Monday, August 31, 2015

Creatively Real: Cover Letters

Greetings everyone!
I know this is a fifth Monday, and we should be making up words.   However, something else has come to my attention recently that I wanted to share with you. 
Some of you have gone through this already, some maybe not yet.  Some of us, as writers will go deal with it repeatedly throughout the rest of our careers. 
Have you guessed yet?
It’s that dreaded introductory letter, or cover letter.  It doesn’t matter what for; your first book or last, a job, and internship; and it doesn’t matter how often you write it, it’s always a dilemma.
How long should it be?
The scholars say it should never be longer than one page; otherwise it’s tedious reading and the average time given a cover letter is 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
That’s what scholars say.  So I will pose a question:  the reader of that cover letter will be looking for certain information from you.  Can you honestly convey to them everything they want to know, both professionally and creatively, in one page, and still make that one page effectively set your cover letter apart from the others received advantageously?
                                              Although length is important, it should not be your focus.

Why?  and What? are your focal points as you begin a cover letter.
There was a time when students only needed to worry about their cover letters for college applications, scholarships, and internships during certain times of the year.  With online education becoming the thing now, this is no longer true and there really is no “Season” to stress the cover letter.   Are you writing yours for school?
Once you’re out of school, and drifting through the sea of adulthood, some companies have very strict processes for filling internships and jobs.  The cover letter is often step one, even before sending your resume.  Is your cover letter for a potential position?
                               What does the requesting party ask to know about you? 
It’s always tempting to tell them everything you can in the recommended one page; but they do not want your life history.  Their request for your cover letter covers specific points that they want to know up front. 
                                  There is a general five point rule for most cover letters:
1)      Basic stats—Name, location, contact information
2)      What position your cover letter applies to, and how you found out they have a position to fill.
3)      Relevant education to the position—Do you have the degrees and certificates they are asking for?
4)      Relevant skills and aptitude for picking up on the potential training for the position.
5)      Why you think you are the best fit for the position—What can you do for the company and what do you hope to gain from them.
Cover letters for schools and to present a book might vary from this list of information, in that they have additional questions to be answered and the basic five are asked differently.  
Then think about How? 
            Will you present everything they ask for in essay format or just bullet point it all?
            What about tone? 
Let’s talk about tone first. 
The receiving party of your letter will probably receive dozens, if not hundreds of letters; most of which will reflect the same information you have in yours.  Somehow, those facts need presented in such a way that the reader can almost hear you talking to them, and recognize your excitement at their opportunity.   Your delivery of the facts is the first point where you should insert just enough of your personal style to get and keep attention.
Decide how much of your own personal speaking and writing style you will incorporate into your letter.  Remember that it must present facts and be professional as well. 
Formatting is also a choice. 
 If you have not done many cover letters, it is safest to check out the templates for such in your computer software.  After you’ve done a few, and learned to adapt the template to your various needs and styles, open a blank doc in your computer and design one of your own.   I have three different ones for different needs.
Always keep a smooth flow in the text of the cover letter. 
Bullet points are ok, but they present a lackadaisical attitude, imparting the notion that you just don’t have time to structure complete sentences; and they make the letter choppy. Your cover letter should almost read like the hook and author bio on the back of your next published work. 
Start with an introduction that identifies the position you’re interested in and how you heard about it.  Your name will be in the header on the page and the signature portion of it, so avoid introducing yourself directly.  And avoid using the word “I”.   As writers, we can all come up with substitute phrasing to keep the focus on us without using the word “I” with every sentence.   You will need it; but don’t overdo it.
Then, from one paragraph to the next, with class and style, let that prospective reader know what they want to know.  Take the relevant education and tie it, with a clever phrase, into the relevant job experience.  Then make a paragraph on the types of skills you needed, learned, and mastered on the job.  Weave that into what you still need to learn, and your propensity to be able to learn it. Wrap up with the talents and attitudes you possess that make you THE perfect fit into their vacancy.  
Most computer softwares have a variety of styles for letters to choose from. 
They are themed, so as to print out, or show, borders or back grounds so that you are not sending a plain white sheet of paper with a bunch of black words on it.  Did you know that you can, in most programs, change the color scheme to fit your preferences?  Experiment with something that speaks to the person they will get to know once you are chosen for the position you’re aiming for.  Insert a picture of something that symbolizes you into the header.  OR, insert a watermark.  (I use my company logo or the cover of the book, depending on what the letter is regarding.)
All of these little details, once the body of  letter itself  is complete, will indicate initiative, pride and personality, attention to detail, and creativity not typed onto the page.  Let these things be the “I” you did not type into the body of the page.  Your body language on paper, if you will.

Finally, never just end the letter on a statement of fact or a “proper” conclusion. 
You have an objective, a favorite saying, or a moto that you live by.  Everyone does, some people just don’t know it until they actually stop to think about it.   So do that.  Take a minute to consider one statement that sums up a life philosophy that is relevant to the position you’re aiming for. 
Between the actual conclusion of the letter and your closing, type that sentence into the letter.
Close your letter. 
This is your last opportunity to make an impression.  What word will you use?
Try not to be redundant with the usual “Respectfully”, “Sincerely”, “With Gratitude”.   This closing will need to be respectful and professional.  Pull something different out of the arsenal.  Use a Thesaurus.  Look through letters you’ve received, or something a parent has received.  Give them one last word that keeps their attention before you attach your signature. 
Then: make your signature the final “POW”.  
All of you published and professional artists already understand the significance of your autograph or your mark on your work.  Anyone who has something of yours with an autograph or your mark also gets it.   Those who have not reached that point yet, it’s time to prepare for that moment.  Use a piece or two of blank paper and play with your signature until it’s something YOU think is spectacular and that speaks to who you are.  Then add that final zip to your cover letters. 
Cover letters are supposed to present facts. 
Some of those facts are blatantly asked for, others are facts that the writer imparts unintentionally as they write the letter.  ALL of the facts found within the structure and text of the letter are considered when read.   It is possible to be creative while keeping it professional and real.  The key is to view every detail of the over letter you’re working on deliberately and to make everything in that letter intentional.  Remember the whole while that it will affect a real outcome.
Until next time, keep it creatively real.

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