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The worst cover letter I’ve ever read in a job application had real writing finesse, charismatic appeal, a compelling narrative and won the writer an interview.
It was so disappointing that someone else turned up for that. If you want to be a journalist, you need to be able to write your own copy.
What if writing isn’t the focus of your job? Does it matter then if your grammar is less than perfect and your spelling is worse?
You’re right. There are people in high positions with low writing skills and you might be lucky enough to have your application read by one of them. I would suggest, though, that if you have spell check available, so too does the person reading your cover letter. It might also be worthwhile, therefore, to know the difference between Australian (British) and American spelling.
I’d also suggest that if you wouldn’t turn up to an interview in trackies or 15 minutes late, you do what it takes to give your cover letter polish. Until you get an interview, your cover letter is your stand-in. It may only be the understudy for someone who is a superstar, but no-one is going to know that if it gets culled in stage one of the selection process.
There are so many ways to write a cover letter, but only a few hard and fast rules:
Experienced writers know the rules of grammar so they can break the right ones in the right way at the right time for effect. Assess your level of expertise before you play.
Don’t use a thesaurus. (I was sent a press release last week about a campaign designed to reach every person “entrancing” a sport event.)
Avoid buzzwords. “Disruption” and “leverage” really do make you sound like a robot. Use words you would say - “use” rather than “utilise” and “about” rather than “in relation to”.
Take the direct route. Turn “this was achieved by a combination of intensive research analysis and my own personal skills" into “I achieved this with research and experience.” Keep your sentences short.
Remove the tell-tale signs that you didn’t pay attention at school:
1. Your is for ownership - my story, your story. You’re is short for you are.
2. Their is for ownership - their story. They’re is short for they are. There is the sister of here - it’s over there.
3. It’s is not for ownership. It’s is short for it is. Its is for ownership – its story.
4. Too means also. To is used for go to a place, not go as well. If you mean 2, write two.
5. There’s (aka, there is) is never followed by a plural - there are millions, there’s one or there’s a lot.
6. You would have, could have and should have, not would of, could of or should of.
7. Loose undies will fall down to your knees. You will lose your undies at the gym, in the wash or under your bed. This will happen whether they’re loose or tight.
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