words, it's all in the resume/CV. The cover letter means practically nothing, other than being respectful to the ... ummm.... suitor.
posted by Diag at 5:56 AM on March 11, 2011


You, you, you. This letter is all about you, your needs, your wants. Not them, how they can use your skills, how their needs are fulfilled, etc. The description of your skills belongs in your resume. A cover letter is what describes how you fit in with their needs, not how your skills can be shoehorned into what they need you to do. Do the thinking for them, and use examples:
Dear Hiring Manager,

I recently saw your advert for {position} at {company}, posted at {website.} As a prize-winning writer with a 2:1 degree in English and Creative Writing, and X years in the field, I'm an excellent fit for the position.

The position as posted describes an emphasis on X. At university I participated as a reviewer to help publish a book of schoolchildren’s poetry, which involved {thing directly related to X}, {another skill listed in the description}, and {quantifiable result}. Your desire for {someone with publishing house experience} is just what I offer: I recently completed a two-week work experience placement in the Editorial department at Random House Publishing in London, where I reviewed slush-pile submissions, proofread manuscripts and researched sales figures. {My reviews were phenomenal, and it was at the suggestion of my supervisor that I seek work in publishing as a career.}

The list of technical proficiencies for the position are all ones I possess; and I am particularly adept at {Microsoft Office}. I know that communication skills are difficult to quantify, but {example of how you communicated well in an office environment, perhaps by acting as a liaison to someone who did not communicate as well}.

I look forward to an opportunity to further discuss my experience with you and how I might meet your needs in the position of {position}. Please don't hesitate to contact me at {phone number} or {email}.

Sincerely,
Fen
Fill in those brackets with the best information you can offer, try to focus on deliverables, and they'll at least give you a chance at an interview.
posted by juniperesque at 6:04 AM on March 11, 2011 [52 favorites]


fire&wings: "I am highly computer literate: I have worked with computers my entire life and have a good working knowledge of most common programs including Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer."

I donno about recruiters, but as a computer programmer this makes me laugh. Almost like claiming to program in HTML. At this point I think people assume recent graduates know the basic features of the Office suite and how to use a web browser. If there's anything at all besides Office you might use as an editor, I highly recommend you name drop that instead.
posted by pwnguin at 6:18 AM on March 11, 2011


I am not in your field (nor in your country, though I have spent time there), but I do read a lot of cover letters. In my context, a good cover letter is about you, and also directly in response to the specifics of the job ad (or, if there is no job ad and it is just a solicitation for a new position, it reflects the specifics of my organization).

In contrast, yours is totally generic. It's barely about you (other than winning the prize, it could be about any of thousands of recent humanities graduates), and there's no sense in it that you know anything about the organization or position you are applying to.

And this is where things may be different in the UK -- perhaps that genericness is good? Where I am working, though, being that generic would be read as a huge signal that you hadn't done any homework and you weren't actually interested in this specific job/organization.

The format I see most often, and appreciate as a reader of these letters, is exactly what juniperesque outlines. First paragraph says "I am an excellent candidate" and gives a short summary of why. Second paragraph details (either narrative or with bullet points) how you meet the specific needs/requirements of the job and/or organization. Third paragraph gives some more details of how awesome you are, specific skills, etc, that we may or may not be asking for but that make you a perfect candidate. Final sentence about being happy to provide references/meet/etc, sincerely yours, etc.

For me, that kind of letter would get you looked at, and would move me on to read the CV. Your first letter would get you culled before I even glanced at the CV. But if that's normal for the UK, listen to those people rather than us who are in the US, obviously.
posted by Forktine at 6:21 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I totally agree with juniperesque. You actually have some interesting and relevant experience, but at the moment you're not making any use of it, because you don't connect it to the specific qualities the organisation you're applying to is looking for.

You're probably sick of hearing this, but whoever is shortlisting for the job you're applying for probably has a ton of these they have to read. Assume that they're skim reading, and make it easy for them to find the qualities that they've asked for in the job description -- attention to detail, good interpersonal skills, ability to handle competing deadlines, wevs -- with concrete examples demonstrating that you possess these qualities.

Also, I know it's difficult to do this without feeling like you're writing your life story, but I write cover letters with these questions in mind:

-- why this profession? This is optional, but relevant for an entry level position. Your answer shouldn't be "I love books!" but something about it being an excellent match for someone of your interests and skills, for example... yadda yadda

-- why this particular job? What specific aspects of the role are exciting and interesting to me? This shows that you have read the job description and the person specification. This is then your opportunity to tie in the experience you have to specific qualities asked for in the job ad

-- what can I bring to this role and the profession in general?

FWIW, I'm in the UK too and I don't entirely agree with Diag. If you're applying for a competitive graduate job a cover letter has to say more than just "please find attached CV". It should be something which persuades the person shortlisting that you love the job you're applying for and you could do it well.
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 6:28 AM on March 11, 2011


Yeah, "prize-winning graduate" reads douchey to me. If you can specify the name of the prize, do that, but the way it's currently written? I'd rather see it go.

Also, either more or less specificity with your computer skills. Find me a recent graduate who doesn't know how to use Word and Internet Explorer and I'll, well, die of shock or something.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:41 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why is no one else commenting on the capitalization?

OK, don't panic, Fen, this is an extremely common error, and I could be wrong about this. However, if I'm right, then it deserves addressing. (please correct me, dear posters, if I am in fact wrong, although the rest of the post is probably full of errors to which I'm not attending).

degree in English and Creative Writing, and I would like to apply for the Editorial Assistant position.

Fields of study only be capitalized if you are talking about them in title context, as in "Georgia Tech's Department of Creative Writing"; not when referred to as a field, as in "I studied physics, psychology, and creative writing". random Internet citation.

Editorial assistant should also not be capitalized, and, for what it's worth, neither should president, unless it's a singular official title: "Jane was elected President of All Things Purple of the alternative student weekly, The Eggplant. Joel Broughton will be serving as Editorial Assistant for Puce Phenomena".

My impulse would be to write "the Editorial department" in all lowercase, but I'm not certain of this and I don't feel like looking it up right now...

Interesting about the comma, ceri.

Normally, of course, I wouldn't comment on such grammatical trivia, but a) capitalizing people's fields of work is something I have to deal with over and over, b) it seems as though it might genuinely aid the OP, and c) if it turns out it is different in UK English I hope to learn that.
posted by amtho at 7:18 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I’m sorry, but for a creative writer you produce completely unremarkable prose.

Additionally, you seem unable to prioritize your work experience: you mention you helped with a schoolchildren’s poetry book and note your minor articles for an amateur publishing website before telling them about the much more relevant/real-life skills you gained at one of the world’s most important publishing houses.

Also, consider the user experience here: what does your stressed-for-time reader need to see at a glance, in the 15 seconds they will allot to your letter, and what’s the easiest way to present this information? Bullet points: on the left the job requirements, on the right your qualifications that correspond to each point.

Could you set up a website where you show some of your work? I think that should help set you apart too.

Good luck!
posted by Dragonness at 7:40 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lots of very good advice here, especially about punchiness and writing more about the company itself. But one other thing to keep in mind: what they want out of this. You are applying for a minor job, really. They want to see you can use words competently - you'd be AMAZED how many such letters I've seen that didn't include verbs - and that you aren't a douche (I remember one applicant promising airily to win my newspaper a Pulitzer) and then they'll pretty much turn to your CV. So keep it short and don't sweat it so much.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:44 AM on March 11, 2011


Oh, and please don't ever use "as per".
posted by Dragonness at 7:49 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hired for editorial assistants for many years, and here are the things that stand out in your cover letter for me:

1. Use of passive voice in the second paragraph ("I have been," etcetera). Passive voice always makes a writer sounds more amateurish and generic. No "this experience has convinced me." It's "this experience convinced me." Passive voice drives most editors crazy. juniperesque's cover letter is an example of one that avoids this.

2. Too many run-on sentences. Why not separate ideas? ". . . where I reviewed slush-pile submissions, proofread manuscripts and researched sales figures, and this experience has convinced me that publishing is an area in which I would like to work." The last part is tacked-on. Separate it. Tell them why it convinced you. What did you like? The pace? The way people in the office shared ideas? Your love of books? Anything. As it stands, this sentence sounds a bit robotic.

3. amtho is right about capitalization. If you're not sure something should be capitalized, look it up.

4. See what Dragoness said about prioritizing your work experience. Don't list it chronologically; list it in order of relevance (and impressiveness).

That said, we didn't care much about the cover letter in my office. We focused on the resume. If we were unsure about the applicant, we turned to the cover letter to see whether he or she could write. Most cover letters I read were much, much, much worse than this, which probably would have earned you a first interview simply because all of the words are spelled correctly. It's possible your resume needs to be looked over as well.
posted by pineappleheart at 7:58 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and this is so corny, but I swear it worked on us about 80% of the time: Name a book they published in the past couple of years that you enjoyed. Say that you love nonfiction about the sciences and that you were particularly impressed by ABC's book about XYZ. Doesn't matter if you haven't read it: It probably won't come up in an interview, and if it does, you can always recite some customer review you saw on Amazon. The point is to communicate some casual familiarity with their publishing house.
posted by pineappleheart at 8:04 AM on March 11, 2011


Fields of study only be capitalized if you are talking about them in title context, as in "Georgia Tech's Department of Creative Writing"; not when referred to as a field, as in "I studied physics, psychology, and creative writing". random Internet citation.

Editorial assistant should also not be capitalized, and, for what it's worth, neither should president, unless it's a singular official title: "Jane was elected President of All Things Purple of the alternative student weekly, The Eggplant. Joel Broughton will be serving as Editorial Assistant for Puce Phenomena".


In practice, I see job titles and school majors capitalized all the time. Correct or not in a stylebook sense, it serves to emphasize them slightly, which can be very useful in this kind of letter. The nice thing about English is that the "rules" vary by context, and you can twist them to your desired ends. Do what looks best and works well in your context, and what is expected in your field.
posted by Forktine at 8:04 AM on March 11, 2011


Forktine, I have to respectfully disagree. The rules here are defined by the context, which is one that requires following a stylebook. Editorial assistants are expected to know and follow style manuals. That's part of their job.
posted by pineappleheart at 8:12 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ditto, pineappleheart. It's especially important because Fen mentions proofreading experience.

Speaking of which, Fen, you don't need to put a hyphen in "proofreader" (you did manage to leave it out of "proofread manuscripts" later in the same paragraph). But you might want to put one in "amateur publishing website" or reword it to something like "a publishing website for new writers." Have a couple of proofreaders look over your final draft, because you're not going to see all the mistakes after having read and rewritten it dozens of times.
posted by zerbinetta at 8:24 AM on March 11, 2011


Yeah, I wouldn't cap those titles (nor the name of the editorial department) you mention, and would definitely lose the vague Microsoft Office and (especially!) Internet Explorer references. I would be much more interested in knowing whether you know how to use, say, parts of the Adobe suite, especially InDesign/InCopy, or any other publishing-specific workflow software. I also really don't like the "prize-winning" designation in the first sentence; something about the word "prize" brings up all these other connotations for me, like "Ooo, look at the prize pig!" or something. Even "award-winning" would be better, though there's probably a better way to recast that sentence entirely.

Re: this line: I know I can be an excellent fit for this position.

I don't think the publishing houses care whether you know in your heart of hearts that you'd be a good fit; they want to hear you say, as juniperesque outlined so well above, the ways you would be an asset to their organization. How can you help them?

Re: this line: I have been interested in a career in publishing for several years

Not to be flippant, but as a frequent reader of cover letters, whenever I see something like this, it just makes me think, "Oh, so you're interested in publishing, huh? So are the other 100 people who sent me résumés this month. So are several AskMe posters each week, and thousands of college grads every year. I have seen so many people who take an interest in this quaint business of ours. Why should I care that you do?"

Especially because you also say: this experience has convinced me that publishing is an area in which I would like to work

You needed convincing?

All snark aside, you definitely need to focus more on what you can do for the companies, in specific terms, on the basis of your past experience. I think juniperesque has provided a great template above for exactly what you need to do to fix your letter, so I would urge you to go through that point by point and update it.
posted by limeonaire at 8:54 AM on March 11, 2011


it serves to emphasize them slightly, which can be very useful in this kind of letter

Actually, I think that emphasizing one's field or degree often makes one seem more interested in the way one seems than in what one actually does. I don't care about how special your "computer science" degree makes you; what's most interesting is the particular things you have done, the intricacies of problems you have solved, and, more than that, the ways you solved them. Since the audience for this letter is going to be people who are used to reading a lot, this is even more salient.

These experiences cannot be summed up in a two-word phrase shared by thousands of other people, and I'd prefer not to be distracted by emphasis on such phrases. I want to read a laser-like sentence that brings your particular genius vividly alive without making you seem either self-important or so lacking in self-esteem that your field is the greater part of your personal identity.

While there may be some grammatical points that are flexible (and while I also agree that such flexibility isn't really appropriate here), I think that even if this were one of them, capitalizing would undermine the hoped-for message.
posted by amtho at 9:07 AM on March 11, 2011


Random House is the most recognizable entity in that letter, but it's buried. Could that paragraph be reversed so RH is at the top of it?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:31 AM on March 11, 2011


I work in publishing. Your letter would stand out to me.

The one thing that would make it stand out a little more is to demonstrate some understanding/familiarity with the company you're applying to. What about their name is prestigious? What do they have on the bestseller's list right now?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:42 AM on March 11, 2011


Are you on LinkedIn? You should be. Use your contacts to find someone who works at the company you're applying to. Talk to that person about the company in general and the job you want in particular, even if they aren't anywhere in the right department or anywhere near the hiring manager. Ask if you can use the contact's name. Then, in your cover letter, write something like, "Fred Smith, who works in your XXX department, told me about your [new publishing venture or whatever]." Then say how your specific experience will benefit the company for that project or projects. And if possible, try to get the actual hiring manager's name and send your cover letter and resume/CV to that person, not to the personnel department.
posted by Joleta at 2:39 PM on March 11, 2011


I'm actually reviewing resumes right now for a publishing-related job; in fact, the last time this job entry was up, I got a resume from someone who neglected to delete their boilerplate language stating how excited they were to be an editorial assistant at Random House. (Note: I do not work at Random House.)

What I often notice is that candidates often generically assert how awesome they are--which is nice, but in some ways actually irrelevant to a hiring manager. What I want to know are: 1) Are you going to provide value for me (e.g., this is company-centric, not you-centric) and 2) Is your specific brand of awesome-ness relevant to the position for which I'm hiring. (For example, I "hired" the rather unusual position of urbanist-littérateur blogger and turned down professors, doctors, and laywers because they were worse fits than, say, recent undergraduates.) I, like most people, ignore cover letters and focus on resumes, because resumes give me actual data on your value and most people write bland cover letters. A good cover letter shouldn't just re-package the CV verbally. It should articulate your value to me in a convincing enough way that I see you as not just another qualified candidate, but as someone who will be enough of an asset that I'll turn down other similarly qualified people and throw a big expense line on my budget your way. They'll get a lot of resumes from people with perfect GPAs from Ivy League schools, so your cover letter needs to explain what unique fit and enthusiasm you offer for this position.

This specifically means you should focus on why you're a good match--which is a little tricky since an editorial assistant isn't a very specialized job. I would add a few sentences at the beginning and end of the letter indicating some knowledge about the company and how working there fits in with your long term plans. More generally with cover letters, I would reframe the letter so it's obviously responsive to the job advertisement--you can list your job experience in response to the qualities they want.
posted by johnasdf at 3:15 PM on March 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Use of passive voice in the second paragraph ("I have been," etcetera). Passive voice always makes a writer sounds more amateurish and generic. No "this experience has convinced me." It's "this experience convinced me." Passive voice drives most editors crazy. juniperesque's cover letter is an example of one that avoids this.

How are either of these examples passive? Wordy, yes; passive, no.
posted by oohisay at 3:22 PM on March 11, 2011


Yeah, passive would be "I have been convinced". "This experience has convinced" is active voice, present perfect tense.

"I have been interested" could be interpreted as passive if you regard "interested" as a verb rather than an adjective.
posted by amtho at 8:50 PM on March 11, 2011


Cheers all for the replies.

I've read in places that I'm not supposed to put info in my cover letter that isn't in my CV, but all the information that I can think of that's relevant to this position is already in my CV, and specifically deleting stuff from my CV just so I can put it into the cover letter seems like a weird solution; or is that the right way and I'm just being nit-picky?

The main problem I have is with the enthusiasm part, I realize, but I really don't know how to express it (Mostly-irrelevant aside: My nickname at school was 'Corpse' because I apparently showed as much emotion as a dead body). The 'I have been interested for several years' was an attempt to put something, but not putting it seemed to be even more dry.

I'm going for publishing because it appeals to me the most out of everything else I've seen so far, but I don't know what else to say other than that. I'm not "OMGWTFBBQ I want to be a publisher", but I'm not "OMGWTFBBQ" about anything. They have a job and I can do the job, and in honesty it stumps me what else I can say. Which is probably the main reason I'm still underemployed, heh.

I've got a slight portfolio here. Also some attempts-at-angry-humour here, as a counterbalance to the utter lack of emotion in the first one, although also not something that prospective employers might be pleased to see :-/.
posted by Fen at 1:50 PM on March 13, 2011


I'm going for publishing because it appeals to me the most out of everything else I've seen so far, but I don't know what else to say other than that. I'm not "OMGWTFBBQ I want to be a publisher", but I'm not "OMGWTFBBQ" about anything. They have a job and I can do the job, and in honesty it stumps me what else I can say. Which is probably the main reason I'm still underemployed, heh.

Eh yes, it is probably why you are still underemployed........

Go and watch television and see how stuff is being advertised. Go and read the paper and magazines and see how stuff is being advertised. You will find that saying something is the least bad out of a number of options is not the way it's done.

Nor is it done by saying this is a job and product x can do the job...being able to do the job is just not a good enough reason to hire you for anything other than stacking shelves. If there are 10 people who can explain why publishing is something they want to do you won't get the job.

This comes from a person who watched a full solar eclipse whilst at work (I could not see why you'd want to take the day off to watch something that lasts about 2 minutes) and then freaked out customers who came in a few minutes later because I failed to show excitement at the spectacle we had all just witnessed......so I can see where you're coming from but you need to work on your sales pitch - and yes, applying for a job is selling yourself to the employer!
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:24 PM on March 13, 2011


I know that simply saying that I can do the job isn't enough, and I know that I need to want to do it. What I want to know is how to cause yourself to want something... which is a retarded request, I know.

OTOH, what kind of work is there where liking doing it isn't a prerequisite? Everyone always says work sucks and no-one likes doing it, but I don't think I've ever seen a job advert which doesn't require the applicant to be "enthusiastic and passionate" about the position.

Easter resolution: stop being such a miserable sod, Fen.
posted by Fen at 5:16 PM on March 13, 2011


Not everything's already on your resume. If you look at the job requirements, you can think of specific projects or situations in your work/volunteer history that could be good examples of how you fulfill those particular requirements. Make a chart, if it helps, of the most common things that employers are seeking in the positions for which you've been applying, and match them with skills you have displayed in the past. Then use that as a reference for every cover letter you write.

I write a different cover letter for every job I apply for, and I have a pretty good success rate at getting interviews. (It's the interview part that I still need to work on.) And I think it's because I'm specific about why they should call me in. That doesn't mean that you can't recycle some parts of your letters, but there has to be some acknowledgment that you are applying not just because you want a paycheck, but because you want to work for this particular company in this particular position, and these are the particular qualities you possess to convince them that you'll be an asset.

As for the enthusiasm gap, think of particular qualities about the job or company that appeal to you (other than a paycheck), and emphasize your enthusiasm for those things in your letter. And if absolutely nothing appeals to you, don't apply.
posted by zerbinetta at 6:45 AM on March 14, 2011


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