Jan 17 2012
1. As always, be smart–the competition is pretty fierce. I have superbly qualified candidates with postgraduate degrees and years of experience applying for a minimum wage writing internship. If a prospective writer has typos in his cover letter and/or resume, he’s probably not in the running. I’ll assume that you’re pretty smart and already have the basics down (proofread, address it to a human reader if at all possible, stick with a one page resume unless you have 20+ years of experience and/or are applying for a professorship, etc).
2. Make your cover letter as specific as possible–what have you achieved? I’d much rather read examples showing traits you have than you just telling me which traits you have. For example, rather than just telling me you have drive, describe a job where you demonstrated drive. Instead of telling me you’re creative and/or a problem-solver, tell me about a time you creatively solved a major problem. (Alternately, if it’s applicable to the position*, look at what they’re producing and offer a concrete suggestion for improvement. I was pleasantly surprised that one candidate looked at our website and offered an idea that was worth considering–it gives me a better idea that the candidate has something to contribute and will fit in better into our creative process).
*But keep it as tailored to the position as possible. Entry-level employees generally aren’t hired for their ability to make huge strategic decisions and it might look pretentious for a prospective intern without any experience in the field to propose changes that would be better-suited for the board of directors.
3. Be friendly, not unlikable. For example, if a company has a silly application requirement (like a “if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” essay question), your options are either 1) fulfill the requirement in a professional way or 2) don’t apply to that company if you dislike the requirement that much. Applying with an essay about how much you hated writing the essay and/or found it pointless would be a waste of time. If the job description was absolutely idiotic, perhaps because it was written by a Human Resources professional that was not at all familiar with the position, be classy and professional.
- PROFESSIONAL: “I believe I’d be a very good fit for this position, having 5 years of experience programming for [company] in HAXIMUS, although I do not yet have the required 10 years of experience with HAXIMUS. There may have been a typo in the job description, since HAXIMUS was introduced 8 years ago. [Follow up with a paragraph about a notable project you’ve successfully completed with HAXIMUS].”
- REJECTED: “Whoever wrote that job description is obviously an idiot.” This candidate should think more about how he/she is demonstrating his ability to work with and assist coworkers that have bitten off more than they can chew, especially considering that the person that wrote the idiotic job description is probably a Human Resources staffer reading the applications.
4. Please make sure that you tailor your cover letter and resume for each particular position. One easy way to do so is to take 2 or 3 traits and/or key responsibilities from the job description and spend a paragraph covering specific achievements that show you have each trait or have demonstrated the ability to perform the job responsibility. If you do so in a remotely coherent way (and are at least remotely qualified), I can pretty much guarantee that the reader will at least glance at your resume.