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Cover Letters: What is Your “Carrot”? Aug 15, 2012
I love how a personal story can really bring a cover letter to life. In working with clients on cover letters, I’m always looking for that teaser to grab the reader’s attention. Similar to an interesting fact, news story or piece of information that sparks a lively conversation with colleagues or friends (tasteful and appropriate, of course), I want to know something about you or your experiences that will make me want to learn more. Recently I wrote a cover letter for a client looking to take a new step in her career. After learning more about her background, both personally and professionally, the “aha moment” struck me as she talked about her visit to the Olympic games, two different times. Not only was this timely with the Summer Olympics in London, it was a unique experience that set her apart from thousands of other candidates, and no doubt an interesting fact that would pique a reader’s interest. I was excited to use this in her cover letter, and it allowed me to further highlight her passion and commitment for continuous improvement. She loved the results and happily reported that it helped get her foot in the door.
What does this mean for you? Many job seekers forego the cover letter thinking it won’t help them. I disagree. In my experience, I do think traditional cover letters are often ignored. But, find that conversation piece in your work experience or personal life that you can relate to your career or skills, and a cover letter can easily be like a good book that grabs the reader’s attention in the first few words or sentence. They don’t want to put it down! My cover letter motto: unique, conversational, and short. Dangle the carrot for the company recruiter, VP, or department manager so they just have to learn more about you. And if your resume is equally as compelling, you will be one step closer to your next career opportunity.
Pop quiz question: how long do you think a recruiter spends on a typical resume? A) 1 minute, B) 2 minutes, C) 30 seconds, D) 6 seconds. I didn’t make this very hard, given my post title. Yes, the answer is D! According to new research from theladders.com, recruiters spend an average of only 6.25 seconds on a resume before deciding whether that candidate may be a good fit for the job. Now more than ever, candidates have to work hard to wow the recruiters, and do it in well under 10 seconds! Here are some additional statistics that I found interesting – 80% of that 6.25 seconds is spent on basic resume content, like name, job titles and employer names, start/end dates of employment, and education. The other 20% goes toward scanning for keywords matching the job description.
What does this mean for you, the job seeker? First and foremost – no typos or grammatical errors. This may seem obvious, but for those of you who have spent countless hours writing and refining your resume, it’s easier than you think to miss something. Make sure to get a second, and even a third, pair of eyes to review your resume before it goes to anyone. Second, a resume should have concise and easy to read content from start to finish. More specifically, don’t use paragraph explanations of your experience, keep bullet points short (use sub-bullets if you must, for must-have details), and remember that your resume doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t!) include every last detail of your past employment. Lastly, when applying for a specific job opening, be sure to review the ad or job description for keywords so you can include them in your resume. This does take more work, but your goal is to perk up that recruiter on the first pass of your resume. Matching multiple keywords will help you get to the top of the list. You have just over six seconds to make an impression, so make those six seconds count!
You have probably read several articles about the basics of a successful job search. Professional resume, check. Complete LinkedIn profile, check. Telling everyone you know that you are looking for a new job, check. So now what? Here are a few essential tips to take you beyond the basics.
Sell yourself. Your resume needs to be more than a job description of your experiences. What were your specific accomplishments? You might not be in sales, but you definitely need to establish a personal brand and sell yourself to land that next big opportunity. Also, do you have your “elevator pitch” nailed down? Can you confidently sell your personal brand over the phone or in person to any prospective decision maker?
Don’t skimp on time dedicated to your job search. With today’s economy and technology, browsing the job sites a few times a week for new job listings and sending out resumes just won’t cut it. This is a full time job. Set up a weekly schedule for your job search, allowing enough time to check in with contacts, research target companies, customize resumes for specific job openings, and evaluate your overall progress. This is where an experienced career consultant can help.
Join professional groups related to your career field or industry. Start by checking out what groups are on LinkedIn and choose at least 3-5 targeted toward your career goals. Then, get involved – participate in discussion forums, get to know other members, and ask for connections. Studies show that 80% of jobs are not advertised and over 50% are filled through networking. Having a solid network of contacts within your industry or field will improve your reach and significantly increase your chances of achieving the next level in your career.
It’s no surprise that finding a new job takes a lot of time and patience. But as with any step in your career, hard work nearly always pays off. Stay motivated, keep a positive attitude, go beyond the basics, and the right opportunity will come knocking. Bottom line – don’t give up. Happy hunting!