Freelance Writing Job Hunting Advice: What NOT to Do When Submitting a Cover Letter for a Job/Gig

When I was recruiting, I always advised applicants to submit cover letters only on request, specifically in instances of switching from one field to another (therefore the need to explain what skills you think are transferable) and/or to explain gaps in time.

HOWEVER, as the search for a job/freelance writing gig drags on, a well-written cover letter can be just the trick to get your foot in the door. Following are some guidelines to make yours stand out.

1. DO NOT assume that you can lead the horse to water and he will automatically drink.

To explain, when I was recruiting, many applicants would send in the same cover letter and just change the name of the position for which they were applying. This does little to explain how you are best suited for a particular assignment.

You wouldn’t believe how many hiring managers can’t make the connection between what you’ve done before and the position for which they are hiring.

One possible explanation is that there are many facets of the editorial industry and they all tend to operate differently. Eg, ad agencies are organized and operate differently than magazines, which are different from nonprofits, which are different from tech firms, etc.

Freelance Writer Job Hunting Mistakes to AvoidSo take the time to lay out for the prospective employer exactly how your skills are transferable; how they make you an ideal fit.

If an employer has requested a cover letter, believe me, they read them. Make this work to your benefit by leading the reader gently through your credentials and how you are best suited for the assignment.

Advice for Freelancers: If you are just starting to freelance, it is particularly important to highlight how duties you performed in your full-time position can benefit an employer.

Don’t state that you are just starting to freelance, simply highlight how your skills are relevant to the position at hand.

2. DO NOT submit a general cover letter

Underscore 2-3 major requirements of the job for which you are applying. One good tip is to take the wording directly from the job description and outline how you did that exact thing in your last/current position. This spoon feeds the reader of your cover letter your credentials in their words.

It’s a subliminal technique that works because the reader instinctively feels that you “get” what the job is all about; you understand what the position entails. At the very least, it keeps your credentials out of the slush pile.

Advice for Freelancers: Ask yourself why this firm uses freelancers and let them know exactly how they can benefit from your experience. Take wording from their website, sales materials, etc., so they get the feeling that you know/can relate to their wants/needs/desires.

3. DO NOT ramble on and on

In the majority of cases, a cover letter should be one page. Your resume gives the nitty gritty details; your cover letter is what makes them want to read further.

Advice for Freelancers: You would write an introductory/sales letter. Keep it brief and attach a brochure or a professional profile; offer to show them your portfolio and/or direct them to your website for more detailed info.

Something else to keep in mind: When you are submitting samples (clips, articles, photos, etc.), more is not better. Send in exactly what the job seeker requests. Sending in piles of material only frustrates the screening process and could get your submission sent to the slush pile almost immediately.

This is simply because there are so many applications to wade through when considering freelancers for an assignment that those who don’t follow specific instructions are almost immediately weeded out as potential candidates.

Trust me, I know. I owned an editorial staffing agency in New York City for 8 years and recruited hundreds of editorial professionals like freelance writers for major companies like Random House, McGraw-Hill, McKinsey & Company, etc.

Related Post: Read more on what to do — and what not to do — when applying for freelance writing jobs in Freelance Freelance Writer Job Hunting Mistakes to Avoid: Are You Doing Any of These? You Could be Losing Gigs.

Good luck when applying!

Note: When this post was originally published in 2005, it was originally entitled “What NOT to do when Submitting a Cover/Intro Letter for a Job/Freelance Assignment”. It was retitled in 2016 when it was updated and republished.

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