Hunting under cover: or, how to write your way into work

June 7, 2011

I’ve been writing a lot of cover letters and personal statements, and CV versions) lately, so this video really spoke to me today.It’s worth watching it a few times, if you;re at all in the cover letter zone, to note how economically it covers its bases. It’s modest, yet confident and assertive. It has wit and humour, but isn’t crass or off-topic. It covers experience in detail, as well as what skills the writer could bring to the table. It is informal but not egotistical or unprofessional. In its making, it demonstrates the skills it describes.

This last one is a particular nightmare for a writer! A cover letter or CV that’s anything less than mindblowing just lets you down professionally. And I see a few of these, as we’ve  also been receiving quite a few speculative approaches at work; there’s been a big restructure (hence the job search), and it’s amazing how word gets out.

Reading these letters, which are effectively angling for my job, is a great way of seeing what to do and not do in a speculative approach. I can see, for example, that if you write in your cover letter that you want to move your career into the sustainability sector – having identified an opening in a feature on a sustainability company in the Sunday Times – and if your CV contains no reference at all to anything even remotely connected to the green sector – you should really say something about why you want to work in it. Why you’re interested in it. Or what you think you could bring to it. Or how your previous work relates to it. Or prepared you for it. Or what you think your transferrable skills are. What’s in it for them, the employer. Or, really, anything.

As the old saying goes, ‘Who feels it knows it’. I’m lucky to get to read these examples of how not to do it, just as I have to do it. But does it really make it any easier? As with anything you ever write, you have to get into the head of the recipient, imagining what they want to know about. And, let’s face it: if you are writing a speculative letter, they didn’t want to know about anything. Until three seconds ago they’d never heard of you and were wondering how long till they could make a cup of tea. Why do they want to keep reading?

The real trick, I think, is to keep the freshness of spirit of this video, while writing to each company in a manner appropriate to the recipient, in his or her own language. (A doddle, then! And as you can see, I have a magic wand.)

In fact, right now the entire Text Pixel family is looking for work. Talk about living the Zeitgeist! The Text Pixie herself, if that’s me, is in a temporary contract for two more months, and now (as stated above) looking for a new role in corporate communications & PR.

The Text Pixel daughter is looking for a Saturday job, now her exams are finished.

The eldest son, a budding web design genius, has just handed in his final project for his second year in digital media at London College of Communications and is looking for work in an agency until October.

His girlfriend, a lovely, happy, friendly, experienced girl who can pull a mean pint, is looking for work in a pub.

And the Text Pixel boyfriend, a photographer who has been freelance his whole life, is looking for a way to pay his bills – as a portfolio (however impressive) won’t do that. He’s a great writer too but has never done it corporately. What to do? He is far from being alone; the streets and jobcentres are flooded with people his age who have just found that their world no longer exists. Everyone is job-hunting and the competition is fierce. There is no disgrace in having to find yourself afresh in your forties, but it is a challenge.

His approach is to create a sort of living portfolio, in the form of a blog that utilises his editorial and curatorial skills, showing that he can identify a niche, build a project, do picture research and editing and copywriting and negotiations, gain contributors (both photographers and writers), grow an audience, and keep it all going. It’s unlikely to land him an actual job; but it keeps his hand in, gives him a calling card, and is helping to develop new networks.

Anyway, I have written three of the CVs in question – all wildly different – and was asked for comment on the young designer’s portfolio site. (I think it’s great, but at the time of writing this it needs a little biography page. Perhaps along the lines of the video above. And he’s got a great thing going with that font at the top.) He was worried about not having much professional experience, but I’ve assured him that there’s no shame in being young, as long as you are (like him) bright and talented and full of energy and promise. Everyone has to start somewhere. The main thing is that the employer can see what you’re like, and what you can bring to the table.

So now we’ve got two great portfolio sites and a blog that’s already gaining critical attention; and I’ve linked in and monstered and joined up and updated, and my own website is now pretty much up-to-date. And we’re all researching companies to write to.

So we’ve got the material. We just have to do something with it. We have to go out there and hunt, under cover.

Cover letters, that is. I’m starting with the one at the top – and my magic wand.


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