November 14, 2013
A good cover letter is not about you
Sounds counterintuitive, doesn't it? Of course your cover letter is going to be about you!
But think: What is the best way to win the attention and interest and good regard of, well, just about anyone?
You know the answer, of course: You listen to that person. You empathize with that person. You focus all your attention on that person and whatever he or she has going on, including problems.
It's the same in job hunting. Yes, it's hard, because as a job hunter you are naturally focused on your own problems; that is, you need a job! Which is why you labor over your resume, spiff up your skills and upgrade your references. To you, your job search is about you and your needs.
Here's the rub. Most employers don't care about you and your needs. They are too busy worrying about themselves. Budgets, head counts, deadlines, layoffs, hanging onto their own jobs -- that's what's on the minds of most hiring managers.
You deal with this by thinking and acting from the perspective of the potential employer. Start with the cover letter. Lead with a remark that shows you understand the business your potential employer is in -- a reference to current industry challenges or emerging markets, say, or a mention of that company's latest new contract.
Discuss, specifically, how your qualifications and experience fit into this company's universe. Demonstrate that you are already part of this universe; mentioning acquaintances in common is a great way to do this.
The idea is to prove that you 1) understand this company's problems, and 2) possess the skills, experience and energy to help address those problems. Anything that helps a company innovate more, save more, earn more or produce more -- that's what will make your potential employer sit up and take notice.
Extra points for naming a specific problem this specific company faces and then offering a good idea for addressing it (implying, of course, that there are a lot more good ideas where that one came from!).
Make your cover letters more about them and less about you, and you may find your job search just got shorter.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at email@example.com.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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