I have read thousands of resumes and cover letters and not surprisingly, the same common mistake is made time and time again: Candidates branding themselves on the idea of “ME ME ME!” You’ve heard the talk that many recruiters and HR managers, if they even read cover letters at all, simply breeze through them at NASCAR speed, scanning for the pertinent details within the first 5 seconds. If they’re not apparent, and it’s not clear that you have potential to be “the one”, then they will move on faster than your last bad date. For that reason, it’s imperative to avoid writing an opening statement reading something like this:
“Hello- my name is John Smith, and I am targeting a fulfilling job in the IT sector, where I can utilize and grow my diverse skill set within a reputable company such as yours.”
I’m not focusing in here so much on the overly-used verbiage of words like “diverse” or “growth”, or “targeting”. But this is the perfect example of a candidate whose resume will likely not even make it out of the inbox. Why? Because John Smith is already giving the impression from the outright that his job search is all about whether his prospect fits HIS qualifications, and not focused on what he can bring to the table for the company. Point blank- what the hiring manager wants to know right away is what indisposeable skills and experiences does a job seeker bring to the table that puts him or her at the top over other candidates. They don’t have the time to read between the lines.
Now I could make the argument right now that it’s more important to focus on the resume and let that speak for your expertise, since cover letters seem to hold little weight, given the pace at which companies are burning through resumes trying to find “the perfect fit”. However, let’s assume that the cover letter IS going to be read, at least the opening paragraph, and it could likely influence whether or not your intended audience decides to read your resume. If there was a buzz word here, it would certainly be “Personal Branding”, and that is exactly what you are doing with your cover letter and resume. Seems like common sense, huh? Of course it is, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s always done right and with the best angle. Think it of like advertising, and anyone in that industry knows that it is all about communicating a specific message to a highly researched and targeted audience with the end result of persuading them to buy or invest in a particular product or service. Marketing yourself as a candidate for a job is no different. You are taking the product (yourself) and basically talking to your audience about the unique features that this product offers and ultimately the ways in which this product can make their life easier. You’ve never heard Burger King try to market its burgers on the basis of “We would really like to be a part of your every-day diet. It’s something we have worked so hard for, and it would be such a great growth opportunity for our brand.” No, what you’re more likely to hear is that their food is cheap, fast, and flavorful, because that’s what YOU want as the target audience, the consumer. So with that in mind, let’s rearrange John Smith’s opening statement so that it has a better chance of grabbing the reader’s attention:
“Hello- my name is John Smith, and I am contacting you in regards to your Sr Help Desk Specialist opportunity. I offer over 10 years of relevant experience in this type of role and as an IT expert, and would love to discuss some of the expertise that I can bring to the table for your organization.”
Way to go John! You just succeeded in piquing your audience’s interest! A better time to discuss what YOU are interested in (reputation, work environment, benefits, growth potential, etc.) is in the interview, when you have already demonstrated that you have the appropriate skills to be successful in the role, and now it is important to make sure that there is chemistry between you and the company, and that everyone is on the same page as far as the fit. If you offer that information too early on, you may inadvertently be knocking yourself out of the running before you have a chance to woo your prospect with tales of your stellar accomplishments. The purpose of a resume and a cover letter is to sell yourself, and while you don’t want to communicate yourself as someone you are not, you do have to research and tailor your message to your intended audience and understand what they want and need. Ask yourself what would make you want to invest in this person.
A well-known book in marketing and advertising is Luke Sullivan’s Hey Whipple, Squeeze This.” An insider’s guide to effective marketing writing, Sullivan, one of the most successful advertising copywriters today writes, “It must be relevant. It must matter to somebody, somewhere. It has to offer something customers want or solve a problem they have… If you don’t have something relevant to say, tell your client to put their wallet away. Because no matter how well you execute it, an unimportant message has no receiver.” You are your own brand, your product- make sure your message reflects that you know exactly what your prospective employer’s needs are and that you come well-equipped with the skills and experience to close that gap. If you can do that, and do if effectively, then you will be well-equipped to close the deal.
Dana Leavy is a New York City-based writer, recruiter and marketing guru with expertise in personal branding and digital styling.
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