Using Your Cover Letter As A Differentiator





Twelve TIPS

In marketing, we call it “spray and pray.” This means skipping the strategic thinking necessary to ensure the message and the offer resonate [so “spray”] with the audience and “pray” for success.  For people looking for a new job or internship, “spray and pray” means submitting your resume for a position without spending the time and effort to make a positive and lasting impression. You know, you see the position advertised on a job site like LinkedIn or Indeed, you glance at the job description, and you immediately apply online. You may skip the cover letter entirely because you’re already on the next job advertised or you think you have better ways to invest your time and energy.

There’s a better way to stand out and advance to the next round. As successful marketers learned long ago, “spray and pray” is a fool’s errand.

It is nearly impossible to exaggerate the importance of a cover letter. Your cover letter is your first opportunity to introduce yourself, make a real positive impression and distinguish yourself from the other candidates. Like your resume, which is a succinct summary of your work experience, education, skills and achievements, your cover letter needs to be a) customized to the job description and organization, b) professional, and c) upbeat. Unlike your resume, however, It must also convey your personality and your enthusiasm for the company and role. It is also a writing sample and a part of the screening process. And while recruiters and hiring managers will scan your resume (and the ATS), many will read your cover letter if it immediately catches their interest. It can be a powerful differentiator.

In most cases (the larger the organization, the higher the likelihood), your submitted information will be analyzed by an Application Tracking System (ATS) and your probability of advancing to the next step will depend on how well your information aligns with the key words and expressions and other factors the recruiter defines. For example, if the position is for a technical project manager in the CRM industry, they will likely include “technical project manager” and “CRM” as key words/expressions in the ATS algorithm. 

Anatomy of an Effective Cover Letter: 12 Tips

When you start drafting your cover letter for a specific job, follow these tips so you’ll stand out from the crowd. 

  1. Align the content of your letter to the top qualifications and expressions presented in the job description. 
  2. Make the cover letter readable at a glance, and very, very succinct.  Remember: “Perfection is achieved not when there Is nothing more to add, but when there Is nothing left to take away”  Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of the little Prince).
  3. Grab the reader’s attention with the first sentence or lose them. Include: why this job is so exciting to you and what you bring to the table that aligns with the skills they prioritize . Use your adaptable professional value proposition. For example: 
    1. “I’m a performance marketing leader …..and I’d love to bring my expertise and energy to your growth strategy.” 
    2. “Let me draw your attention to two reasons why I’d be a great addition to your team.”
    3. “Most candidates you’ll review for this position are long on design and short on digital skills. I offer both.”
  4. Align the tone of the cover letter with the culture of the company. For example, if the company is very traditional, use a more subdued  style. If the company is young and hip, express more excitement.
  5. Focus more on the future than the past. Explain what you hope to do and why. If you’re changing careers, offer a brief explanation for the shift.
  6. Show you’ve done your research on the company and connect your profile to real problems you surmise they need to solve. What are the core problems the company needs to solve? How do these challenges align with your skills and what motivates you about the opportunity? Usually, if you read through the web site, social platforms and just do simple Google searches on the company, you will gain some insights. For example, are they expanding into new territories? Have sales slowed? Are they launching important new products? You can even reach out on LinkedIn and ask some of the employees how the company is doing and what their priorities are.
  7. Show enthusiasm for the company and the role. Avoid gratuitous excitement; rather, express genuine enthusiasm. Why this company? Are they an industry leader? Are they an up and comer? Do you connect with their purpose? Are they well known for a certain culture that attracts you? 
  8. Share some relevant accomplishment “proof” to support your claim that you have the skills to solve their problem. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. What can you write that will convince the reader that you are ready and able to do the job? Is there a brief story you can tell where you solved a problem this role may also be exposed to?
  9. When you submit your resume and cover letter, reach out (email, LinkedIn) to the recruiter or the hiring manager and confirm they have received your information and express again your keen interest in the position and the company.
  10. Have a friend review the letter and ask what “pops.” Ask yourself, are the right things popping?
  11. Ensure consistency with your resume. Remember, one purpose of your cover letter is to highlight something the recruiter or hiring manager value that’s buried in your resume.
  12. Formatting matters to the ATS: use .docx/.doc (best) or PDF formats, avoid headers and footers, columns, tables, ampersands. Use the same font as your resume.

Writing an impactful cover letter requires you to tap your natural creative and deliberate thinking skills. Research, a careful reading of the job description, precision in word and expressions used, complying with basic formatting requirements, using the  right tone of enthusiasm, and of course, grabbing the reader’s attention in the first sentence will significantly increase your odds of advancing to the next step.

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