Real advice on the cover letter from our guest Tour Operators!
The all-important cover letter has become sort of a “confusion” in our industry. Many TO’s seem to all agree that a formal pre-formatted generic letter is a thing of the past. The “corporate feel” of the old cover letters, with the tour operators address, phone number, etc is not as important as it once was. Today, they want to read something unique about you and not sort through long paragraphs that are filled with info that is already on your resume. Below are some of the talking points we covered during the cover letter training day.
Avoid the “I”s
Many cover letters are filled with paragraphs detailing various experience, qualities or skills. So many of those cover letters began each paragraph with “I” – ex; “I speak seven languages”…”I have worked in the industry for 20 years”….”I love to travel”. When there are 3, 4 or 5 paragraphs and each one begins with “I” it looks odd and makes the reader feel put off.
Body of email or separate form to open?
Although we haven’t asked every tour operator out there, all of the ones who have participated in our training days program have all agreed – it’s better to just type out your “cover letter” in the body of an email. Years ago, this would have seemed too informal, however today more than ever, our daily communication is done digitally. From Twitter to texting, messaging apps and Facebook, we rely on the digital world to communicate. So, what was once considered lazy or unprofessional in today’s busy world is seen as convenience. Putting your “cover letter” into the body of the email that you send to a tour operator saves them time from having to open a separate document.
What do I say?
The tour operators were pretty much in agreement that they don’t want to read a recap of your qualifications, they can look at your resume for this. This is your chance to personalize your communication. Our resumes are generic and each tour operator may be looking for different things, but the cover letter is your chance to stand out. Highlight some things you think would be important to that TO and don’t be afraid to show your personality! They want to feel like this communication tells them something about you that they wouldn’t get from your resume so use this chance to stand out. Some ways to do this would be to study the company’s website, look at their products and see why you may be a good fit. Mention that in your email and tell them why their company is one you would love to work for! Also, if you have specific qualifications that you think would be a huge plus, you can list them, but expand on them. For instance, don’t just say, “I’m fluent in French” – say something about “why” you are fluent. “France is one of my favorite destinations, so I studied French in college and spent a year abroad” or something along those lines.
How long should it be?
You want to avoid making it too long or wordy. Remember, they are busy and although they love the chance to find out something unique about you, they also don’t want to have to read through multiple paragraphs to get to something interesting. Keep it simple, but be sure to connect who you are and why you are looking to work with them. Two to three paragraphs should do the trick, providing each paragraph isn’t 500 words long!
How do I find out the contact person in charge of hiring?
There are several tour director forums where you could simply ask your colleagues. But, remember that in most forums Tour Operators are also active members (except TripSchools grad forum, it is TO free!) and it could be awkward if they see you post a public question asking for info about their company and then get an email from you that same day. One TO suggested just picking up the phone and calling the company directly and ask who is in charge of hiring their tour directors! It’s really not that difficult, after all, they want to hear from you.
How often should I contact the tour operator after I send it?
If you send it, they should receive it. Don’t overstep by ending your cover letter with “I will follow up in a week to insure receipt of my resume”. Both TO’s on the call found that a bit forward (and a tiny bit creepy). A follow up should be done seasonally as sometimes, even though a TO didn’t hire you, staffing needs change and a quick hello and refresher wouldn’t hurt. A follow up should be a much shorter variation on your original email, don’t send the exact same wording. Letting them know that you are just “following up” and that you have availability should suffice.
The subject line should be short and to the point and easy for the tour operator to find in their inbox. “Mike Smith – Resume” or something along those lines is appreciated. They file away emails and when they want to reference your resume, you want them to be able to find it easily. If your subject line doesn’t have your name and the reason, they may not be able to find you and move on to another. “Mike Smith – Follow up”, you get the picture.
Now we know that it is acceptable to type your cover letter in the body of an email. You are still ok if you want to send a separate .pdf, but it’s not necessary. Keep your message to the point, show your personality and don’t make it so formal. Tour Operators understand that our business is filled with quirky fun people and different from the stuffy corporate world many of us have come from. They want to know who we are, what’s unique about us and if we will be a good fit for their clients. Show some personality in the cover letter and keep it simple.