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How Some Application Cover Letters Are Just Better Than Others
Compared to a resume, the application cover letter often does not receive the attention and effort that it deserves from job seekers. Often, thinking that an application cover letter needs to do little more than restate the qualifications found on the resume the job seeker simply finds a copy on the Internet or in an application cover letter book and changes it somewhat. As these job candidates eventually realize, after many, many unsuccessful applications are sent off to Hiring Managers without getting any response the application cover letter is every bit as important as the resume and perhaps even more so.
The application cover letter is certainly the one piece of communication to the Hiring Manager that the job candidate has complete control over and can use to make his or her case.
After all, a resume is a straightforward listing of relevant facts. Once these facts are listed, there's not much that you as the job seeker can do to influence how the reader interprets or uses those facts.
What Makes the Application Cover Letter So Effective
By comparison, the cover letter allows you to have a conversation with the job decision maker. It lets you introduce yourself, showcase your winning personality and make your argument why you are the best choice for the job. It's true that some of the information in the cover letter will often be similar to that in the resume, but the way it is presented makes it infinitely more convincing and persuasive. In the resume it stands alone and out of context. In the cover letter, it is used as proof in an argument that you are the best solution to the business problem that the company is hiring an employee to solve.
The first reason that the application cover letter is so much more effective than a resume is because an application cover letter allows you to be lively, interesting and attract the attention of the Hiring Manager. For starters, the letter is addressed to the name of the person that makes the hiring decision. This immediately makes it a more personal piece of correspondence. Secondly, the application cover letter allows you to begin with an attention grabbing and vivid summary of your qualifications.
Thirdly, the application cover letter allows you to clearly and concisely make your case for being hired. One analogy to use is that of a salesman selling a product (you). The resume is like a list of technical specs and features of the product, similar to one found on the window of a car on a lot. This is not an unimportant piece of selling a product. Before people buy a car, they want to know what kind of engine it has, whether it is a stick or automatic, how many miles it has, whether it is two or four wheel drive and other technical points.
At the same time, cars don't sell themselves based on the list of attributes on the windows. If they did, that's all you would ever see at a car lot --- a lot of cars with stickers in the window.
Instead, it generally takes a personal touch to take the technical specifications of the car and make them relevant to the prospective car buyer. That's where the salesman comes in. In the case of a car, the salesman explains why the car's technical points make that car the perfect choice for the consumer.
Hey, What's the Problem?
Through research --- in the case of the car, that usually consists of asking the prospective buyers questions about what they are looking for --- the salesman determines what their transportation problem is. He or she then uses the attributes of the car to make the case that the car is the best, no, make that perfect, solution to that transportation problem.
If the transportation problem is driving to work every day on the freeway, then the salesperson will emphasis the comfort of the car and how its automatic transmission makes stop and go traffic easy. If the prospective car buyer is interested in gas mileage, that's what the salesperson will emphasize. If the driver wants power, that's what the salesperson will talk about, etc... etc... etc... In other words, the salesperson does more than just list the qualities the car possess. He or she describes how those qualities will solve a problem or issue that the prospective buyer needs solved.
In a similar manner the cover letter proves how the job candidate (you) are the perfect solution to the business problem that the company faces --- which you should do a little research to find out, by the way, before you send the letter. Once you know that problem, then your work is easy... simply take your qualifications, which include your experience, your education and your accomplishments and link them to the problem being solved quickly and efficiently.
Your Experience Gives Them Confidence
Remember that the best way to prove that you are capable of solving their problem is to show that you have solved similar problems before in the past.
Once that part is accomplished, the next thing that a super-salesman cover letter does is humanize you and show that you actually enjoy your job. You are more than just a problem solving machine, going around and applying your experience, skills and education to business problems like a robot. You are a person that is driven by certain motivations and challenges and who takes pride in your work.
That's why every cover letter should include a section that I like to call the "passion paragraph." This paragraph shows that you derive satisfaction from doing your job well and that you are looking forward to meeting new challenges. That makes you even more desirable to the employer as someone that will come in and not only solve the immediate problem but bring a needed energy into the workplace.
Once it's been established that you can solve the problem that needs to be solved and are eager to do so, then the next part of the letter should be to make the next step towards landing the job happen. If we revert back to the car salesman analogy then this is the point where the salesman has listened to the customer, has made his pitch, has interested them in buying the car and now must close the deal.
For the car salesman, this is the most important part of the entire proceeding. He wants to turn their interest in the car into a commitment, right there on the spot, to purchase the car and exchange money. It's because of the car salesman's eagerness to get the customer's name signed on the dotted line and the high pressure tactics that many car salesmen use to get the name signed that the profession suffers from such an negative perception.
Luckily for the application cover letter writer, the act that the candidate requires from the reader is not as drastic or binding as buying an automobile right on the spot. It's not as if the application cover letter writer is asking the Hiring Manager to make a decision right then and there to make the hire. Instead, all the candidate asks is for the Hiring Manager to take the process one step further. Namely to schedule an interview.
This is not to say that the request for the interview should be taken lightly. Above all, the letter should create a sense of urgency in the reader and inspire him or her to pick up the phone immediately after reading the letter. After all, it's a sad fact that people are often busy and forgetful and if they set the letter down and decide to make the call "later" there's the possibility that they might forget, or get distracted by another candidate or for some other reason never make that call.
One way to inspire that action is to follow up the closing paragraph that asks for the interview and gives the contact details that the Hiring Manager can use to get into communication with you with the simple yet effective Post Script. The Post Script or P.S. is an effective way to get the attention of the person for one last time and to give a final tidbit of information or to add a little tiny bit of urgency to the request for the invitation.
With the use of these techniques, you are bound to see the quality of your application cover letters raised. These letters, combined with a first rate and effective resume are bound to give you more responses to your mailings and to make your job searching a more fruitful and rewarding use of your time.
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