Perspectives

Dear APPLICANT NAME: A Cover Letter How-To (And How-Not- To)

By , Posted July 11, 2016

Welcome to our 4-part series on Landing an Agency Job. We put this together because we know that the job hunting process can be challenging, especially in the competitive world of advertising. As industry veterans, we’ve pretty much seen it all: Comic Sans in resumes, shorts in interviews, and cover letters that still have leftover copy (and agency names) from previous applications. So, we decided to put together a few posts to help guide all of our fellow advertising fanatics on how to land the perfect job. First up? The dreaded cover letter. 

In a nutshell, if a company requests a cover letter, write one.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the number of applicants who simply gloss over this part of the application process. Even if a cover letter isn’t requested verbatim, it’s still a good idea to write one. When an applicant doesn’t take the time to write a cover letter, it makes employers think they’re not serious. So why should we take the time to review that particular resume, no matter how sparkling it may be?

There are two reasons MBB requests cover letters. The first being we’re genuinely interested in why you want the job and why you think you’re a better fit than anyone else. Second, it’s a good way to evaluate writing technique and grammar. Copywriters aren’t the only ones who need to know this stuff. We’re all in the business of communication here.

Now, for the letter itself – let’s review some Do’s and Don’t of how to write a cover letter.

1. Customize, customize, customize.

It’s easier than you think to spot a generic cover letter from a custom one. Here a few of the telltale signs (i.e. things you should avoid):

Yes, customizing your cover letter will require some extra time, but if it piques the hiring manager’s interest in you and keeps them reading until the end? Well worth it, we say.

Now for HOW to customize (and to what extent). This is not a place to regurgitate your resume. We mostly just want to see that your skillset matches the job requirements. We’re not looking for a book, but do want to see more than one paragraph. The best cover letters tell compelling stories (and don’t start every sentence with “I”).

2. Formatting.

The first thing here is to PDF that bad boy. On a few, albeit rare, occasions we’ve seen cover letters come through as word documents with track changes enabled. Not cool. Don’t forget to spell check, re-read it, have someone else read it and then re-read it again to make sure everything makes sense. Ensure references to other companies have been removed. That one is especially important, because your starting point is likely a cover letter you’ve written for another position at another company- and that’s perfectly fine. So, you’ve got a compelling, well-written, custom cover letter on your hands. Now what? Before firing away, ask yourself the following questions:

Do you feel qualified to do the job you’re applying for?

3. The Close.

End your cover letter by expressing your appreciation for their time and thanking them for their consideration. Avoid taking an aggressive approach here, stating that you will call to set up an interview. While you might think this paints you as a go-getter, it could come across as pushy. Remember, the ball is in their court, not yours. But after wowing with an impressive cover letter, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. That phone of yours will ring in due time.

And there you have it, folks: what to do and what not to do when writing your cover letters. Now let’s move on to our resume writing guide so that you can make sure your resume is as polished as your interview shoes. 

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