Why Most People Stink at Cover Letters and How You Can Be Better – Work in Sports podcast E064

Hiring managers are tired of your boring cover letter. Listen in to this podcast to break the cover letter formula and start writing in a way people want to read.

Hi everybody I’m Brian Clapp Director of Content for WorkinSports.com and this is the WorkinSports podcast…

It’s time to talk about cover letters.

Everybody’s good friend James Ebo from our private Facebook group posted a question this week:

I’ll admit that one of the things I struggle with when applying for any job is cover letters. I know that I’m supposed to tailor my cover letter to the specific job I’m applying for, but it’s more of the wording is where my issues tend to be. Can anyone here give their viewpoints as to how you write cover letters?

The reason I called James everyone’s good friend is because he’s one of the most active and thoughtful contributors on our private Facebook group—James is a game day ambassador for the Philadelphia Eagles, and as a born and bred patriots fan you think I’d gravitate away from him based on recent history… but he’s an easy guy to give a thumbs up to, even when he’s posting multiple pictures next to the Lombardi trophy.  Your Sports Career Questions Answered

Before I answer James question – you know what you should do, yes you, you should join our private facebook group – the only thing that makes it private is that you have to answer a few easy questions to get in, and I just do that to keep out the trolls and russian bots. Search for the Work in Sports podcast on facebook, answer my three questions – maybe mention how much you love the podcast and trust me, you’re my new best friend.

There are about 250 people in there right now, and it’s a great community of sports career minded people – which if you are listening, I imagine you are too.

Anyway lets get to James’ question – because I’m sure many of you have had the same one.

There are so many disparate viewpoints on cover letters and their importance, but even with all of those viewpoints and approaches 99% of all cover letters look and feel the same. BORING!

You know how you hear that employers don’t read cover letters anymore – it’s because they all look and feel the same!

It’s time for a heart to heart here everyone – DO NOT just put your resume into sentence form and call that a cover letter. That approach will not work. It will get ripped off and thrown away.

Your cover letter is your chance to show some of who you are, show a little panache, a little personality. I don’t mean be snarky sports trash talker or print it out on pink paper… I mean who the heck are you?

There is no perfect cover letter format

There is no perfect format, because we don’t know the personality of the person reading it, so I’m going to give you a few standards you should abide by and a few approaches that I feel pretty darn confident work well.

Let’s start with the standards – and by the way, I am not going to give you some crap about – in paragraph 1 introduce yourself, in paragraph two cite how your skills line up against the job description, in paragraph three conclude with why you are a good match.

That is formulaic, and I don’t want you to be formulaic – I want you to be you. Do you! No one else can, it’s your unique advantage – be yourself. You may include all of those things in your cover letter, but you have to do it in an unchained manner where you show your true colors.

The Standards of a Good Sports Industry Cover Letter

1: I already alluded to one – and this is the biggest issue – people often think, I’ll just recap my resume into a paragraph form and call it good.

You know what I’d call that – crappy use of space.

You have such a limited time to make an impression and a little bit of space to make that impression – do not waste it by being repetitive. Your resume will speak for itself. If you have followed Don Costante, Senior Director of Game presentation for the Kansas City Royals and our expert guest just a few weeks back when he said “Your resume should be the single best document you have ever created” I’m going to assume you’ve got that thing dialed in.

Now the cover letter is another piece of potential impression forming material you provide. It can and should tell something outside the resume.

It’s a tool, use it wisely.

2: So what should you write? If you ask me, you should tell a story about you. And that can take on many forms. Answer the why. Why are you here applying? Why are you a fit? Why are you the best candidate?

And do these things in story form.

For example – if I was applying for a VP of Content Marketing job at NBC Sports Philadelphia (yes a real job on our site, that actually looked pretty cool but I’m not going to apply for)

I’d probably tell a story from my experience about hitting a deadline when all hell was breaking loose. Or managing my team through a crisis, or handling staff morale.

And do not tell me you don’t have an experience worth sharing — I don’t care if you are telling a story about helping an old lady while working at the mall and tying that into a sales job or a customer experience role – you have some experience, pull from it, tell a story, craft a narrative that will make someone notice.

3: Before you get started writing – do some research into the company and its culture. The reason here is, you want a vibe for the company’s personality, so you can cater your writing to fit that personality. Let’s say they are a loose, relaxed, jeans wearing, tattoo sleeve showing sports marketing agency and you write some buttoned up robotic cover letter – right away the hipster with his top button buttoned on his shirt and 7-inch beard is going to dismiss you because you don’t fit.

Obviously, this is a dramatic example – but you want your writing to fit the tone of the business.

4: Know the job you are applying for and associate a tone to the job. If it’s a sales or marketing job you may write a more persuasive cover letter than if you were working in community relations, which may be more heart stringy. Not a word, but you get my meaning. If you are applying for a job you will manage people, focus on your experience or overcoming an objection, or leadership in times of trouble. The job matters.

5: Yes, you have to write a unique cover letter for each job. You can steal pieces from other one’s you have written, but yes you have to put in that work.

Bonus tip –

1: Every employer wants to think they are going to hire someone under them who can solve or fix problems, rather than create or make them.

Everything you write and communicate should give off the impression that you put an emphasis on finding solutions, not dropping more unsolved problems on their desk.

But be subtle about it. Don’t ram it out there saying “I promise to make your job easier” That’s lame.

Mention you have a great eye for detail. Talk about being resolution based. Mention a potential workplace crisis you were able to avert. Mention a time you took over full control of the operation when the boss was out of town and handled business.

There are ways to get the message out there that you can solve problems – do it.

Examples of Cover Letter Techniques That Work

Let’s talk some examples.

1: I have a friend who is VP of sales for a pretty major sports team. And no he hasn’t been a guest yet, so don’t start guessing it must be Carl Manteau Sr Director of Group Sales for the Milwaukee Bucks, or next weeks guest Mike Judge, Recruiter and Manager of Inside Sales for the Cleveland Browns.

No, this is another dude.

He told me a story once about the greatest cover letter he ever received.

It was just two sentences long.

I’m paraphrasing but it was something like – “As the lead sales person for (company X) I was given the challenge of selling our electronic product in a predominantly Amish region of the country.

After successfully achieving that task I felt confident I could sell or do anything and what I’d like to do is sell premium tickets with you.”

Now, I’m not saying everyone can do this – but I’m sorry, that is awesome. It’s confident, it gets a message across that this is a determined person, it’s short and it leans into the job and a want to achieve.

2: Consider focusing on a trend in the industry related to the position. If it’s a job in the sports media, maybe you start with something like “Many traditional sports journalists struggle with the ability to communicate in new formats, a trend I have embraced over my career and push myself to explore.”

Then go into a story of how you grew twitter followers on your last job.

Or if it’s a job in sales – address declining broadcast media rights deals and how that places the impact on filling all the seats in the stadium to generate revenue.

You want to show you know the business.

3: Draw attention to a red flag on your resume.

Got this one once and it worked really well on me.

A person took two years off, so they had a big gap on their resume, they knew they would be asked about it, so they handled it first in the cover letter.

Again it was something like “Before you continue on to my resume, let me explain what you are certain to notice – between 2009-2011 I was not working. While this gap may cause you alarm, I’m here to explain it was for good reason. My wife was sick, so I stayed home to take care of my kids and her. It was a tough stretch of time, but I don’t regret it in the least.

And then go into the rest of your story.

Maybe it’s that most of your experience is not in the sports industry – well, head that off immediately. Don’t let it fester or let someone wonder – handle the objection up front like Eminem in 8Mile.

4: Nail the intro paragraph

“If you write I am writing today to apply for your open position of Marketing Coordinator.”

To hell with you. Any hiring manager worth their job will stop reading immediately.

Give it some juice.

Remember sports are about passion – so how’s this – I just wrote this about 20 minutes ago pretending I was applying for a job with the Red Sox so I know you can do even better:

Dear Mr. Dombrowski,

I pretty much spent my childhood in the bleacher seats at Fenway with my dad, and despite all of that attendance and attention, I still have never caught a home run at the park. But that passion for the team and the game of baseball hasn’t waned no matter how far away I am now from my childhood.

Over the past 20 years I’ve earned my masters in sports management, led large teams in various marketing initiatives and found myself always dreaming of a time I can get back to baseball. Which is what led me here, to you, the Boston Red Sox, my dream organization.

Passion Works!

There is a lot in here, but I hope this gets you down the right path – but I leave you with this – don’t be formulaic, don’t sound like everyone else, sound like you and connect with that other person who may be reading.

That’s it, I’m Brian

Why Most People Stink at Cover Letters and How You Can Be Better - Work in Sports podcast E064
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Why Most People Stink at Cover Letters and How You Can Be Better - Work in Sports podcast E064
Cover letters are still important, if you do them right. We have a bunch of tips to help you break the formula and connect on your cover letter.
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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

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