Please lend me your cover letter expertise!
February 3, 2012 8:30 PM   Subscribe

I would like to apply for this internship, but I am uncertain of how to address some of the qualifications listed in the ad in my cover letter.

I am a recent grad applying for a copywriting internship at X company that runs websites listing online shopping deals. The ad calls for someone who is "detail-oriented" and a "skilled writer." I've got those things down, but there are a few other desired traits they're looking for that I'm not sure I necessarily possess. Here are some of the other (paraphrased) traits that I'm feeling iffy about:

Bargain Hunters – be dedicated to scouting out the best online offers, deals and savings

Web Savvy – use your enthusiasm and knowledge of the web to serve X company's users

Independent Thinkers – be able to present creative marketing ideas and willing to enhance your knowledge of online marketing and copywriting.

Originally, I was thinking of writing my cover letter in a "T-formation" format--with their desired qualities on the left, and my experiences on the right. But I don't know how to write about my experience with the above. Sure, I've been a bargain hunter (textbooks are so expensive these days!), but never in a formal workplace setting like this. Excuse my naivety, but is it inappropriate to discuss personal experiences in which you've demonstrated the company's desired qualities when you have little formal work experience involving said qualities? I could talk about my summer of frugal living after failing to find a consistently paid part-time job and how I've learned to bargain-hunt that way, but I don't know if that would just come across as unprofessional.

Also, what does being "web savvy" even mean? The Internet is such an integral part of our lives nowadays that it's difficult for me to separate being "web savvy" from possessing the Google-fu abilities that one naturally develops after surfing the web on a daily basis.

Thirdly, I really wouldn't consider myself an independent thinker. I've read advice that says if you don't match a certain job qualification, you should say why you'd be a good candidate anyway. How can I address the fact that I'm not a creative, think-outside-the box sort of person? I've tried to think of times when I've done anything unique and unconventional, but minus deciding to use some T-shirts that I never wear anymore but like too much to give away as wall art for my bedroom, I've got nothing (and again, this is not something that applies to a formal work setting).

Lastly, should I ditch the T-formation format altogether, if I can't think of legitimate examples in which I've evinced each of the qualities listed in the ad?
posted by dean_deen to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Copywriting is all about thinking outside the box. It's about establishing a voice, persuading, captivating....if you want to be a copywriter, you surely must have these traits. I think you need to look at it from the point of view of creativity, rather than cool hunting.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:15 PM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think this cover letter format will do you any favors. In a cover letter you need to emphasize the positive and professional things about the traits and qualifications that you really do have. And it should not be extremely long.

For "bargain hunter" and "web savvy", these are skills most people have. They are not specific formal credentials. However, there are some people who don't use the internet every day and there are some people who think life is too short for the equivalent of cutting coupons. You can take care of both of these in one sentence. For example:
The Internet is an integral part of my life and I especially love finding deals online.

Please do not write anything in your cover letter about how you could not find a paid part time job so you had to live frugally.

If you really are not an independent thinker, focus on the last half of that explanatory sentence. I'm sure you are very, very willing to enhance your knowledge of online marketing and copywriting. That is why you are applying for this internship. You can also say that you are able to work independently and take responsibility for finishing a project, if that is true. Furthermore, you can say that you are looking forward to working on creative, outside-the-box solutions to Company X's problems.

But spend a lot more time talking about your strong points.
posted by steinwald at 10:05 PM on February 3, 2012

I think you're overthinking it. The cover letter should be short and sweet. If you spend bullet point after bullet point, laid out in a T-formation (or however you do it), harping on about your "web savvy" and "independent thinking," their eyes will glaze over. Those phrases are only slightly above meaningless.

If you even begin to say things along the lines of "I'm not that out-of-the-box a thinker usually, but I'm becoming more so, for example _____," it'll probably be an automatic no. Focus on your strengths.

But really -- put every effort you can in networking with someone who already works at the internship, so that they can recommend you. If you don't know anyone, find an email address and contact someone cold, asking for a cup of coffee with them to ask for "advice" about the field. Then at the end of the coffee ask them to recommend you.
posted by lewedswiver at 11:00 PM on February 3, 2012

I think if you are a recent grad, you should be applying for jobs, not internships. I think that you are underestimating your qualifications as a college grad. I would apply for entry-level paid positions at this same company.
posted by amaire at 11:18 PM on February 3, 2012

Don't use bullet points, but write out exactly how you fit each qualification in your paragraphs in the cover letter. It should probably be about 1 paragraph of intro and why you're interested, 1 paragraph of "why I fit every qualification here" and 1 "Please get back to me at blah blah" paragraph. I agree with lewedswiver that "web savvy" and "independent thinking" are stupid buzzwords, but I've also been told by career counselors that you need to specifically use their key words in your resume and cover letter because HR will be going through those first rather than the people who want to hire you. And HR is just skimming through looking to check off the boxes on their list of who qualifies enough to get an interview. Using their phrases will make it stand out to them. If you don't specifically say "web savvy," at least use something pretty equivalent to it.

It sounds like they want to know:
(a) how have you bargain hunted? The textbook thing does sound relevant to me, but "frugal living with no job" probably is not a good idea. Maybe if you made it more specific, like "I managed to knock down a grocery bill for a family of four by $100 just by bargain hunting."
(b) how have you used the Internet in a work context? Have you made a commercial webpage? Worked on someone else's webpage?
(c) Have you ever worked on marketing? Have you presented anything? What do you know about online copywriting? (Leave out "thinks outside the box" phraseology if you don't actually do it, though.)

I will note that internships are usually intended for people who are still in college, so that may be an issue for you in trying to get one now that you are out. I understand how everyone is desperate these days and even an unpaid internship is better than nothing, but they may decide to weed you out just for that alone.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:33 AM on February 4, 2012

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