So you want to work at a fashion magazine?
Keep this math in mind: every year, thousands of fashion fanatics apply to work in the industry, but among the five major fashion magazines in Canada, there are only around 86 full-time permanent editorial positions.
This means if you want to stand a chance against the scores of other applicants, your cover letter and resumé need to be perfectly on-point for each and every job you apply for.
We know writing the perfect cover letter can be tough, no matter how long you’ve been in the industry, so we want to help! Whether you’re interning for school credit (as in FLARE’s own internship program) or applying for your first magazine staff job, here are the major dos and don’ts to keep in mind.
DO address your application to the right person. Seems like a no-brainer, but you wouldn’t believe how many applicants address cover letters to the wrong name, gender or title, or to the dreaded Whom It May Concern. Never write To Whom It May Concern—it implies you’re too lazy to even perform a simple Google search. In the olden days, it may have been difficult to find out the correct department and editor, but now virtually all magazines list on their website the correct contact for each internship or job. On the off-chance that it’s not there (or that they only provide a catch-all address), call the magazine and ask who does the hiring for the department you’re applying to. Ask for the correct spelling of their name, their gender and their exact title. Then use it.
DON’T use wacky fonts, colours or formatting. Just don’t. Don’t include a photo of yourself, either. That’s weird.
DO remember that you’re writing something to apply for a writing job. Is it an editorial position? This is most likely the first piece of writing you will ever submit to the magazine. Like that old dictum goes: show, don’t tell. Instead of just stating that you have “excellent writing skills,” prove it by actually writing a smart, well-structured cover letter that showcases those skills, plus your voice and personality, all in a unique package. For starters…
DON’T be boring. Website after website may tell you that opening your cover letter by stating your name and school is a good idea—do not listen to them! The magazine industry runs on creativity. You’re not selling yourself as a creative person if your lead is “My name is Priscilla Jones and I am a student at Centennial College.” Just like in a real story, a great lead should catch the reader’s attention (and not merely restate what the email header and a quick glance at your resumé already told us).
DO craft a great lead for your cover letter. Just like you would for any story you file, you should have a grabby opener. A non sequitur? A bold declaration? A funny story? Some pithy industry commentary? Anything but your name and school, or the fact that you’re applying for a position, will do.
DON’T use clichés. Never say “I have a passion for fashion.” It’s been done. Many times.
DON’T forget to hit the most important qualifications. Some qualifications are negotiable, sure, but if there is a must-have requirement, mention in your cover letter that you do, in fact, fulfill it (and don’t apply if you don’t). For example, FLARE interns must be able to receive school credit for the internship (which is stated, in italics, on our website). There’s nothing sadder for us than to get to the end of a great cover letter, only to discover that the applicant is not actually eligible for the position.
DO use super-specific examples to showcase the goods. Cover letters tend to morph into tiresome lists of empty attributes: anyone can rattle off that they’re hardworking, they’re organized, and they have great communication skills, and just about everyone does—but very few actually include examples to back it up. This is where you can really big up your skills and accomplishments in the most specific, provable terms possible so we know you’re, y’know, not lying. Instead of saying “I have great organization skills,” talk about the time when you had to rustle up a new cover story for your student newspaper at the last second while hustling 12 fellow journalism students through the rigours of late-night production. Now that’s organization.
DON’T say you’re detail-oriented if your cover letter implies otherwise. This happens all the time. Like, aaaaaall the time. Keeping “your” and “you’re” straight counts as a detail. Spelling the name of the magazine correctly counts as a detail. Remembering to attach your resumé to your email counts as a detail. Sending it to the correct editor counts as a detail. Consistent formatting counts as a detail.
DO show that you actually read the magazine you’re applying to. Many applicants don’t bother to say anything specific about the magazine they’re applying to, making it glaringly apparent that they simply plugged a new magazine name into their boilerplate cover letter. Refer to several specific things about or in the magazine to show that you are applying for this specific internship or job at this specific magazine, rather than any other one in the field. If the department you’re applying for has a section name, drop it somewhere. Mention a recent initiative that the magazine started that you would be uniquely suited to helping with. Describe why a story inspired you to want to intern or work there. (Bonus points for picking a story from a non-recent month, proving you didn’t just lazily look through the newest issue before applying. This is what Next Issue is for—back issues galore!)
DON’T go on and on about how the position will benefit you. Supply and demand is a reality—there are far more applicants than there are publishing internships or jobs. Rather than discussing how the job would be so great for your career path (which is, well, obvious), discuss how your enthusiasm for the magazine and the industry—and the skills you’ve honed to flourish there—will benefit the magazine. The employer wants to know if you can fulfill the duties of this internship or job, if you’re a good fit for the organization, and whether you would thrive under the tutelage, guidance and mentorship we offer the magazine staffers and senior editors of tomorrow.
DO sneakily showcase your personality and voice. The problem with all those career websites and counsellors is that they’re catering to people applying for much more conservative workplaces and jobs (like, say, finance or science). As mentioned earlier, magazines are looking for the most creative people with the most vibrant, interesting personalities to make the best content possible. Everyone says they love fashion or beauty or entertainment, but—here’s that old chestnut again—you need to actually show that you do. The trick is to include a little bit about yourself in a fun, creative way while simultaneously selling yourself as an asset to the magazine. For example, if you love pop music, you could say something like, “I may pretend my iPod is filled with the most obscure, Pitchfork-approved art-rock bands, but in truth it’s bursting with the earwormiest Taylor, Beyoncé and Katy jams; thankfully, my shameful pop-queen IQ means I would be able to pitch click-baity music galleries for FLARE.com as well as research all the up-and-coming electro-pop treasures for in-book.” We get stacks and stacks of applications and, as cheesy as it sounds, one of the easiest ways to really stand out is to be yourself and really show us who you are and what your voice is. Publishing is an industry of voices—how will we know the next great one if it’s buried in boring ol’ cover letter snooziness?
DON’T be afraid to be a little casual. This is a delicate balance. You don’t want to be overly familiar, but you don’t want to be too stiff, either. Instead of mimicking the dusty business-speak in online cover letter templates, loosen up a little and match the tone of the magazine and website. Is it a little funny? A little sassy? This is far more likely to catch their attention than being super-formal. (That said, do not ever use text shorthand.)
DO keep your cover letter short-ish. It’s good to include a little bit about yourself, a bit about the magazine (to prove your knowledge), and a bit about your skills and why they’re a tight fit with the magazine and what it’s doing these days—but avoid a TLDR situation (editors are busy people). Stick to about two-thirds of a page, give or take.
DO cut your resumé in half. Unless you’ve been working in the industry for 10 years, your resumé does not need to be longer than one page. Ever. A lot of typical resumé formalities aren’t actually useful to employers: your objective (which should be obvious anyway), a highlights section, a list of generic skills or interests (you typed up a cover letter, so let’s assume you know how to use Microsoft Word), any job or volunteer experience that doesn’t relate to the position, and the “references available upon request” line. (Everyone knows that references are available upon request, and we only need to see ’em after the second—or third—interview.)
DON’T forget to sell yourself. Don’t just list your duties at previous jobs. Highlight specific triumphs, whether it was starting a lauded new style section at your school newspaper, hitting 10,000 clicks a month on your movie blog, or building your brand on Twitter with 10 scheduled beauty-related tweets a day to your 5,000 followers.
DON’T forget to use spell-check. Then check for errors yourself. Then get someone else to check. The vast majority of cover letters and resumés we get have mistakes in them. Spell-check does not catch most grammar mistakes, or even all spelling mistakes. Check it, check it again, and check it a third time, and have a friend be a fresh set of eyes. You don’t want to be one of the “attention to detail” people, do you?
DO keep the formatting simple. Paste your cover letter in the body of your email. State somewhere that you’re attaching your cover letter and resumé as a PDF. (Yes, both in a single PDF. Most editors don’t want to have to open two files. Also: Microsoft Word can be screwy, so always go with a PDF.) Include your name in the email header. Don’t forget to actually attach the PDF.
DON’T call to follow up. Most editors—especially younger ones—absolutely hate getting phone calls. Only follow up via email if absolutely necessary.
Next up: We’ll tell you how to ace that fashion magazine job interview!