Note from Neville:
I wanted to show everyone how to write a kick ass cover letter....so I’m bringing in someone who’s read thousands of resumes, thousands of cover letters, and acts as the gatekeeper between thousands of people and the jobs they're hunting for. Denise Renee.
Denise Renee can tell you which cover letters suck, which are amazing, and which are a total waste of your time. I added lots of poorly-drawn illustrations into this article so blame those on me, not Denise Renee!
Denise Renee starts talking typing here:
I have held several positions where I’ve performed HR functions throughout my career, such as on-boarding new employees, training, interviewing and hiring. A few years ago, I worked for an Executive Recruiting firm where I learned the industry inside and out. I also had an all-access backstage pass to the side of CareerBuilder.com job seekers don’t normally see.
I have been a gatekeeper, guarding the door of employment for a few lucky souls. So I know from personal experience that gatekeepers don't have a lot of time. They are trying to wade through the deluge of resumes they receive daily and they want to get to the most relevant applicants as quickly as possible. A heavily reference study conducted by TheLadders.com back in 2012 revealed that recruiters spent an average of 6 seconds reading a resume before deciding if they were interested or not in reading more. If a hiring manager receives an email with a cover letter and resume attached to it, 9 times out of 10, they are going straight for the resume.
In fact, I think that cover letters are a waste of time (with only 3 exceptions).
When was the last time you were verbally asked to hand in a cover letter?
Back in the day when resumes were physically mailed (or faxed) to companies, a cover letter served a practical purpose. It was seen before the resume and was intended to entice the recipient to take a further look at what was enclosed:
Today, however, resumes are, more often than not, received electronically. Whether directly submitted via a company’s website, vetted by a recruiting firm, or sourced from an applicant pool such as Careerbuilder.com, resumes are digitally delivered without being married to a cover letter.
You must understand.....
If there is a digital database of resumes, there is an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) in place. When recruiting firms, individual companies and online applicant pools like CareerBuilder receive resumes, they are scanned and the relevant information is put into buckets like:
- Job Title.
- Relevant keywords inside your resume (such as "Manager" or "Executive" or "Microsoft Excel" or "QuickBooks")
So when a recruiter or a hiring manager has a position to fill and wants to search their internal database (or the database of a site like CareerBuilder), they can essentially do a “Google search” of the skill sets they are looking for, and the database shows them a list of resumes.
In all my years in recruiting I've never seen a cover letter given much relevance by an ATS.
It’s all about the resume baby.
And today, your resume must be friendly to two things:
1.) The ATS (Applicant Tracking System)...so when someone types in certain keywords your resume pops up.
2.) The human who will skim through those resumes that decides who gets a pre-screening phone call. This person is The Gatekeeper and can make-or-break your chances of getting an interview.
For today’s job hunter, a cover letter is sometimes a deer-in-headlights afterthought. They think after they’ve polished up their resume, “Maybe I should write a cover letter!” Fresh out of ideas, what usually gets cranked out reads like recycled resume hash that goes something like this:
Bad Cover Letter Example:
If this letter is supposed to entice the hiring manager to further examine the resume, it’s an epic fail.
- It’s highly impersonal. ("Dear Hiring Manager." ...Seriously???)
- It reads like a generic, plastic wrapped product that came off a cover letter assembly line when Reagan was President.
- It only focuses on the job seeker and their desire for an interview, not what the employers wants or needs.
- It’s a snooze fest. (That should probably be listed as #1)!
- It just summarizes what’s in the resume, so there's no compelling reason to look at the resume...which is supposed to be the point of a cover letter, right?
So in the digital age, there's not much point to writing a cover letter......well, except in these three cases:
The Only 3 Times You Must Write A Cover Letter:
I actually think there are three situations where cover letters are important, if not mandatory:
Situation #1.) When you are specifically asked for one by an individual company’s website.
Some companies have their own in-depth online application process via their website. You may have discovered this by being redirected when using a site like Indeed.com or CareerBuilder.com or if you are conducting a proactive job search. If their process requests that you submit a cover letter, then submit a cover letter! You never want to leave out a step in a hiring process because I can promise you, the person on the other end sorting through those applications is just PRAYING you give them a reason to disqualify you; you’ll be one less application to read. Not paying attention to instructions during the application or interview process with any company is a red flag to them; you may not follow instructions if hired. So I wouldn’t play with that if I were you.
Example: when the company asks for specific suggestions
Example: when the company asks for a specific word to be mentioned
Example: when a content manager asks for article ideas in the cover letter
Situation #2.) when a connection has been made for you.
If you are serious about landing your next position, you wouldn’t rely on a passive method such as submitting your resume to CareerBuilder.com and to company websites as your sole strategy. Tapping into your network is an excellent way to be proactive about your job search. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 70% of jobs are found through networking or are unadvertised positions. So when one of your friends, colleague or mentors say, “I have someone you should send your resume too,” follow through on that lead! You now now have a golden opportunity to bypass the recruiting “black hole” of online applications and HR blockades to put your resume in the hands of a warm-blooded influencer at the company. It most definitely should be accompanied by a well crafted cover letter.
Example: CMO reaching out to a startup founder via mutual friend
Example: PPC specialist reaching out to a big brand leader via a mutual connection
Example: reaching out to development agency officers before moving to a new country
Situation #3.) When you are conducting a proactive job search.
Where a cover letter is relevant, if not mandatory is when you are conducting a proactive job search. It’s when you’ve identified specific companies you’d like to work with (regardless if they are currently hiring in your field or not), you’ve thoroughly researched their history and growth plans and you’ve crafted a strategy to find your way in. Once you’ve identified the best individual to make your introduction, you’ll most certainly want to whip up a customized cover letter and send it off via snail mail with your resume; both should be on that fancy paper you can get at Office Depot or Staples.
Example: copywriter reaching out to a marketing agency
Example: Lawyer reaching out to a clean tech consulting firm
Example: Web developer reaching out to a local sports team
Example: reaching out to a founder after listening to their podcast interview
How To Write An Attention Grabbing Cover Letter That Gets You Phone Calls:
This next part is only for those of you who don’t see yourself as the average “Jo/anna Shmoe” employee. If you put a high value on your skillset and you understand that you are both the CEO and CMO of “You Inc.” you are probably a proactive type of job seeker and you’ll immediately get what I’m about to say next.
In order to write an effective cover letter, you have to write it like a sales letter:
Yes, the same kind of sales letter that Neville teaches the people in his copywriting course to write. Remember Bobby and the boring emails he used to write to influential client prospects? That’s exactly how most people churn out cover letters. Boring, stale, snooze material.
Remember, you are the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of “You Inc.” It’s your job to show your potential customers (recruiters and hiring managers) that you have the best solution or product (your superior skill set) that will solve their business problems.
This will require that you understand that company’s vision, goals and pain points. You’re not going to get that simply from a job posting on Indeed.com. You’ll actually need to engage in the “hunting” part of “job hunting.” You can gain a 360 degree perspective of your target companies by doing things like studying their website, searching for press clippings, stalking their employees on Linkedin (in a professional way, of course), going to association meetings that some of their employees are a part of or by attending industry events the company will have a presence, just to name a few tactics.
When you are adequately armed with both the knowledge of what the company’s current trajectory is, along with an appropriate influencer within the company to direct your resume to, you can now write your cover letter.
The Cover Letter Checklist:
Your cover letter must take everything that is wrong in my bad cover letter example above and do the exact opposite. A cover letter that will have a hiring manager or recruiter calling you before they’ve finished reading will:
So to craft this masterpiece, you simply follow a tried and true copywriting formula: AIDA.
A – Grab their Attention
I – Spark their Interest
D – Create Desire
A – Invite them to take Action
So let’s say Emily Employee has decided she wants to work at Global Technical Services. She’s done her research and learned that their Atlanta area expansion has not been going very well. Local news reports revealed that their contractor relationships have been failing and they’ve been refunding their end-user clients to make up for lack of poor service. Emily has the Regional Manager, Richard Robinson’s contact info. So now instead of the snooze fest letter she sent above, she’ll send one that sounds more like this:
Good Cover Letter Example:
Here’s why this cover letter will perform better for Emily:
- She immediately grabs Richard’s attention by addressing him by name.
- She addresses the company’s biggest pain points: their current PR problem and their profit problem.
- She stirs up interest by showing how her existing relationships in the field can contribute to a potential solution.
- She is showing how she’ll be a benefit to the organization.
Richard is probably salivating with desire to get his hands on Emily’s connections and she gives him an action to take....review her resume and call her. If you were Richard, wouldn't you call Emily?
::::Denise Renee drops the mic and sashays off stage!::::
Ok, I’m back!
But there you have it: when and how to write a relevant cover letter. When job seekers start thinking more like marketers and sales professionals, I have the pleasure of seeing them become better resume and cover letter writers. I hope this nudges you one step closer to landing your dream job!
Download this entire Cover Letter Post for your own files or sharing with colleagues:
P.S. Neville back with you. Whenever people ask “where can I find a copywriter” for the HR industry, I always refer them to Denise Renee. Years ago she took one of my classes and I was blown away by the content she wrote about how to cleverly stuff a resume with keywords so it shows up in a recruiters list. You can grab her free ebook 5 Essential Resume Hacks or stalk her for cool personal branding and career tips on Facebook or Periscope.
If you ever have job-related or professional space copy to be written, keep Denise Renee in your Copywriting Rolodex.
P.P.S. If you would like to ask Denise Renee any questions about your own cover letter or resume, ask below! She kindly said she'd answer them all. She was the gatekeeper for thousands of job seekers, so she knows a lot of the tricks of the trade.
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