Sometimes a compelling cover letter is all you need to double your interviews.
As a volunteer job counselor for Jobindex.dk, the Danish equivalent to Monster, I try to help people who are finding it difficult to get into the Danish job market find work. Recently I worked with a client, let's call her Alicia, who had tried everything to find a job but was still coming up empty.
Alicia was not a native Dane and hardly spoke the language, so it certainly complicated matters further and limited the jobs she could apply for. Alicia had a profile that would be attractive to quite a few employers and she had received some interview requests; however, after more than 100 job applications and she was starting to wear down.
A cover letter made the difference
Alicia had quite a good resume that followed the Harvard style with the following elements:
- A short summary showcasing her main skills and experiences, which changed with every job to closely match the job ad albeit still within reason of what she could actually do for the company.
- A list of her relevant jobs describing responsibilities in a text string and achievements in bullets.
- A list of her education highlighting main courses, thesis and any honors she received.
- A skills and language section.
The problem was her cover letter. Even though Alicia edited it so the experience and results would match the job ad, the cover still seemed quite generic. Alicia included a small section stating why she wanted to work for the specific company; however, it was not linked to an overall theme and just appeared to be saying nice things about the company. In short, the cover letter was not getting it done.
Cover letter tips: Start with the pain
To try and make a bigger impact on recruiters and hiring managers, we agreed to make a change to the cover letter similar to what Liz Ryan would ask you to do in a pain letter.
For each job application, we started out by describing the challenges (i.e. the “pains”) of the industry and of the company Alicia was applying for. We then added some company-specific challenges and how Alicia, as a finance professional, could help solve those pains. We then got specific and used 3-5 of the responsibilities from the job ad and linked them with Alicia's past results at previous companies.
We used statements like “I will take charge of your annual reporting” or “I will drive your budget process” and backed each statement up with how Alicia had done this at previous companies to give them credibility.
This section made up the bulk of Alicia's the cover letter, but it wouldn't have worked as well without the first part. This first part put Alicia in the hiring manager's head by demonstrating an understanding and appreciation of his or her problems. We rounded off the cover letter with why Alicia wanted to work for the specific company, again linking it to the pains highlighted at the beginning.
The final section simply asked for the interview. Instead of saying “I'm really looking forward to hearing from you,” we said “I would very much like to discuss this position further and can be reached at [phone number].”
Up until we changed Alicia's cover letter she applied for 115 jobs, was invited for a respectable 10 interviews (8.7% response rate) and made it to three final interviews. Since we switched cover letter strategies, Alicia has applied for 29 jobs, been invited for six interviews (20.7% response rate) and made it to four final interview rounds. It's very important to note here that we didn't change a thing in her resume, so the results are truly due to a change in the cover letter.
I am happy to say that Alicia received two job offers shortly after we tried this new approach and has now been happily working in her dream job for the past five months!
There are certainly more methods to getting a job than job applications, and some would even argue that online job applications can be a waste of time. However, it really depends on the job market, your location and your specific job goals. Following these cover letter tips, leveraging your network, attending networking events and contacting hiring managers and recruiters will only make your job search more effective.
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