7 Ways to Not Get the Writing Gig

Cover letter mistakes you should avoid at all costs

dan brotzel
May 22, 2014 · 5 min read
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Photo by Marten Newhall on Unsplash

When assessing potential candidates to interview for a content role, employers will always look closely at things like the covering email or LinkedIn summary that accompanies the CV.

These little self-promotional messages are notoriously difficult to get right. But they really, matter because that email or intro paragraph is your opportunity to sell yourself — to get across why you’re right for the role, how you stand out from the crowd, and why your application deserves to be taken further.

In short, the covering message is a critical piece of content self-marketing. Like any piece of content marketing, it needs to both inform and engage. If you can’t make a good first impression promoting yourself, how will you manage to do it for a client?

So here, on the basis of learning by bad example, are seven ways not to apply for a content role. For each I’ve added a few thoughts about why it doesn’t work and a key takeaway or two.

Bad Example 1: Tone of Voice Overload

Hey! So I had a great chat with one of your colleagues not so long ago (name of Joe I think? Lovely man anyhow) and he whizzed me over your way (you lucky old so-and-so). So naturally I thought, why not run Dan through a few of my creds and see if I can’t wow/threaten/blackmail him into meeting up for a quick cuppa to discuss maybe working together? So — deep breath — let’s get to it… (etc etc).

But you don’t get to it, do you? You go right round the houses, with lots of self-conscious informality and backstory that isn’t really of value to someone who probably has quite a few such emails to read and has never even met you.

Takeaway: Get to the point. Respect your recipient’s time. Don’t overdo the tone.

Bad Example 2: One Size Fits All

Dear content director/creative director/head of copy


To whom it may concern…

So now you’ve gone from over-familiarity (pretending to know someone you don’t) to a hopelessly generic approach (not even bothering to find out the name of the person you’re applying to).

This sort of one-size-fits-all approach just comes over as lazy and unprofessional. Great content makes the recipient think and feel it was written for them.

Takeaway: Personalise every job application.

Bad Example 3: Can I Borrow Your Career?

I’ve recently undergone a career change and, following a creativity workshop, digital looks like an interesting avenue for me. OK, so my 20 years in estate agency and HR consultancy, plus the odd spot of acting aren’t the natural progression, but sometimes the brightest lights hide under the most unlikely bushels…

The thing about copywriting or content strategy is that it’s a career, like acting or HR. It takes time and aptitude and experience to be any good at it.

So candidates who imply that they can just pick it up, or that this digital stuff is an easy game to play till their real work picks up again, tend not to be well received.

Takeaway: If you want to change careers, you have to be prepared to do the legwork. Get some work experience, build up your contacts, study the market. Don’t expect to get much work off people whose jobs you don’t take seriously.

Bad Example 4: The Creative Approach

For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with the possibilities of verbal expression. Words are my DNA. I love to weave trails of meaning across the tapestry of infinity. And so, ever since I could, I have written — autobiographical fragments, experimental fairy tales, slasher novellas, an epic bildungsroman… and, of course, lots and lots of engaging and relevant SEO content! To each task I bring the same attention to detail, the same creative dynamism, the same burning intensity of purpose.

Frustrated creative writers don’t always make the best content marketers. There is plenty of creativity in content, of course, but it’s less about expressing your inner essence and more about being creative on behalf of your clients and working magic within constraints: coming up with interesting editorial ideas about difficult b2b subjects, say, or trying to compress a white paper’s message into a compelling tweet.

Takeaway: Dial down the creative writing ambitions and showcase your ability to meet a difficult brief, deal with clients, build out an editorial calendar. If that’s not your cup of tea, then maybe this is the wrong career for you?

Bad Example 5: The Impenetrable Slab

Hello, I’m a digital copywriter and content strategist with nine years’ experience working across a wide range of sectors and subject areas — including b2b, b2c, not-for-profit and Government departments. After a couple of years in online PR, where I gained my spurs as a writer of killer press releases, I joined a digital marketing start-up as their all-singing, all-dancing go-to content guru. I developed a series of workshops to support clients in developing the writing skills of their own teams, wrote everything from white papers and e-books to video scripts and e-crm campaigns, and was a frequent speaker on all things content at industry events. Five years ago, I took the plunge to go freelance and have broadened my experience base even further…

One of the basic lessons of digital copywriting is to avoid the ‘wall of words’. It’s hard to see how someone could have worked so long in digital without having come across chunking, or bullets and bold, or content formats…

Takeaway: Match your message to your medium. How about “Five Reasons You Should Hire Me”?

Bad Example 6: Sorry Seems to be the Easiest Word

Hey, I don’t know if you remember me but we once met at a conference and you said to send in my CV. I realise you’re probably really busy and bombarded non-stop with CVs, and I know you have a great team in place already, but I thought I could share my details with you just on the off chance that something might come that might possibly be a good match for my skillset.

No one likes an overly pushy person, but this is your one moment to promote your wares. Copywriters use words to drive conversions. If you don’t sound confident about your skills, how do you expect anyone else to believe in you?

Takeaway: Think hard about the tone of your message. Worried about sounding arrogant? Go for calm and confident instead. Don’t feel confident? Use your writing skills to pretend otherwise.

Bad example 7: Misteaks, I’ve made a few…

I’m a freelance copyeditor and writer looking for a new roll in a content marketing agency like yours…

Not the best place to plant a howling typo! Attention to detail and quality control are crucial at this high-stakes moment.

Takeaway: Check your words. Run them past another pair of eyes, check out the preview. Then check again.

Five Tips For Your Covering Letter

  • Keep it brief and purposeful. Pick out a few key highlights.
  • Match your experience to the position. Show you’ve thought about the company and the role.
  • Be respectful and realistic about your recipient’s time. Make it easy for people to contact you.
  • Focus on facts and company names rather than personal mission statements.
  • Demonstrate your understanding of digital and content marketing best practices in what you write and how you present your words.

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dan brotzel

Written by

Funny-sad author | Hotel du Jack, @SandstonePress; Kitten on a Fatberg, @unbounders | Pushcart, Slackjaw, Pithead Chapel, X-Ray, Tiny Molecules, Ellipsis, Spelk

Better Marketing

Marketing advice and case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and effectively.

dan brotzel

Written by

Funny-sad author | Hotel du Jack, @SandstonePress; Kitten on a Fatberg, @unbounders | Pushcart, Slackjaw, Pithead Chapel, X-Ray, Tiny Molecules, Ellipsis, Spelk

Better Marketing

Marketing advice and case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and effectively.

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