Article by James Micklewright
The key to writing a successful Cover Letter is to do exactly what the advertisement tells you to do. If it asks for a three-page outline of how you successfully initiated a project – provide it. Remember to credit where you saw the advertisement (an excellent introduction) and then use the rest of the AIDA* formula to sell yourself!
Your target will be busy and needs an interesting and punchy message, so keep it short and simple. Apart from responding to the requirements of the job specification, tell a story about yourself, and explain where this company fits your experience and skill-set. It's an opportunity to not only showcase and contextualise your career successes (which should be reinforced and complemented by your CV, not just a repetition), but also why you are uniquely the best candidate for the position.
Use language that is appropriate, some readers may not be up to speed with the latest technology buzz word or acronym, in which case your letter could end up in the bin. If you are responding to an advertisement which gives a reference number, include it.
Common sense but always proofread your correspondence and watch out for those glaring errors that may pass your spell-check but make no sense. Spell-checkers make incorrect spellings highly noticeable. Try and get someone else to read your CV and correspondence before sending for the benefit of fresh eyes.
Lastly, if you are not at least an 80% fit to the role advertised, it is probably not worth your time applying.
There is a classic sales formula practised successfully by many copy-writing experts. The formula uses the acronym ‘AIDA’ which stands for:
Attention – read my email/letter/communication.
Interest – I have a related area of expertise which could be of benefit.
Desire – it would be a good idea to meet me.
Action – there is a route to contact me / I will contact you.
However, when you construct your message (which will always be a matter of personal style) you should ensure that it follows the AIDA formula. Many people prefer to present their message in four paragraphs, each dealing with a specific element of the acronym.
The manner of communication:
The majority of CV’s and Cover Letters are sent by email. However, there is always the caveat that you lose control of how it will be viewed as different software and mediums, may distort the formatting. In general, recruiters prefer a Word format whereas you can use PDF for organisations and companies.
If you want to use the “belt and braces” approach for a particularly important application, send a letter by post and perhaps even have it sent recorded delivery. Use good quality paper always as you aim to differentiate yourself from any other candidates.
The Broadcast Letter
A speculative letter or email text/attachment targeted primarily at Recruiters and will be accompanied by your CV. If you like the format and feel it appropriate, you can use it on other occasions.
Preparing a broadcast letter requires research. Initially, you need to identify recruitment consultants in your sector who would be interested in your skills or experience and ideally find a contact within the recruitment agency to send your email.
Remember that the broadcast letter is a sales letter. Use your research and the AIDA formula to compose it. Concentrate on what you can do for a prospective employer and in the letter, draw out pertinent elements from your CV. Close the letter by emphasising what you can do for them and leave a clear action route – “I will call on …” Leave it 24/48hrs to make the call to make sure your CV has found its target and to answer any questions.
On the next few pages, you will find sample Broadcast Letter which you can use to engage primarily with Recruiters.
Direct Approach or Pain Letter
One way of avoiding the all too common faceless recruitment black hole often encountered with the many electronic platforms is to go directly to the hiring manager in your targeted organisation or company.
Apart from attempting to control your application process as much as possible, you know your odds of hearing back from the employer following an application range from slim to none. When everybody finds out that the way to get your CV through the keyword searching algorithm is to cram keywords into your resume or your application, the sorting technology becomes useless. Some company recruiters even ignore the firm's Applicant Tracking System and find candidates in other ways like via LinkedIn.
A direct approach to an organisation is another effective way to open a new avenue in your campaign. Direct approaches should be made as part of your overall strategy. They should have a logic about them that is easily understood. The message that you send should be both coherent and cogent. The recipient of your approach must be in no doubt as to why you are writing to their organisation. Your approach must have both impact and reason.
Sending a Direct Approach/Pain Letter with a hook, although more time-consuming gives job-seekers a more powerful and immediate way to tell their story to hiring managers. If you want to write a Direct Approach/Pain Letter and skip the obnoxious online-application chore, here are the steps to follow.
Research the Employer
A Pain Letter is not generic. Every Pain Letter is unique. If you don't want to take the time to research the employer before you write a Pain Letter, don't even bother writing it.
In your marketing campaign, you may be interested primarily in a sector or industry, and/or a specific geographic area. You can then write to each such organisation. Or you may be interested in certain business functions or specific types of situation, such as growth companies, new ventures, turnaround, etc.
You can find out who's growing in your sector or geographical area by reading business online publications and looking for an annual list of fast-growing employers. Research the targeted organisation's website. Read about its business. What do they make or sell? Who are their clients? What sorts of issues do you envisage that the organisation is dealing with? You might also like to look up the organisation on Glassdoor - www.glassdoor.co.uk and read the reviews.
Identify the Pain You Can Solve
Use your experience and research to identify areas where you can make an employer’s business better and more productive utilising your skill-set.
Who to Target
It is very important to find the right person in the organisation where your letter will resonate.
Again, your experience should tell you the right person to contact, and unless appropriate it might be wise to avoid HR, who can be organisation gate-keepers. Don't send your Pain, Hook, Letter to the CEO of the company unless you're pursuing an executive job or unless the employer is small. CEOs are famous for having very vigilant administrators who are likely to send your carefully-written Pain Letter right back into the same Black Hole abyss you were trying to avoid. See: Here's how to use LinkedIn to find your hiring manager's name. *
Find a Hook
When you sit down to compose your Pain Letter, the first thing you'll need is a Hook. Your Hook is a news item about your prospective employer - something that happened in the past six months. Maybe they won an award. Maybe they broke ground on a new facility. You'll begin your Pain Letter by praising your reader (your possible next boss) on the company's accomplishment.
Who gets enough acknowledgement in this world? No one! Your human Hook will open an aperture in your hiring manager's mind. He or she will have a good reason to read the rest of your letter because rather than talking about yourself, the way we all learned to do in a cover letter, you are talking about him or her and/or his or her teammates.
Here is a sample Hook from a Pain Letter:
I was lucky enough to catch your talk at the Organic Products Expo last month, and I couldn't agree more with your observation that kelp is the new hemp. Congratulations to you and your team at Underwater Seagrass for making a big splash in the organic foods marketplace.”
You'll follow your Hook with a pithy Pain Hypothesis that suggests a type of Business Pain your hiring manager may be experiencing. There could be any number of things keeping your target hiring manager up at night -- you only need to hit one of them. Mentioning multiple pain points makes your message confusing.
Here is a sample Pain Hypothesis from a Pain Letter:
“I can imagine that hiring as many people as you are, keeping tabs on payroll issues might be a constant challenge. With regulations constantly changing, it's not easy to keep everyone paid correctly and well-informed in a growing company.”
Don't preach in your Pain Letter. Don't tell the hiring manager what they should do. They know their job. Mention a possible pain point and stop.
Pain Hypothesis Example
You'll follow up with a simple, one-or-two sentence about a time when you saved the day at work by solving a similar type of Business Pain. Here's an example:
“When I ran the payroll system at Tempting Chocolates, I kept the payroll accurate and in compliance and answered dozens of employee questions every day while we grew from 15 to 650 staff members.”
Notice what you don't do in your example? You don't praise yourself with flattering adjectives like savvy, strategic or results-oriented. You just tell your possible next boss in simple human terms what you left in your wake at another job. If you're a student, your story might come from a class project, a part-time job or a student leadership position.
Your Pain Letter is very short. The shorter your Pain Letter can be, the better! Resist the urge to say more about yourself. No one cares. All your hiring manager cares about is his or her pain, and in that respect, he or she is exactly like every living person. Your CV will be attached by one staple in the upper left corner to your Letter, so your manager will be able to read about you once he or she flips the page to view your CV. Your closing will simply say:
“If payroll accuracy and advice to your team is on your radar screen, I'd love to chat when it's convenient.
Here's how to use LinkedIn to find your hiring manager's name. *
• Navigate to the Search page area on LinkedIn. Place your cursor in the box and a drop-down box will open, chose People. From the next menu chose All Filters on the right
• All People Filters should provide a form to fill in to start your search with options including Keyword, First Name, Last Name, and so on. You don't know your hiring manager's first name or last name. That's what we're trying to find out. You know the company name, so put that into your search, and now start trying job titles.
• You might like to go through Connections – 1st /2nd / 3rd + as you may have a connection who could either identify the right person to contact or has a connection who does.
• What will your hiring manager's title most likely be? If you're a Purchasing Agent, your hiring manager will be called Materials Manager, Purchasing Manager, Procurement Manager, Supply Chain Manager or Operations Manager. Try all those titles in subsequent searches, and then try the same titles with Director in place of Manager and try VP as well if you want to.
• Within a half-dozen searches using the employer name and trying out the most likely titles you will find your hiring manager's name often. If your hiring manager is not a LinkedIn user, don't fear! We have two more tricks up our sleeve.
• Go to the company's website and check out their About Us section, looking for Management Bios. If the organisation is large enough that your hiring manager isn't listed on the Management Bios page, his or her manager or boss's boss will be.
• You can also search for your hiring manager's name using Google. Just conduct a Google search using the company name and each of the titles you imagine that your hiring manager might have.
Be persistent. Just because a company cannot use your skills today does not mean they will not need them tomorrow. Situations and needs change very quickly. Re-apply to organisations that have previously turned you (or your sales literature) down. They may not deserve it but give them another opportunity to employ you.
Encourage communication. Nurture it. Once you have written to an organisation and they have replied you have a line of communication. Keep it going. Put the ball back in their court. Even if you have been unsuccessful, you can always respond to a negative letter with a positive reply. This is particularly important after the interview.
Be phlegmatic about rejection. Do not let it affect your ego or self-worth. If you are giving the job search 100%, you will receive a rejection. You will not get an interview for every job for which you apply. You will not achieve a job offer for every interview you attend. If you maintain output, you will avoid the psychological troughs altogether. Rejection is easier to cope with if you have other applications out and interviews to attend.
On the next few pages, you will find sample letters which you can adapt to use to generate ideas for your own portfolio of Direct Approach / “Hook” or Pain Letters.
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