Yes, there IS a musicians’ Valhalla of job application materials. And there, in that exalted heavenly state, you’ll find musicians abide by the cover letter golden rule. It’s this: keep it to . . . One. Page. Only.
For real. More is NOT more. More is, typically, a lot of hype and extraneous boasting that fails to either impress or engage the reader.
Long cover letters happen when we start telling our life stories instead of being laser focused on the specific employer’s needs. We throw in way too much because we’re afraid we’re not good enough. It’s our scarcity thinking that gets in the way of focusing on our READERS’ needs.
So why is keeping it to one page a “golden rule”? Think of the poor employer or search committee member who’s got 200 applications to read. Put yourself in their shoes.
Would you rather read a compelling, targeted cover letter that piques your genuine interest, or read the usual long-winded overblown cliché-filled cover letters that most musicians send?
The truth is that no one wants to read more than one page. Don’t torture your intended readers. Make your letter the the one that stands out for its clarity and communicative power.
Start your paragraphs right
The mistake most musicians make in describing their backgrounds is that they use sentences like this: “As a faculty member at X institution, I taught blah, blah, and blah.”
The problem with this approach is that it focuses the reader on the school and position you’ve held. And this gets readers busy judging that school’s program and most likely telling themselves something like, “That school is nothing like ours!”
So immediately they start questioning your fit for the job. Or they get mired in the details of your work at a very different kind of institution. Again this only distracts them for being able to focus on you and your relevant skills for the position in question. None of this helps your cause.
This may seem like a minor point about sentence construction. It’s not.
To help you write more compelling and concise letters, start the paragraph on your teaching experience with a focused prompt. Try using the phrase “My most relevant experience includes . . . ”
And then go on with, for example, “teaching undergrad and grad students at both public and private colleges, as well as at festivals and in my private studio.”
After that you can flesh this statement out with only the most compelling and relevant details that reflect the employer’s priorities. You’d still include your position and names of schools—you just don’t want to lead the sentence or the paragraph with these.
Address the employer’s needs head on: get to the point
Keep the full job description in front of you as you write the cover letter draft and make sure you speak directly to the employer’s priority needs, putting these first in the sentence whenever you can.
If recruitment is a key point for the employer (and it always is), address it head on. If you can, include your actual quantified results. So you might use something like, “In terms of recruitment, I have grown my private studio by 300% over the past 5 years.” Again, this puts first things first, the employer’s priority: recruitment experience and success.
About the one page cover letter golden rule—how to fit it all in
Remember: the purpose of a cover letter is NOT to show your “complete” self. You don’t need to include all of your fabulousness in a cover letter. That’s impossible. And no one would read it if you did.
The purpose of a cover letter is to make a compelling case for why you are a good match for the employer’s stated needs. It should pique the interest of the employer and get her to spend more than the usual 6.25 seconds on your résumé or CV.
Bottom line reasons to keep your cover letters to one page . . .
1. If you keep it short, the employer will more likely read it all the way through.
2. Your targeted cover letter will demonstrate that your ego is in the right place. Instead of being primarily concerned about your own wants and needs, you’re focused on being of service to that school and its students.
3. Your concise and to the point cover letter will give the committee a positive impression of who you are and how you teach. You’ll demonstrate that you are direct, clear, and compelling.
I hope this motivates you to rethink your next cover letter and up your chances of getting hired!
Take this further
If you’d like more in-depth help with cover letters, check out my self-paced Musician’s Cover Letter Seminar video course.
In this exclusive training, you’ll get five pre-recorded video lessons, plus detailed worksheets to help you avoid the confusion and self-judgment. The work is broken down to a step-by-step process with worksheets and examples from a range of musicians. You can work through all this at your own speed.
In the Musician’s Cover Letter Seminar you’ll:
- How to structure and focus your cover letter for real impact. Most musicians get this all wrong.
- The skills and concepts needed to always deliver a dynamic cover letter any time you need one.
- The “Secrets” of what cover letters actually communicate about you, your teaching, and your music—so your letters are memorable.
- How to convey what distinguishes you from the 200 other candidates.
- The 10 deadly “cover letter sins” to avoid so you’ll stand a fighting chance of getting the interview.
- Plus you’ll see dynamic “before” and “after” cover letter excerpts so you can understand exactly what’s needed to power up your letters.
Through the course platform, I can help you articulate and convey who you are at your very best so you can make a great first impression with search committees. That way, you’ll be one step closer to winning the job. Check the details HERE.
And if you’d like more career insights and inspiration, join our supportive community, our FREE Musicians Making It Facebook group where you can connect with many other talented, accomplished musicians.
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well