In my work as an executive resume writer, I partner with leadership candidates on thoughtful cover letters and resumes, so I enjoyed talking with Leslie Stevens-Huffman of Dice.com for her insightful article, 10 Ways to Screw Up Your Cover Letter.
As she notes, your job search can stall if your cover letter fails to show your value or if you obviously haven’t taken the time to learn about the employer’s business.
Unfortunately, the job market still abounds with cover letters that look like templates – or that only rehash the resume (even at an executive level!).
So… what SHOULD you do when putting together a compelling cover letter? Try these tips for a powerful, standout document that cuts to your ROI and exemplifies your personal brand:
1 – Keep resume copying to a minimum – and focus on the company’s pain points.
Start fresh each time you write a cover letter! If you’re worn out from writing your resume, and can barely muster the energy to craft a reason why employers should hire you, I have some bad news: they won’t hire you.
Rather than taking the same, tired set of words from job application to job application, figure out what THIS employer might need.
It’s not that hard to do. Say you’re applying to Disney or General Motors. Have you read their last 5 news releases? Are they scaling down or expanding?
It’s the same concept if you’re chasing down that great job at Cisco Systems, Citibank, or the car wash down the street.
- What does a Google search say about this company?
- Is the company in growth mode (as evidenced by rapid hiring, which you can find by reviewing the company page on LinkedIn to see the volume of recent hires)?
- If it’s a start-up or boutique firm, what’s happening in the industry? What are the potential challenges to their growth or profits?
Now, take those ideas and tell Cisco that you understand channel partner strategy and believe you’re in a position to work closely on joint planning that boosts their sales.
Mention to the car wash that you’ve done research on new methods of paint restoration in auto detailing. Let the Citibank hiring manager hear about your focus on quality and how you’re aware of the effect this can have on regulatory compliance – and the bottom line.
You get the idea. These points compel employers to listen to your pitch and take you seriously.
2 – Let your personal brand take center stage.
If you’ve been consistently promoted in your career… or you’re always the person that key accounts request when they call, there’s a reason.
Stop to think about why past employers hired you, and why you continued to stay on in the company. There’s a message behind it, and it’s one you’ll want to get out of your head and onto the page.
It’s up to YOU to articulate the ROI you deliver and “brand” it in a way employers understand. Start by answering these questions:
- What do teams, customers, or vendors say about your effectiveness? What’s the recurring theme behind your accolades?
- How did your vision take the company or division from planning to reality?
- What revenue or cost savings do you / your teams achieve?
- How do you build consensus and support for ideas that transform the company?
As an example, “Under my direction, we took operational efficiency to a peak of 89% by implementing new methods of production automation, which I proposed to our executive team.” shows initiative, teamwork, influence, and of course, results.
3 – Assume you have something unique to offer.
Give this serious thought BEFORE writing your cover letter! Answer these questions to capture your personal brand and convey your value against competing candidates.
- Why do others enjoy working with you?
- How has your leadership become a model for others? What effect do you have as a mentor?
- Why are you good at motivating others? What do they achieve as a result (that they didn’t do under other leaders)?
- What makes you volunteer to drive special projects – and make them successful?
- How has your work created faster, cheaper operations (or more profit) for your employers? What foresight did you offer to make it happen?
These traits matter to employers, who are hiring a real person – someone who can motivate, collaborate, and inspire their staff.
By mentioning your strengths, you can give employers a reason to interview you (even if a position doesn’t yet exist).
When noting your value proposition in your cover letter (“I consistently have higher call resolution metrics in my support roles, because I’m able to listen closely for the real issues in my customer conversations”), you’re connecting the dots and making it obvious why the employer should consider your application.
So, don’t just take the easy road when writing a cover letter!
A truly masterful letter – one that speaks directly to your personal brand and ROI to the company – is the one that can have the greatest impact on your search.
I have found this “mental trick” to use (as a hiring manager for over 30 years I have read thousands of cover letters and resumes): The cover letter should answer this single question in the mind of the reader/hiring manager: “What about you would make me curious to talk to you for this job?” Not your interest in cooking or something, but some key points about yourself that “connect-the-dots” to what I am looking for in the position. You have maybe 20 seconds to deliver that “payload”, so make your case quickly and clearly.
Your cover letter is a marketing/sales piece. You are the product. You must promote why you are the best candidate for THIS position.
As a long-term job-seeker my biggest gripe is agencies. Often I find myself applying for a position through an agency without actually knowing who my potential employer is.