By Lynn Walsh | October 25th, 2011
By: Mike Brannen
You’re a cub reporter, months away from graduating with a journalism degree, and are ready to work in the “real world” (ironic the “real world” gets quotations as if it’s a fictional thing!). You’ve got your top cities and news outlets picked out. It’s time to convince them to hire you. At this stage, your resume lacks years of experience. Sure you’ve padded it with internships, but that’s not going to impress me, or the people who are actually going to hire you. Chances are, you have to compete against someone who has more experience than you. But you have an opportunity to outshine them, by delivering a knock-them-out-of-their-seat cover letter.
A resume tells me what you’ve done. A cover letter tells me who you are. A resume shows me what you’ve accomplished before; your cover letter shows me what you are going to do next. If I’m the person hiring you, I need to get an idea that your personality, and what you believe in, will benefit my newsroom.
I believe that I got my first job, in Seattle, and right out of school, because I had a strong cover letter. My current Executive Producer seemed to like it enough to call me with a job opening after I sent it to him.
There are two ways to frame your cover letter: tell a story, or tell your creed.
A true journalist naturally embellishes a bit. We do it out of necessity to grab the attention of viewers and readers. It’s time to put those skills to work in your cover letter.
Take some time to think about a day where you kicked butt on the job, or nailed a big story. Describe what you did and why each step was important.
You must weave into your story a way to “brag” about your skills. By “brag,” describe a challenging experience, but not blatantly mention how difficult it was. Let the accomplishment speak for itself.
Sell your reader on why you have a cool job and why it beats anything else.
I would avoid the cliché “I remember the day I knew I wanted to be a reporter” story. Everybody writes that one. As an employer, I don’t care what got you into the business; I want to know what’s keeping you in it.
I wrote mine in this fashion. I detailed what I think are the three main elements of delivering TV news (Live, Local, Now). This formula reveals your values, your news judgment, and your decision-making process.
Your creed is your take on what’s wrong or right with journalism; things you want to see improved, or eliminated. You don’t need an explanation for the things you believe in, at least not in the letter. You probably will once you get to the interview part.
I think the creed is more of what employers want to read about. They can distinguish if the applicant is worthwhile, or meant for the garbage pile.
The creed letter is a bit riskier because what you believe in might not fit the newsroom personality. But, if you’ve done your research, and your letter is tailored to the station’s mission, then you are in a good position for a future interview.
Overall, the type of letter you write should be dictated by the job you want. A story tells me about you. A creed tells me your beliefs.
For either one, make the first line the strongest one in the entire letter. Write it so you know the reader wants to know what comes next. It should be a sentence that no one in history has ever written before, or will ever write again.
Be bold. Be creative. Be original.
Mike Brannen is a morning newscast producer for KIRO7, the CBS affiliate in Seattle. He recently received a Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia and completed his thesis, Motivational Use of Twitter. He previously worked multiple positions at KOMU-TV in Columbia, Missouri during for four years. You can follow him on Twitter: @MikeBrannen