Cover Letters: Improving Your Signal-to-Noise Ratio

Last but not least in our “Career Tips” section this month, we wanted to make one final recommendation in terms of how to communicate effectively with potential employers.  In those cases throughout the job hunting process (e.g. responding to published ads) that require a cover letter, we wanted to share one approach that you might experiment with to see if it boosts your response rate.

Essentially, what we’ve noticed is that a great many cover letters tend to be excruciatingly long, boring, and built around a laundry list of skills and qualifications that are only loosely relevant to the stated needs of the company doing the hiring.  For whatever reason, many people still approach cover letters as an exercise in quantity, not quality, and a place to rehash all the same old stuff they have on their resume presentation.  In actuality, however, the most important element of a cover letter is thoughtfulness — and showing the employer that you understand their needs and can offer them 4-5 impressive and relevant qualifications that might help you quickly and successfully address the problems they are facing.

If this process is still daunting to you, and you find yourself struggling to crank cover letters out in fairly efficient fashion, you might consider shifting your approach and sending out letters that are only ONE PARAGRAPH LONG and that only focus on a single thought — i.e. one killer credential, idea, or qualification that relates to the employer’s needs and that sets you apart from any other people who are applying.  In practice, this might look something like:

“Dear Hiring Manager: I’m forwarding you my resume in response to the Graphic Designer position you currently have listed on your corporate website.  Long story short, while my resume will certainly walk you through the entire range of relevant skills and qualifications I have to offer in the design field, there’s one unique advantage I believe I could offer to your team, if hired.  Having noticed in the job description that you’re looking for somebody with expert-level skills in the Adobe Design Suite (Illustrator, InDesign, PhotoShop, etc.), I’d call your attention to the fact that I actually worked for Adobe Systems for six years, earlier in my career.  The advantage this gives me?  Not only did I get the chance to learn how to use these tools from the actual developers who built them, but I’ve still got great relationships with former colleagues over there and can therefore get free, fast technical support about any aspects of the software, no matter how complex, should your company need them.  So among the many other elements listed on my resume, this is one qualification I feel really sets me apart from other candidates, and I’d therefore appreciate the opportunity to interview in the near future if you believe there might be a suitable fit!  Thanks for your time and consideration.”

Again, this is just a quick example of this technique in action, but if your cover letters haven’t been producing good results, you might give this tightly-focused approach a try to see if it improves your response rate.  All you need to do is come up with one key skill/idea/qualification that connects your background closely to the company/job at hand — and then go for it!  Given the speed with which employers scan through candidate materials these days, too, this approach will help ensure you catch their attention right out of the gate with your most powerful material…

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