Monday, July 4, 2011

To use a cover letter or not...

A recent blog, painting a grim picture of the need for cover letters by David Gaspin, formerly head of talent acquisition for Conde Nast got a lot of play in the past week.

At first I was taken a back in reading a quote from Gaspin in Media Jobs Daily: “9 out of 10 recruiters that I know don’t read them, and 10 out of 10 recruiters that I know don’t pass them along to hiring managers….”

After saying something like “whah, whah, what!!??”, I visited Mr. Gaspin’s blog site and found that after condemning cover letters – he actually had some sound advice.

From his Blog:
1. Cover letters don’t matter.
2. A cover letter will never get you a job, but it can certainly lose you one.

Hmmm. I disagree with point #1, but see the truth in point #2. As someone who has read many cover letters (as a hiring manager), I can tell you that a poorly written cover letter will often deflate a strong resume. Usually the problem is that the writer either did not understand the purpose of a cover letter (so, the focus was missed), rushed in writing it (and so, used poor grammar), used it as a tool in walking the reader through every detail of their experience (which is best used in an interview conversation) or was repetitive (a longer version of their resume.

Here’s great advice from Gaspin on making cover letters better:
1. Address it to the correct company. Please.
2. Keep it brief. No more than a couple of well thought out paragraphs.
3. Outline two things: why you want the job and why you’re right for the job.
4. Don’t repeat your resume. They’ve already read that.
5. Try to keep it conversational – this is your chance to show your personality.
6. Don’t show too much personality. Failed attempts at humor are deadly in cover letters.
7. If your personality sucks, ignore #6 and stick to a very business-like tone.
8. Read it out loud. If it doesn’t sound good out loud, it doesn’t look good in writing.
9. Proofread it. Check for spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure. Spellcheck is your worst enemy. Just because there are no red squiggly lines doesn’t mean it’s right.
10. Proofread it. Again. You missed something the first time. Trust me.

Gaspin’s blog:

So, while the headline on articles written about Gaspin’s blog on cover letters were a little bit on the insignificance of them….I’d say – the blog is more about the pitfalls of a poorly written one.

I will add that some candidates should consider writing a biography of their experience. It reinforces and elaborates the line items in your resume and keeps you from adding information in your cover letter that shouldn’t be there. Similarly to the advice on resumes and cover letters – keep it brief and on point. One to three paragraphs for each position you outlined in your resume and be sure to use specific examples.

For example (for the position of News Director/Vice President):
In my resume…..
• Production: Administered the mission and tactical operations of a multiplatform local content organization (News, Entertainment, Commercial).
• Marketing: Lead the strategic development of all viewer-focused marketing to build the Telemundo 47 brand and drive audience tune-in/usage of its various platforms.
• Sales: Conducted innovative multiplatform initiatives to support Sales team in generating revenue (product integration, promotions and sponsorships).
• Network: Conceptualized the production of content relevant to a national audience for News, Sports and Entertainment Programming.
• Programming: Authored long format specials (domestic, international), assembled the production team and pitched new revenue making packages.
• Operations: Directed the investing and implementation of new technology to improve on-air product, comply with operational financial goals and enhance the skills of personnel

In my biography….
As Vice President of News for NBC Universal’s Spanish language television station Telemundo 47, Balta turned a traditional broadcast news operation into a multiple platform content center that produces news, entertainment, specials and commercial productions for major markets in the U.S. and Central and South America.

In converting WNJU into a multifaceted production center, Mr. Balta was key in meeting the operational targets of a big media company to meet the challenges of a changing industry and economy. In Sales, he was instrumental in the creation of new streams of revenue as well as maintaining current clients. He implemented new marketing tools that strengthened T47’s brand. Mr. Balta’s investment of new technology and training improved the station’s product and employee skills.

Specific to his duties as News Director, Balta lead a team of more than 80 journalists in the planning, promoting and production of newscasts (morning to late evening, seven days a week) which were recognized with multiple nominations by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and (among many of the awards) achieved 3 “Emmys” for “Best Local Newscast” (out of the 7 consecutive nominations).

In the end, be sure you understand the purpose of (resumes, cover letters, bios) and how to focus them properly in your strategic job search.
It’s never a “one size fits all”. When you take your time (as you should) in properly writing your story – it shows.

As always, please feel free to ask questions and leave your feedback.



  1. Why did you choose to refer to use third person when referring to yourself in your cover letter?

  2. ^^^ Whoa, comp totally botched my question! I'll try again.

    Why did you choose to use the third person when referring to yourself in your cover letter?

  3. Hello Victoria.
    A biography is always written in the "third person" or else it would be an autobiography. Seriously..the conventional thinking is that writing in the third person eliminates any type of conceitedness that writing in first person and having to use “I” again and again.

  4. Cover letters allow you to express the things and points in your own words that you can not mention directly in your resume..

    CV Cover Letters

  5. Cover latter is an important factor for making job hunting successful. It must be in appropriate format and should convey clear massage to reader.

    Jobs in New Zealand

  6. Cover letter is important for briefing about right candidate for right job.