The task of writing a cover letter for a prospective job is one of those things that generally falls under the “ugh no no no can someone just do it for me” category, right alongside going to the dentist, picking up “one or two things” at IKEA on a Sunday, drinking a respectable amount of water before going to bed after a long night on the town, and getting a pap smear – all necessary for the wellbeing of your future, but not a whole lot of fun when you’re gearing up to get it over with.
But here’s the thing: As someone who has worked in an industry where cover letters, pitches, and letters of inquiry are a big part of the system, I’d venture to say we’ve all made this process a lot harder than it needs to be, and together, we can take this whole thing out of the “To Whom it May Concern” dark ages. Because while the prospective employer and prospective employee may be sitting on opposite sides of the table, both parties have at least one thing in common: we’re all busy!
Generic cover letters are a waste of everyone’s time, and while the assumption that your resume will speak for itself might tempt you into sending in a bland-ass cover letter, it might actually hurt your cause, sending some unimaginative-and-lazy vibes to whoever is reading it.
But here’s the good news: There’s one very simple thing that that will put you light years ahead of your and everyone else’s declarations of being “extremely hard working,” “very organized,” and “a team player,” and that is specific familiarity with the recent work of the company you’re applying to.
It really is as easy as it sounds. You can wax poetic all you want about how amazing you think the company’s mission is and how much you admire the CEO’s tenacity and work ethic, but unless you have concrete and recent examples of the company’s achievements or detailed knowledge of the current projects to which you hope to contribute, it all just comes across as general platitudes that the cover-letter reader has seen a thousand times. Getting super specific demonstrates that a.) you’ve done your research. b.) you know what you’re signing up for, and c.) based on the examples you’re putting forward, you can clearly make a case for how your particular skill set is an excellent fit.
For instance: If you’re looking to join an editorial team, single out a handful of pieces that are definitive examples of what you admire about that company’s vision and content, and explain (very briefly) why you found them exceptional. If you have a long-standing knowledge of their work, incorporating an older stand-out as well can illustrate that you’ve been an admirer of the company for a while, which may earn you some bonus points, though it’s more important to demonstrate a knowledge of their current trajectory and mission, because that’s what they’re in the market for at the moment.
And here’s a nice byproduct for all parties involved: This approach can’t help but be genuine; the time you spend boning up on your knowledge of the company will further clarify whether this is some place you really envision yourself, and it’s not something that can be easily faked; if you do try and phone it in on the specifics and you air ball it, it’ll be very clear to the hiring manager.
If you caught our interview with VICE correspondents Gianna Toboni and Isobel Yeung earlier this week, they shared much of the same advice in terms of how they landed their coveted jobs: “Do something that represents what you can contribute to a company that you’d like to work for. There’s nothing more valuable than walking into an interview and showing the employer that you are already capable of doing the job,” said Gianna. “Be as well read and as well versed as you can possibly be on the types of situations that you’re likely to confront. Know the company you want to work for front to back. Know the types of stories they want to do. And this is really important: Know the types of stories you want to do,” Isobel added.
There you have it: Specificity is queen. Charge up that laser-beam focus and let ‘er rip on the page.