As a resume writer who frequently assists executives and senior-level professionals to create thoughtful cover letters, 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 makes it obvious that you’re not taking 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. So… what SHOULD you do when putting together a cover letter?
Try these solid strategies for a compelling cover letter – one that instantly cuts to your ROI as a leader and exemplifies your personal brand:
1 – Keep any copying to a minimum.
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 news for you: they won’t hire you.
Rather than taking the same, tired set of words from job application to job application, tap some more brain cells to figure out what this employer might need.
It’s not that hard to do. Say you’re applying to 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? What can you find out about the industry?
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. Or mention that your interest in the auto industry has led you to research new methods of paint restoration in auto detailing.
A hiring manager at Citibank would probably appreciate hearing how you realize compliance has taken on more significance than ever in banking, that your work standards continually add to the reputation of your employers.
2 – Let your reputation 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 your past 2 or 3 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.
Senior-level executives frequently fall into the trap of thinking that, after leaving a longtime job, there’s no one that understands how effective they can be. This is most certainly not true. Look around at your teams, customers, vendors, or anyone else that interfaces with you, and take their comments as proof of your personal brand value.
What did you motivate others to do (that they didn’t do before you came)? How did your work take the company from planning to reality?
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 and built acceptance for among Operations staff” shows initiative, teamwork, influence, and of course, results.
3 – Assume you have something unique to offer.
Yes, you do, and you can dig hard to get at it before writing your cover letter. What projects do you frequently volunteer for – and then drive to success?
How has your work made things faster, cheaper, or just plain easier for past employers? Why do others enjoy working with you? These are strengths that any employer needs to know before they’re hire you.
When you mention them in the 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 these 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.