Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Don't bother submitting a cover letter without these 6 things!

I get questions from candidates all the time about cover letters.  Whether or not you use a cover letter depends on the situation and is entirely up to you.  In many cases, it is not necessary.  But often an employer may request one.  I personally use a cover letter whenever possible.  Either way, it’s a personal decision.  If you are going to use a cover letter, there are a few things you need to make sure you are mindful of:
6 Steps to a Powerful Cover Letter
1. Address it to a person (you know, with their name on it!).  Do YOU like getting mail addressed to “Current Resident”?  The same is true for whoever is on the other end of that submit button.  Make it personal!  If it’s not readily available, call the company, Google them, or do a LinkedIn search.  At least try to find who you’re sending it to.
2. Make sure you grab their attention in the first paragraph and show confidence…but not arrogance.   
3. Focus on your key accomplishments, NOT your job duties!
4. Keep it to less than a page.  Recruiters and hiring managers don’t want to read a book about you.  They want sound bites that spark their interest and “WOW” them!
5. Always include your Unique Selling Proposition
6. Include a “Call to Action”.  Make sure you ask for the interview.  It’s the old sales adage “ABC” Always be closing, and always be selling.  You’re up against too many candidates to leave an open ended letter on the table.
While these are all important, the two that seem to give people the most trouble are the KEY ACCOMPLISHMENTS and the UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION.  Key accomplishments are a mystery for so many, and I’ve never quite figured out why.  No one else in the world knows what yours are.  So, it’s totally up to you to remember what you’ve accomplished.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re having difficulty coming up with your examples.
Key Accomplishments
  • How have you done your job better than others in your department?
  • Did you take on any special projects?  What was the outcome?
  • Did you go above and beyond?
  • Did you have higher sales numbers than the next guy?
  • Did you find a way to save the company money?
  • Did you get promoted often? 
  • Did you win any awards, such as Employee of the Month?
  • Quantify and Qualify. Numbers matter!  Include things such as:
    • Increased sales by 30% in FY11
    • Led a team of 12 Client Service Reps
    • Reduced company expenses by 12%
By answering these questions and recalling what you’ve done, you should be able to come up with some key accomplishments.  Believe me- it can make a huge difference!  By adding a couple of these to your cover letter (and hopefully some of them in your resume as well) you will also be subliminally adding them to your subconscious…. So the next time you get asked “Tell me about your accomplishments.”, you won’t be caught off guard. 
Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
I’m a marketing professional who just happens to be in the recruiting industry.  So let me share this marketing term with you.  A Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is an advertising term that translates nicely into the job search.  It is the one thing that makes a product (or in this case, you and your resume) different from any other.  What is something that makes you unique?  What makes you stand out above all the rest of the candidate competition?  What do you bring to the table that no one else does?   When you determine your USP and build it into your strong cover letter, you will immediately have a tangible advantage over the competition.  For example, mine might be something like this:
“Because of my unique combination of experience in the fields of marketing and human resources, I am able to truly uncover hidden talent and attract them to my organization.  Because of this, my company saves time, money and ultimately hires better employees”
So there you have it!  Remember these tips the next time you create a cover letter, and you will be far more likely to get a call back.  Like an actor who gets a casting call, the show must go on.  Will you be ready to take the stage?
Until next time, continued success to you in your career journey! 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jason,

    Your blog is really amazing, and it coming from a HR's perspective makes it even more valuable and interesting.

    As a current MBA student I found it very useful.

    Parth Desai.