May 23, 2005
How to Create a Winning Cover Letter and Resume
Once you have your ultimate resume tape cut, you must pay
equal attention to your cover letter and resume. These really
do count. A News Director once told me that I was flown in
for an interview based on the cover letter alone. Got the
Let's start, though, with the written resume. It's critical.
The number one rule for creating your resume is:
Don't lie or exaggerate.
This is a very small business and you will almost surely
be caught. If you're caught, you will not get the job. Any
News Director has been around long enough to have lots of
friends and acquaintances around the country, and they'll
call to ask about you. If you get the job and youve
started work when the lie is discovered, you can be fired.
Just tell the truth.
The format we use is when we write resumes is, Work Experience,
followed by Education, then References. We sometimes add Awards,
if there's room and if they're serious honors, like Murrow
or Emmy awards. Dont bother to put your Job Objective
on the resume (if you were honest, you'd write "My objective
is to get this job"), or your hobbies or interests.
Use good-quality paper, certainly no less than 24-pound stock,
not copy paper, and white bond is the best. Ivory is all right.
Bright colors do nothing to help your chances and can hurt
them. That's a rule, in fact: cutesy or novelty means of attracting
attention really don't help your chances at all and may backfire.
Make your resume no more than one page. No matter how much
experience you have, you don't need a second page. Condense
everything; when we write resumes, we typically use one-line
bullet points for the job descriptions. ("Anchored weekday
6 and 10pm live newscasts") instead of complete sentences.
Put your references on the resume. There is no reason to
leave them off, and asking a potential employer to "request"
them just makes more work for the ND. Include three names,
preferably supervisors, not co-workers. If you don't have
enough supervisors' names, then go with the lead anchor who
liked your work or something like that.
Understand that the News Director will probably call others
who are not on your list if he knows someone at your station
or in the market. The written references are on your resume
for convenience in case the ND doesn't happen to know anyone
in the market. Obviously, you want to make sure they know
they're on the list and will say something complimentary,
and everyone knows that.
By law, when someone checks references, the person answering
is supposed to give only the answer to whether you worked
there and for how long. They're not allowed to pass judgment
on your work.
Now welcome to reality. When a News Director calls a reference,
if they're one of yours and liked you, they'll say so (Why?
Because they know you won't sue for a positive reference!).
If the ND calls a friend who knows you, same thing. If it's
your supervisor, even then, they'll usually say something
So when an ND hears, "All I can say is, Bob worked here
from April of 2000 to September of 2003," that's a warning
sign. It's not a deal-breaker, but it will definitely lead
to more research.
The cover letter is harder, because you need to tailor it
for each application. Although you must send the whole envelope
to Human Resources if so instructed, you should address the
letter to the News Director. That means you need to know the
name of the current ND. How do you get that? Call the station's
receptionist. You cannot count on websites to be current,
so don't take that chance. And never, never, never write "To
Whom it May Concern." In my experience, using either
the wrong name or that phrase will get your letter tossed,
because using them shows you were too lazy to check.
True story: I once accidentally made a spelling error on
a News Director's name on a cover letter (not a typo, I didn't
pay attention to the correct spelling and just assumed). Of
course, as soon as I mailed it, I saw what I'd done and my
heart sank. The next morning, I decided to call the ND and
admit what I'd done, that I realized my mistake, and was very
sorry. The ND laughed and said it happens a lot, and at least
I'd caught it. We talked for a while. Not long afterwards,
I was offered that job, too.
Say something specific about the market or stories of recent
interest there. Show that you have done a little research
on what's important. That goes a long way. Do not say you'll
"learn" at the shop, because your job is to explain
what you can offer, not what you'd like to take. And don't
mention salary. That can come later. Aim for a middle ground
in your style--"I am writing today in application for
your open position" yada, yada is too stiff, but "I'm
the guy you want" is too informal.
A surprising number of ND have received, and dislike, letters
saying they can stop looking because the writer is their next
Check your spelling and grammar. A misspelled word is a warning
flag--if you can't get such an important document correct,
there's no reason to believe you will be careful with daily
news stories. Use spell-check. If you can find someone else
to read you letter, that's very helpful. Don't argue when
they say they don't understand something, because it doesn't
matter what you meant...if they didn't understand something
without your translation, fix it.
Finally, it should be fairly short. Make the point and get
Oh, and don't enclose your headshot. It'll just end up on
the photographers' dartboard. Trust me on this.