Cover Letter Pointers (liberally borrowed from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism) Your cover letter is your written handshake, your voice, a chance to inspire a hiring editor to take a good look at your history and work samples. More practically, it announces which job or internship you’re applying for. So even if a job posting’s application instructions don’t specify sending a cover letter, you should include one. General Tips: * Keep your letter to one short page. (That’s three or four short paragraphs, if you’re putting it into the body of an e-mail that’s carrying resume and clip attachments.) * Make it concise, clear, and conversational. But not gimmicky: Most hiring editors aren’t charmed by an applicant’s childhood memories of sitting on dad’s lap reading the paper. Nor are they swayed by such opening lines as “Stop. You’ve found the perfect candidate.” * Indeed, don’t try to stand out by using adjectives to praise yourself anywhere in your letter. Describing yourself as “talented” or “the ideal person for this job” isn’t the way to bring editors to such conclusions. The best way for your letter to stand out is for it to be engaging — informative, lively, well-written. * Tailor the letter to the job or internship you’re seeking. In other words, write a fresh cover letter for each application. Include a line or two that shows you’re familiar with the publication, website or broadcast outlet in question. And if you can possibly help it, don’t send a letter addressed to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” (Granted, some postings insist on a generic way to apply, so you may be unable to avoid this.) You’re a journalist, so get the correct name, title and e-mail address of the person you should apply to. Make a phone call to the outlet, if necessary, to ask for that e-mail address. * Edit and proofread. In our business this is especially important. And if you’re sending the letter as a hard copy, don’t forget to sign it. Specifics: The letter should consist of three or four brief paragraphs: OPENING PARAGRAPH: Give the basics. * Why you’re writing. You’re writing to apply for the job or internship opening at XXpublication. If a professor or other contact knows the editor to whom you’re writing and has told you to mention his/her name, do that in the first sentence. * “Where” you are right now [FOR INTERNSHIP: "I'm currently a student at the University of Central Florida, where I’m majoring in journalism," or some such. FOR JOB: "In midDecember, I'll be graduating from the University of Central Florida, where I specialize in xxxxx."] Think about omitting the specialty if it doesn’t relate to the job or internship you’re after. *Add something to suggest what makes you a good fit for the job — without using those words. ["While a student here, I've discovered hyperlocal reporting--freelancing for xxxx and completing a summer internship at xxxx. For me, this kind of journalism combines the best of xxxxx and xxxxx."] OR: ["I arrived at J-school with a print background but quickly fell in love with radio, interning at xxxxx and xxxx." etc. ] MIDDLE PARAGRAPH(S): Here’s where you describe, in two sentences max, your relevant qualifications. Don’t just repeat what’s on your resume; flesh out the most interesting work you’ve done — before and during J-school. The middle part is also the place to clarify information on your resume, if need be ["Though most of my experience has been at weeklies, I've been meeting daily--sometimes hourly-deadlines at my internship at xxxx. So I feel ready to take on breaking news stories."] Finally, this middle graf (or grafs) should reflect your interest in the outlet. A sentence or two is fine. Be specific: Don’t praise the organization; instead, refer knowledgeably to the kind of pieces it produces — explaining your interest and your grounding in these subjects. ["I follow your education coverage pretty religiously and would love the chance to contribute to it. I covered school issues in my urban reporting class and at my internship at xxx; I'm fascinated by the subject and believe I now have a solid understanding of what covering it entails."] CLOSING PARAGRAPH: End by keeping the door open. Mention any enclosures or attachments (resume, references, clips). “Attached [or enclosed] are xxxxx.” Your final sentence should be courteous: “Thank you for your consideration.” Don’t say that you’ll be calling to set up an interview (that’s the employer’s choice) or that you “hope to hear” from someone “soon.” NOTES ON STYLE: * Take a journalistic approach: Think of the letter as having a lede, expansions on that lede, and a windup. Define things that need defining. (Example: “Before enrolling in J-school, I was a general assignment reporter at the Oconomowoc Focus, which covers townships in southern Wisconsin.”) *Think about the flow between paragraphs. *Don’t be afraid to write informally, using dashes and parentheses where it makes sense to do so. *Finally, a note on the don’t-be-gimmicky rule: If you’re applying to an officially quirky outlet (RadioLab, for instance, or This American Life), you may want to (but you don’t have to) write a different kind of letter. Resume Pointers (liberally adapted from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism) The first impression you usually have to make upon an employer is through your resume. Are you qualified? Will you be a good fit? How much “work” will you be? An employer will be making several snap judgments when looking at your resume. And yours is one of many they will be scanning, in about 30 seconds, so organization is key, and your most important traits need to be evident. A few pointers: • • • • • • Keep the resume to one page. Tailor it to the job you’re applying for. If necessary, pare some entries to make room for fleshing out other entries, depending on the skills and experience you want to emphasize for a particular job application. You might want to keep several versions on hand. Write your resume for a journalist who would supervise the job you want, not for a human resources director. Don’t oversell yourself or otherwise create a false picture. And, please, no “summary” statement at the top defining yourself as a “talented individual,” or some such. Employers want information, not self-promotion, when they read resumes. Don’t leave any unexplained gaps. You must account for all your time since getting your undergraduate degree. (If you became a parent or had other family obligations that took up a few years, that’s different. Don’t list it on a resume. Instead, explain the gap in the accompanying cover letter.) Edit and proofread. Edit and proofread. Edit and proofread. (It bears repeating.) Have another pair of eyes check your work. Your resume must be logical, grammatical and free of typos, spelling errors and factual mistakes. Abbreviations, punctuation and spacing should be consistent. In journalism, where attention to detail and love of clean copy are givens, just one mistake can send your resume sailing into the trash. Content (Going From Top to Bottom) • • • CONTACT INFORMATION: Put your name, current phone numbers, home address and email address at the top of the page. (Now’s probably the time to get rid of that “quirky” message on your answering machine or mobile. Or that email address featuring your cutesy or edgy nickname.) “OBJECTIVE”: Should you include one? No. Your cover letter will target the job you’re applying for. Too often, applicants wind up having a vague-sounding objective (“To use my communication skills in the print industry”) or one that doesn’t match the jobs they’re after. EDUCATION: Put this section next only if you have no prior journalism experience. If you’ve done even a journalism internship or two, you should lead instead with EXPERIENCE. In the “Education” section, list all the colleges you’ve attended, your major and date of graduation. Include study abroad. Put the items in reverse chronological order. Don’t bother listing your GPA, but do specify Dean’s List or Magna • • • • • • or Summa Cum Laude or Phi Beta Kappa. Characterize your forthcoming UCF journalism degree this way: “B.A. expected [month/year].” EXPERIENCE: If you have prior journalistic AND other experience, divide this section into two parts: “Journalism Experience,” where you put your journalism jobs and internships, and “Other Experience,” where you list non-journalism jobs. If you worked to put yourself through school, it’s fine to list those jobs. List your jobs in reverse chronological order within each section. Put your job title first; then the name of the employer (publication, website, broadcast outlet or company); city and state; and the dates you worked (month and year). Include undergrad stints with the campus newspaper or broadcast station as well as internships. For each job entry, give a few details. Don’t just say you were a reporting intern; list your beats and mention any prize-winning or cover stories. Write in short, punchy phrases, not complete sentences; don’t use the pronoun “I.” Use action verbs in the correct tense (present tense for current job and past tense for previous jobs): “created,” “wrote,” “researched,” “edited,” “developed,” “built,” “earned,” “initiated,” “completed.” Avoid the dreaded “Responsibilities included…” Give the frequency and description of the publication (“Edited the features section of this college weekly”) if it’s not a widely known name. SKILLS: This section should include knowledge you have of multimedia hardware (photo, audio and video equipment, e.g.) and software (editing programs, e.g.), as well as of content management systems and web design. Don’t include the most basic skills (Microsoft Word, e.g.). Foreign-language skills go in this section, too. List the language and your skill level (Fluent, Conversant, etc.). HONORS AND AWARDS: List your journalism-related honors and any other awards that may relate to the job you’re seeking. Don’t include anything from high school. PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS: If you belong to any journalism-related organizations, put them here. INTERESTS: Include this category only if your activities are noteworthy and relate to the job or internship you’re seeking. Have you traveled extensively? That shows a curiosity befitting a journalist. Are you an amateur naturalist? That may interest a science editor. REFERENCES: Don’t put “References available upon request” at the end of your resume. Employers assume they are available. Include the names of references only when they’re requested along with a resume. Place them at the bottom of the page, side by side or a list, if room. If you’re out of room, put them on a separate sheet you’ve labeled REFERENCES. (Put your name and contact info at the top of this page, too.) Format • • • • • • As above, keep your resume to one page. Use white or off-white 8½-by-11-inch paper. Choose a font that’s easy to read, even at a small size. (Not too small. The hiring manager may be middle-aged.) Make your name just a bit bigger so it will stand out. Don’t justify the margins. Use a ragged right margin, which is easier on the eye. Don’t clutter the page with borders or little icons. Set off key information — job titles, organization names and section headings — with boldface, italics or all capital letters.
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