by Sharon Florentine

9 tips for building an effective video cover letter

Dec 23, 2015
CareersInnovationIT Jobs

Have you been asked to provide a video cover letter? Don’t stress out or get camera-shy. Here's how to put together a winning production.

More IT companies are asking candidates to provide a video cover letter in addition to traditional resume and portfolio. While in some respects you should adhere to the same rules that govern video job interviews, there are some key differences to remember when you’re planning, recording and submitting a video cover letter. Here’s how to make sure your video cover letter hits all the right notes.

“Think of a video cover letter as a ‘movie trailer,’ and your career as a movie. You want to have your trailer be engaging, inviting and interesting and give just enough information that the recruiter or hiring manager will want to know more — they’ll want to see the entire film, so to speak,” says Chris Brown, vice president of human resources at telecommunications and collaboration solutions company West Corporation.

Keep it short

For starters, most video cover letters shouldn’t exceed 60 seconds, Brown says. Think about what’s engaging to you when you watch a video on your smartphone, on the Web. Chances are, the shorter, the better, Brown says. “If it’s longer than about a minute, you’re going to lose the interest of a viewer. You need to find your ‘hook’ and discuss one tangible thing about you that will grab the viewer and make them want to interview you,” he says.

Make a listicle

Pop culture listicle site BuzzFeed is a great example of how to structure your video cover letter. Choose the top five things a recruiter or hiring manager would want to know about you, and stick to that list, Brown says. “You want to aim for three of those points being about your professional life and you can throw in an additional two that are personal — ‘I’m an animal lover and I volunteer at my local shelter,’ or ‘I skydive in my free time,'” Brown says, to add additional interest and show that you’re a well-rounded individual.

Create two versions

As the concept of video cover letters becomes increasingly popular, it makes sense to have more than one available. Create a more generic version and place it on your social media feeds for wider accessibility — on Twitter Moments, Facebook, LinkedIn and even Instagram, Brown says. Bbut also create fresh versions that are tailored to specific job opportunities that can be sent to individual hiring managers or recruiters. “It’s similar to how you’d tailor a written cover letter to each job opportunity. There’s a basic template, but you also want to throw in specifics,” he says.

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Pay attention to hosting

Consider creating a separate YouTube channel dedicated to hosting your professional videos, Brown says. The last thing you want is for your video cover letter to end up in a feed with your family home videos or that GoPro video you made last time you went skydiving. “On a public, personal YouTube channel, there’s also the chance that your friends and family will comment on your videos; do you really want your strange friend Bill making inappropriate comments on your video cover letter? That’s a recipe for disaster,” Brown says.

Create original content

Just like in a traditional, written cover letter, a video cover letter should be original content that adds a new dimension to your resume and allows you the opportunity to highlight your best self. “This is not a regurgitation of your resume. It’s an opportunity to talk about your skills, sure, but I’ve seen some of these in which people are literally just reading from their existing resume. You can touch on that, but it’s the intangibles that matter here; your energy, your personality can come through — that’s what I want to see,” Brown says.

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Watch your language

Just as you would in a written cover letter or resume, use the same words and phrases found in the job description to highlight that you’re perfect for the role. This doesn’t have to sound forced, but it does help a hiring manager or a recruiter ensure that you’re familiar with the industry, the competitive landscape, common programs and systems that are used and the industry jargon, Brown says, “Using that language communicates that you’re an ‘insider,’ and you know the ins-and-outs of the greater landscape.”

You also can add additional comments about the company, prominent employees you’ve seen on the news, new technology they’ve created, and address how you could help contribute to their success, Brown says. This demonstrates that you know the company, its competitors and the IT industry as a whole.

To script, or not to script

Unless you’re incredibly shy or nervous in front of a camera, it’s not necessary to write out and recite a script. A few bullet points to highlight what you want to cover should do just fine, Brown says. “Definitely have a prompt in front of you so that you know what you want to talk about, but don’t script every aspect. Hiring managers and recruiters know that these will be imperfect and you want to show that part of yourself, as well. Make the video cover letter as real and human as possible — a few ‘um’s and ‘uh’s aren’t going to cost you the job,” he says.

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Nail the closing

Any job search involves a certain amount of salesmanship, and in this case, you’re selling your skills, knowledge and expertise to a company. “The Web is full of tutorials on how to do a video sales letter, or VSL, which would be focused on how to sell information products. But think of a video cover letter as a VSL for an individual — the product is you,” says Donald Burns of Executive Promotions, LLC.

Even if you’re not in sales, it’s still important to know how to close, says Brown, “A simple way to do this is to provide an active closing. Say, ‘I look forward to meeting you for an interview,’ or ‘Thank you so much for your time. I absolutely want this job,’ it shows a lot of self-confidence and can be the difference between landing the role or being passed over.”

Don’t overthink it

Finally, don’t overthink it. Human resources, hiring managers and recruiters aren’t infallible, and many times an interview’s success — whether in person or via video — can hinge on completely subjective experiences, regardless of how solid your resume is or how polished your video cover letter is, Brown says.

“Remember, in any interview, video or otherwise, you are dealing with human beings. They’re going to have existing biases based on their experiences with similar people. If they had a bad experience with Fred, and you look or act like Fred, that may not work out for you. If you happen to be like Julie, and they had a great experience with Julie, then that’s great. And sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about that,” Brown says.