Most cover letters I see are pretty bad. I mean really, really bad. The majority of letters do exactly what they shouldn’t do which is focus on the job seekers’ needs. Remember Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy and how he would say, “Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay” when Lucy got herself in another pickle? That’s the problem with cover letters, but “Ay, ay, ay” becomes “I..I…I…” — “I did this,” “I want that,” and I’m so great because…” How do hiring managers read through such — as my grandfather would say — dreck?
So let’s talk cover letters. What is the purpose of a cover letter? To get the hiring manager to read your resume and call you for an interview. It’s a sales letter. You know all of those direct mail (AKA “junk mail”) pieces you get in your mailbox daily? They’re from companies trying to sell you something. You’re trying to sell something when you write a cover letter, only the product is you. The first step in writing a winning cover letter is to change your mindset from writing a cover letter to writing a sales letter.
To do this, you will need to get into the hiring manager’s head. Big companies get inside our heads when creating their sales letters. They’ve set up focus groups, tested and tweaked their materials to make sure they get the best response. We might call it “junk mail,” but advertisers call it “targeted marketing.” Big money is spent getting in your head so that you part with your money.
Let’s create an imaginary hiring manager named Hank and get in his head. Hank is overworked and now has the added responsibility of recruiting a sales manager. In fact, his boss is pressuring him to find the perfect manager to successfully open and build a new territory. Hank arrives at work feeling grumpy, knowing he’ll have to sort through hundreds of resumes. Making his job more difficult, more than half of the resumes will contain lies and exaggerations. He needs a proven performer. Someone with sales experience. Someone who has opened new territories while keeping costs down. A go-getter. A leader. Someone who would fit in with the corporate culture. Hank has painted a picture in his head of the ideal employee. Now paint a picture in your head of what that employee looks like, and give that to him in your cover letter, which may start with something like:
“If you have identified multimillion-dollar growth, new territory startup and expansion, and seven-figure cost reductions among the goals for your organization this year, my credentials will be of interest. I offer a proven record of delivering these precise results throughout my 10-year sales management career with ABC Company…”
Bingo! Hank will continue reading. You’re in his head. You’re giving him what he wants. The rest of your letter will back up your claims. Give examples of accomplishments that would impress Hank. Write a proposal for how you’re going to lead the territory to unprecedented growth. Give clues on how you will do that and the outcomes you expect. Get Hank excited! Give him every reason to trust you and want to call you this very second to arrange an interview.
Not a sales manager? You can use this sales letter strategy for any position. Figure out what drives the hiring manager and tap into that in your letter. Write about your interest in meeting the employer’s needs, not your needs. Show that you will help solve their problems. Make yourself the solution, and watch your resume rise to the top of the stack.