Seven tips for writing letters to the editor that can help you get a job

This is a tough job market. Quite a few of my former students who graduated in May are pursuing leads to finding a job in the media (but other options are being considered, too).

They are updating their resumes, preparing their portfolios in print and digital forms, checking job postings (from classified ads to job listings on mediabistro.com), and using LinkedIn and Facebook as part of their networking.

Another opportunity job seeks can use is writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper or magazine.

Letters to the editor, if well written and strategically written, can provide a very visible route to reach potential employers.

1. Be selective in what topic you write about.

You want to write about a topic that really connects to you – your professional training and your career goals. You don’t want to just express your view (even an informed and well-worded view) on the war in Afghanistan or the government in Egypt, for example, if you aren’t seeking a job in government policy.

If you are interested in getting a job in public relations in the health care industry, write a letter related to a story written by the newspaper on health care reform. If you are interested in being a writer about nutrition, write a letter to the editor of a food-related magazine.

Newspapers and magazines receive many more letters than they can publish. Typically, they are looking for letters on topics that will be of interest to their readers and that connect with their own coverage.

2. Remember that timing is critical.

Your best chance of getting a letter published is when you write on a topic the newspaper or magazine has just written about – a news or feature story or an editorial or column. The New York Times, for example, includes in its letters guidelines that the letter “must refer to an article that has appeared in the last seven days.”

You can to have a well-research and well-written letter, but timing is of the essence. With the advent of email, your letter needs to be sent as quickly as possible. Remember that the newspaper or magazine will select only a few letters to represent the views on that topic. So if your letter arrives after another letter has addressed your view, your letter, even if better written, most likely will not be published.

3. Read the directions for letters to the editor.

Every media outlet that accepts letters has guidelines – typically published online. You don’t want to have your letter dismissed because it is too long, sent to the incorrect email address, or that is sent as an attachment when attachments aren’t accepted.

4. Carefully choose the media outlet you write the letter for.

The larger the media outlet, the more letters received. But don’t let that discourage you. National magazines and newspapers like the New York Times and USA Today have a vast readership. Remember that you are trying to be noticed by people who might consider hiring you.  If you are interested in a job in a certain city, then you should write letters to the local newspaper.

5. Write effectively.

This is the most important key to success – having a well-crafted and well-presented letter. You need to contribute something fresh to the discussion of the topic – a different opinion on the topic or a different perspective due to your age/gender/ethnicity/religion, etc.

Disagreeing with or contradicting the reporter who wrote about the topic or others who have had their letters published is OK, but you don’t want to be offensive. The person who might hire you probably would be interested in a potential employee who could express views in a non-insulting manner.

You also have to write concisely. Most letters have maximum word counts of 150 to 250 words. (To give you an idea on word count, this blog post to this point is 610 words.)

You want a letter that makes the readers (at least one reader – the one who might hire you) read your letter and say, “That’s someone who thinks well and writes well. I could use someone like that working for me.”

6. Don’t submit letters too often.

Most media outlets have a limit, whether stated in the letters guidelines or not, on how frequently the same writer will have letters published. The Naples Daily News, for example, asks that writers limit letters to no more than one letter every two weeks. Be selective.

7. Include the fact that you are on the job market – if you can do that effectively.

You don’t want your letter to come across to the media outlet or to the readers as an obvious attempt to seek a job. But I’ve read several very clever letters on topics like the housing market, health care or unemployment when the writers were able to work into the letters that they were seeking a job.  If you think including the “seeking employment” mention is too obvious, leave it out.

Having your letter published can be one more way of getting your name out there. And for those who are seeking a media-related job, having a published letter to the editor can be another clip in your portfolio.

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