If you’re sending out resume after resume without moving to the interview stage, the likeliest culprit is your cover letter. After all, your cover letter is what makes a hiring manager curious enough to open your resume. Most of these tips hold true for any email you may be sending that is essentially asking someone to give you something you want (a job, knowledge, a business connection, gold Fendi heels). This facet of communications, called pitching, is at the cornerstone of a successful PR career.
1. Don’t use To Whom it May Concern (it’s concerning)
Sometimes a job listing won’t include contact information and sometimes you’ll be applying through a job submission form. It’s annoying! It’s frustrating. You just want a name! I get it. In these cases, a bright and cheery Hello! reads much better than stodgy old “I’m following a template from this book about cover letters published in 1955” To Whom it May Concern. After all, the company hiring knows they didn’t provide you with contact details.
But, if you are sending out a letter of inquiry to see about any open positions, or if the job listing says something like, “You’ll be reporting to our VP of Public Relations,” then bust out your digital researching skills and find out who the right person is to contact. I have posted internship opportunities on PR Couture and gotten a To Whom it May Concern or Dear Hiring Manager and I always want to shake the person and say, “It’s me, it’s Crosby – I asked you to email me directly in the posting!). I also sometimes get people asking for more information about a listing on our job board, to which I want to scream, “I don’t know dude, you should probably reach out to the person who paid to post that job on PR Couture – they probably have the answer!” Ok mini rant over!
Some more tips: for smaller PR agencies (under 15 employees), it’s never wrong to address your email to the CEO or an Account Director. You are always welcome to call up the front desk and say something like “I’m interested in learning more about your PR department and sending over my resume for consideration. Who is the best contact for me to reach?” With a polite and positive tone, most receptionists will be happy to give you a name and email address. If they refuse, you can say something like, “Would it be ok for me to send this email to you, and you can choose to pass it along to the right person in the office?”
2. Don’t explain how much this job will benefit you (that’s not how this works)
Instead of explaining what a great opportunity this job would create for you, focus on explaining how your experience directly applies to the roles and responsibilities listed in the job description. If you are looking for an internships or entry-level position and have little to no experience, focus on the character traits (with evidence/examples) that you possess that would benefit the office. If you are a stickler for detail, color code your calendar and have been editing your small town newsletter since you were 12, I want to hear about it. If you worked at a high-end spa where you were responsible for scheduling and confirming more than 100 appointments a day and making a kick-ass cappuccino at a moment’s notice, tell me about it.
Your cover letter should make me absolutely convinced you are someone I want on my team because of how much easier my life will be as a result. My life. Capiche? Good.
3. Life story not required (no one has time for that)
A cover letter should be no more than 3 short, carefully edited paragraphs. Use subheads and bullet points to make it easy for me to scan the highlights of your accomplishments. I don’t need to know about your entire work history, or to be walked through your resume.
Along that vein, be careful about your overall tone. Save any emotional hyperbole, impassioned speeches and long-winded takes of passion, desire and perseverance for late night deep talks with your besties. I do not need your life story, every single hardships you have faced and a chronological listing of your favorite designers. I do need to feel like you are potentially capable of solving my challenges with competent, enthusiastic solutions.
Your cover letter should not read like the beginning of a novel, love story, creative writing assignment or multiple Pinterest inspirational quotes strung together.
Instead, include answers to the following questions (succinctly)
- What are your qualifications (beyond what is listed on your resume) in direct relationship to the responsibilities of the position?
- What makes you memorable, unique, a valuable employee? Is it your experience, your approach, your ability to sweet talk any office printer into doing your bidding? Make me remember you!
Now go through and edit your language down further so that it is easy to skim and all your best qualities are on display. A great cover letter is personalized, personable and focuses on the amazing gifts and talents you bring to the table. Adopt a friendly yet professional tone and don’t be afraid to move beyond standard cover letter structure to make a real impression.
PS: Are you ready to land your dream PR job and have ongoing access to a committed, charismatic mentor (raises hand) ready and willing to help you navigate workplace woes and wonders? Then it’s time to become a Prismadonna.