According to Careerbuilder.com, 45% of job seekers don’t include a cover letter with their resume. I'll go out on a limb and say that the reason is that most professionals view the process of writing a cover letter as cumbersome and time consuming, and feel that their resume is what matters most.
But the cover letter can be a strategic tool to position you for success. As a job seeker, it provides you with additional real estate to "sell" yourself and stand out from the crowd, so don't throw away an opportunity to do so.
If you’ve ever been in a position responsible for hiring, you’re familiar with the pain involved in reviewing countless cover letters that all look and sound the same. Vanilla documents chock full of robotic language and overused corporate “buzzwords.” Words like “goal-oriented,” “dependable,” “results-driven,” lack specifics and rarely include examples to back them up. It can be refreshing to every now and then come across a cover letter that’s different. It’s those cover letters that earn attention, and that’s the whole point.
Because so many people use cover letter templates and the same vague corporate-speak, it’s even easier to stand out from the competition by including some elements in your cover letter that most won't. The process doesn’t need to be difficult or time consuming, just different.
Try the AIDA Marketing Formula
Marketers have been using tried and true formulas for capturing attention and persuasively informing consumers about products or services to influence buying decisions for ages. Some of the same formulas can be applied to your cover letter. After all, it’s a marketing document to help you stand out from your competitors and “sell” what you have to offer to an organization. One of the most effective formulas for writing cover letters is the AIDA formula:
Attention: Immediately grab the reader’s attention. The goal here is to create momentum with your words and motivate them to continue to read down the page. In my opinion this is the most important part of a cover letter because if you lose them here, they have no motivation to read the rest of the letter. Here's a few ways to grab their attention early:
- Inject a headline. Similar to an advertisement, the goal here being to concisely describe what makes you unique in a compelling way. A quick way to do this is to take 3 of your strengths, achievements, or accomplishments and weave them into 1-2 sentences that summarize YOU and align with the position you're applying for. This is essentially an over-arching value statement that communicates why you're the best person for the job. Emphasize this headline at the top of your cover letter by bolding or using a slightly larger font size. Since most cover letters look and read the same, a headline will stand out and is an easy way for a talent seeker to immediately “consume” what it is that you have to offer, without having to read every word on the page in order to do so.
- Leverage your LinkedIn recommendations. If you have some powerful recommendations on your LinkedIn profile, or letters of recommendation from past supervisors or colleagues, this is a great time to inject a concise testimonial into the cover letter. It provides a bit of social proof of your competence and abilities and immediately captures attention.
- Ask a question that resonates with the talent seeker while simultaneously highlighting your value. Understanding the job description and what the talent seeker is looking for will help craft a memorable question. As an example: “Are you seeking a Loss Prevention Manager with 10+ years multi-unit experience and a proven history of reducing shrink and building strong business partnerships?"
Interest: You’ve got their attention, now you have to keep their interest. In this portion of the cover letter you’ll want to show your understanding of what the company is looking for in a candidate and why you’re the perfect match. A cover letter should really be more about how you can help an organization (with examples based on your past achievements / accomplishments), and less about you. Take a look at the job posting and identify the desired skills or experience. Discuss how you can fill the bill and address those particular points. Provide specifics that reinforce why you’re the best candidate and how you've added value in your current and past roles. Lead with your strongest examples of past performance and explain how they are transferable to this particular position, based on what the company is looking for.
Desire: Take the time and explain why you’re passionate about working for company XYZ, learn about their culture and initiatives. Don’t be afraid to inject some personality (in a professional manner) and tell the reader more about who you are and how you can help the company. You've given them some concrete examples based on your past performance in the paragraph above, so add some benefits of the soft skills and personality traits that you bring to the table. Adding a few bullet points that expand on your achievements / accomplishments can be useful here. It's an opportunity to toot your own horn, but in a way that solves a problem for the company you're applying to.
Action: At this point you’re ready to “close” the deal. End your cover letter by asking for the interview. Thank the reader for their time and consideration, invite them to review the resume you’ve enclosed, and mention that you would enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the role and discuss how you can add additional value to the organization.
Keep It Concise & Consumable
When viewing a document that is a solid “wall’ of text from top to bottom, or one that is several pages long, it’s an instant turn-off and makes reading laborious. Make your cover letter easy to consume. Keep it concise, about 3 paragraphs and break up the text with proper spacing, use of bullet points and proper margins to create enough “white space” on the page to make the document inviting.
When crafted properly, a cover letter provides the perfect opportunity to explain why you’re the best candidate, allows the talent seeker to have a better understanding of who you are and how you communicate, and is a great way to influence them to learn more about you. If you take the time to craft a cover letter in a compelling way, targeted to each job you want to apply for, you’ll stand out from the sea of vanilla cover letters that never get read. After all, isn't that the point of writing one to begin with?