Writing the perfect cover letter that screams “call me” takes practice -- a lot of practice. After having reviewed and written tens of thousands of resumes and cover letters, I can verify that for the right candidate a well-written resume and cover letter could open a world of opportunities. Unfortunately, many job seekers do not take this aspect of their job search campaign very seriously. Worse still, some choose to follow unreliable advice from well-meaning -- but ill-informed -- supporters and create career documents that damage the future of an otherwise promising career.
There is a lot of discussion about creating a captivating resume, but very little attention is paid to the document that introduces the resume: a cover letter. A powerful cover letter can not only deliver a solid first impression but can also persuade the hiring manager to pay more attention to the accompanying resume, which, otherwise, would rarely win more than ten seconds of face time.
Forget about template cover letters and samples from friends and loved ones. They are not designed to showcase your unique strengths. Your cover letter must deliver a unique impression and position you as a unique solution for the employer’s needs.
Consider the following strategies as you attempt to improvise your cover letter:
Take stock of your strengths
Take stock of all your strengths and accomplishments and create a list of “selling points” that you could address in the cover letter. Not random selling points. The list should encompass highly desirable traits that an employer would absolutely love to see in a potential employee.
Translate your past accomplishments into potential benefits
Many candidates do a remarkable job of presenting their past experience and accomplishments, but what they often fail to do is translate those accomplishments into “future benefits” for the potential employer. This may sound very trivial but viewed from a hiring manager’s perspective it makes much more sense, especially if you are reviewing thousands of resumes every month.
The following example clarifies this point:
At ZZZ Corp, I was responsible for hiring and training staff.
At ZZZ Corp, I leveraged my leadership skills to recruit, train, and develop a cohesive team of thirty employees. As a result of my training, our team increased productivity by over 30% within six months. I am confident that I can utilize my ability to motivate teams to maximize performance and deliver double-digit gains at your organization as well.
Don’t try to create one cover letter for every position you will target. The ideal strategy would be to write a customized cover letter for each position, but if that may be too much, at least create one cover letter for every job target so you can address specific requirements that may be unique to that job function.
Craft a compelling positioning strategy
Ever wonder why top brands are so successful? Popular brands are very successful at crafting a compelling message that positions them as a cut above the competition. There are some very valuable lessons that these brands provide for the benefit of a job seeker, especially while developing career marketing documents such as resumes and cover letters.
Consider the following excerpt from a cover letter:
I provided outstanding leadership at XYZ Company.
As general manager for XYZ Company, I utilized my leadership skills to lead, motivate, and manage a cohesive team of thirteen senior-level direct reports, who in turn oversaw 1,000 cross-functional employees. In addition to my team leadership skills, I specialized in turning-around challenging situations into opportunities for growth.
Notice how the writer positions herself as a turnaround specialist in the second scenario. The first example conveyed a fact but the second version positioned the writer as someone offering unique skills.
Presentation counts. It is true that one must have the goods before trying to sell them, but a lot depends on how you present them as well. Experience and presentation work together to create a solid first impression. One falls apart without the other.
In addition to being an introduction, the cover letter should serve as a brief proposal highlighting how your past background prepares you to serve as a powerful contributor toward the company’s success. It must position you as a unique player who can catapult the organization to new heights.