Not to get all biblical on you, but whenever Ed sees someone commit one of these sins in her cover letter, that applicant will need help from a higher power before she gets called in for the job. So keep these in mind the next time you apply for a spot, and thou shalt receive an interview:
1. Thou shalt not address her cover letter to “Whom it may concern.”
Ed’s friend just put a call out for interns, and she included her name in the job post. She intended to get cover letters addressed to her, but instead, there were some who were addressed to “Internship Coordinator,” and worse, “Whom it may concern.” Writing “To whom it may concern” is extremely formal, and, if the contact’s name is given in the job post, it shows you didn’t fully read the post before applying. What kind of attention to detail does that show? Even if the contact’s name isn’t mentioned in the post, use your reporting skills to figure out to whom you SHOULD address your letter. It’s this easy: pick up the magazine, flip to the masthead, get the name of an editorial assistant, call the magazine publisher’s main line (the number’s usually listed on the masthead, but if not, check the publisher’s website), ask to speak to that EA, then ask, “Could you please tell me to whom cover letters for the ___ position should be addressed?”
2. Thou shalt not name the wrong publication.
If you’re applying for a gig at Family Circle, do NOT write that you’re interested in a job at FamilyFun. Sure, the names are similar, but with hundreds of applicants vying for the same spot, mistaking that magazine for its competitor can be the kiss of death.
Occasionally, an editor will take pity on you and call you for an interview anyway, but when she makes her final decision on whom to hire, you’ll be at a disadvantage because she’ll remember you as “The girl who got the name of the magazine wrong” instead of “The girl with the killer resume.”
3. Thou shalt not sound like a robot.
As if you needed reminding, magazines are a creative industry. Submitting a boilerplate cover letter for each job to which you apply (where all you change is the contact’s name and the name of the publication) doesn’t show what you can contribute to their creative environment. Plus, if your first paragraph reads something like this, “I am interested in the editorial assistant opportunity at Marie Claire. I have interned at magazines in the past and I like women’s magazines. I’m a strong candidate for this position.” your cover letter will be in the editor’s trash before she makes it to your second paragraph. Model your cover letter (loosely) on a magazine article: an interesting lead that will encourage the editor to read on, an explanation of your intention (in this case, what you’re applying for and why), supporting evidence, and a conclusion.
4. Thou shalt not rely on gimmicks.
If you’re working harder on the illustration of your favorite Vanity Fair cover than your cover letter, you’ll be more likely to make the editors laugh than call you for an interview. Even if you’re not submitting artwork, avoid tackiness in your cover letter. Ed gags when he sees letters that start “You’re probably asking yourself, ‘How is this cover letter different from all other cover letters?’ Well, I’ll tell ya! For one, none of the other ones start like this!” (Yes, they do.) And scented, colored paper may work for Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, but it probably won’t work for you.
5. Thou shalt prove you’ve read the magazine before.
Writing an interesting cover letter about who you are is only half the battle. You also need to work in that you know what the magazine is about and who it’s for. If you’re applying for a specific department, say, health, mention what you like about their health coverage. Editors at Prevention know that if you’re 22 years old, you’re probably not a religious reader, but pick up the magazine that’s currently on newsstands and get any back issues you can get your hands on before you apply to work at a magazine about which you know nothing.
6. Thou shalt prove you have the experience required for the job
Cover letters need to be a balance of why you want to work for the magazine and why that editor should hire you for the open position. Writing three paragraphs about the magazine with no mention of how you’re qualified for the job will most likely not get you the job. You don’t need to regurgitate what’s written on your resume, but highlight some of the most relevant experiences. For instance, if you were an intern at Entertainment Weekly , and you’re applying for an assistant position in the entertainment department of a men’s magazine, talk about an experience you had with a celebrity (or celebrity publicist) in your cover letter to show you know that industry and excel at working in it. When editors read cover letters that make no mention of the applicant’s experience, they think, “She probably doesn’t have experience.”
7. Thou shalt not blindly compliment the hiring editor.
Flattery will only get you so far. Ed recently read a cover letter where the applicant went on and on about something irrelevant and then threw in, “Oh, and Ed, I loved your story in the August issue. It was so well-written!” VOMIT! If you really feel compelled to compliment the hiring editor, be genuine: “I read your story on [insert topic]. I loved how [insert something unique here, like, ‘you focused on the victims’ lives before the hurricane instead of the relief effort, like tk competitor did,’ and then connect it to why you want to work there, or why you’re qualified to work there.
Now go out there, write some fabulous cover letters, and get those interviews!