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Home > Publications > Quill > Strong cover letter, résumé keys to getting noticed


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Thursday, March 30, 2006
Strong cover letter, résumé keys to getting noticed

By Holly Fisher

Leaving the security of college and entering the job market is intimidating. You’re putting together a résumé, a cover letter and talking to people with a lifetime of experience in the journalism business.

But taking a little time to fine-tune your résumé, think about your short- and long-term goals and edit your cover letter can go a long way toward helping you get your foot in the door.

Your résumé and cover letter are your chance to make a solid first impression. Showcase your writing skills and demonstrate a level of professionalism that will make your job packet stand out from the rest.

Crafting a cover letter

Read it several times, looking for typos and misspellings. Use AP style and proper grammar. Let the hiring manager know you have a firm grasp on the written word.

Make sure your letter is addressed to the appropriate person and that person’s name and title are correct, along with the name of the media outlet. Misspelling a name will guarantee your résumé lands in the trash.

Keep your cover letter short, but powerful. Explain why you want to work for this particular media company. Many candidates look good on paper and have solid résumés, so help the person doing the hiring see why you are the perfect fit for this job.

Tailor your cover letter to the job opening. Don’t just change the date and print out a generic letter to accompany your job packet. Do some research on the company and the town; demonstrate you know how to glean at least the basic facts.

Writing a résumé

Like your cover letter, read your résumé several times to catch typos and misspellings. Use AP style and proper grammar.

Keep your résumé short. If you’re relatively new in your career, your résumé should be one page.

Customize your résumé for the position. Based on the job you’re seeking, you may want to move professional experience to the top and put education second. Think about the skills and experiences you have that make you an ideal candidate for this job.

If you’re just starting out and the experience section is small, include your job at the local pizza joint or Starbucks. Those jobs may not be related directly to journalism, but they are life experiences that allowed you to interact with people and develop a new skill set.

Include references, not the lazy “references available on request” line. Don’t make the hiring manager work to research your background; provide names and contact information for at least three references.

Don’t hesitate to ask others for advice. That’s one of the great benefits of SPJ — you have more than 9,000 colleagues who can offer feedback on your résumé or provide job-hunting advice.

But before you send off an e-mail to a professional colleague, do some homework. Almost all experienced professionals are willing to help those just getting started in their careers, but they expect you to have done some legwork on your own.

Sending specific questions or asking a colleague to critique your résumé demonstrates you’ve put some effort into your own job hunt.

A final word of advice: E-mail is a wonderful communication tool, but it has created a generation of sloppy writers. With instant messaging, e-mail and text messages via cell phones, the tendency is to use abbreviations and forgo capitalization and punctuation. It’s a nasty habit to develop.

Get into the practice of using proper grammar, punctuation and spelling.


Holly Fisher is the Region 3 director and supplements editor for the Charleston Regional Business Journal in South Carolina. For more information about Generation J, a SPJ committee focused on young professionals, contact her at hfisher@spj.org or at (843) 849-3125.

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