So you’re applying for a job that asks for a CV and cover letter, but your current job application materials are pretty music heavy… where next?

employer reads musicianDon’t be like me: the first cover letter I wrote out of music college simply said ‘Dear Sir/Madam, please find attached my CV for your perusal. Yours Sincerely, Kate.’ You may not be surprised to know that I did not hear back. I expect they immediately binned my application.

Luckily, since then I have written all sorts of successful applications. I’m being broad with my definition of success here (as ever) and am classing anything well-written, concise and in before the deadline as successful. Basically anything where I don’t embarrass myself like I did all those years ago.

There is so much out there for CV and cover letter help that it makes no sense for me to repeat it all, so for a basic CV guide, Oli Tatler from ICMP has some good advice. For cover letter help, Eastman’s Institute for Music leadership have you covered with this excellent Cover Letter Handbook. It includes sample cover letters at the end as well as hints on structure and content.

If you’re a music graduate who is a first timer to the world of ‘regular’ job applications, here are the Dos and Don’ts…

Do use consistent and clear formatting. Many jobs ask for IT proficiency and the best way to show you have this is by making your materials clear. When there are a large number of applications, sloppy formatting is the fastest way to the bin.

Don’t use a generic salutation. Dear Sir/Madam or To whom it may concern rarely have a place in any job application. Most employers tell you who to address the application to, so ignoring or missing this sends the message that you don’t have good attention to detail (something else that many job descriptions specify).

employer and interviewee shaking handsDo use spellcheck, but don’t just leave it there. Spell check will pick up spelling mistakes but not typos, for example typing ‘music’ instead of ‘must’ (is it just me?). You could get someone else to read it, or read it out loud to yourself.

Don’t list irrelevant details, for example all the conductors you’ve played for or opera scenes you have sung in. Although these are things you are undoubtedly proud of (and should be!), a prospective employer for an admin role doesn’t need to see that much detail. It’s enough to have one line that says ‘freelance musician: highlights include’ with one or two of your favourites. That way, you can demonstrate an interest and knowledge of classical music without wasting valuable space.

Do read the job description and person specification thoroughly. This is where you decide whether you can meet the requirements of the job (usually listed under ‘essential’ and ‘desirable.’) Which brings me onto…

Don’t worry if you don’t have direct examples of each point mentioned, especially if your employment history is short. Think about the skills you have as a musician and how those might translate: perhaps you haven’t done a job where you have ‘managed multiple deadlines under pressure,’ but you definitely ran your own diary without help at music college. When writing about it, provide an example, such as: ‘As a music student, I frequently had to manage multiple conflicting deadlines, such as when my final recital and chamber music competition were scheduled in the same week. The cellist in my quartet was recovering from an injury and could only rehearse for one hour at a time, which made scheduling tricky. I set up a shared Google calendar for the quartet, and we organised rehearsals well in advance. By organising mine and my quartet’s time effectively I achieved a First in my recital and we were finalists in the competition.’ For more detailed information about this, check out Susan Eldridge’s job application resources for the Arts Wellbeing Collective - it’s really comprehensive.

yellow road sign that reads new job just aheadDo research the organisation you’re hoping to join. Find out what matters to them and make sure that it matters to you too. Hiring managers can tell if you’re sending out generic applications for jobs you don’t really care about, so it’s important that you’re applying for roles that fit who you are. Not only will you have a happier time if you end up getting the job, it avoids wasting your time and the hiring panel’s! 

Do show that you have done your research! If you read about a recent project of theirs, try to drop it into the cover letter. This also shows that you are a motivated candidate and takes your application from generic to tailored.

Don’t be afraid to contact the employer ahead of applying, if you have any questions. The same rules apply, though: use the person’s name (not ‘hiring manager’) if available, and make sure the email is polite and makes sense.

The bottom line with all of this, really, is that Google is your friend. Who knows how my life may have changed had I just Googled ‘how to write a cover letter’ back in 2011…

Happy job hunting!

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