Whether it’s a job application cover letter, or resume – one thing to remember is that there is only one “job” that your actual submission materials have. And that “job” is: Getting Job Interviews.
Once you get more interviews, we’ll talk about job interview techniques in other articles, OK?
So, if the entire purpose behind cover letter writing is getting job interviews, then it stands to reason that writing a good cover letter ought to be at the top of your “to do” list when you are looking for a job. Right?
Welcome to “Cover Letter Writing 101” where I hope the next few paragraphs and points and a personal experience will bring you up to date with the basics of how today’s successful job seekers get more interviews.
Point #1: You must be subtle about tooting your own horn while still letting employers know that YOU are the best candidate for the job. In other words, everything you write must be “about them” – about THEIR needs, about how THEY will benefit from bringing you in for an interview. And, you must put all this focus on THEM while still talking yourself up!
Point #2: You must be able to speak knowledgably not only about the position, but also about the company. You must know what the company’s needs are to begin with if you are to address them convincingly in your job application cover letter. Besides, if you don’t know exactly what their needs are, how will you know for sure if you are the right one for the job? Hopefully this makes sense to you! If it does, then writing a good cover letter and getting job interviews just got a whole lot easier for you!
Let’s try the following practice exercise to work on this little cover letter writing gem.
Practice Exercise: Take a job or position that you are interested in, and list the skills and qualifications that you believe will be most important to the company.
If you cannot think of a specific job or company off the top of your head, here is an example: Pretend you are going for the job of cashier at a local supermarket, “The Local Family Grocer.” This is where it gets personal – so the information is very real!
Now, “The Local Family Grocer” has stated that they need a cashier, and they pay $10/hour. The cashier needs to be available on weekends and weeknights. That’s about all you know about the position. For now!
As you collect your thoughts prior to writing your job application cover letter, sit down with a pencil and paper and ask yourself:
What do the cashiers actually do over at The Local Family Grocer? You can brainstorm your answers. The most obvious ones that will come to mind will probably be,
- “scan items through check out,”
- “bag groceries,”
- “take the payment,”
- “give receipts,”
- “run price checks,” and things of that nature.
But now, I need you to dig deeper.
I need you to come to the store with me.
When you are about to get in line at the store, do you go to any old checkout line? Or are there any cashiers you seek out? Are there any you avoid? As you answer these questions, ask “why?”
I can tell you, as we walk through the store together on our cover letter writing exercise, that there are several cashiers I just adore. Again. Why?
For me, it’s the customer service and the big smile I get from them.
For example, “Mr. Richard” always makes me feel welcome. He comments on my smile, and says things like, “It’s always so good to see you! You always seem to be smiling!” and in response, after thinking about it, I have to say, “Why, I believe it’s because YOU are smiling and seem so glad to see ME! Thank you! You’ve made my day.”
And, now, you and I will stroll over to the manager and comment about what a terrific employee “Mr. Richard” is.
Conversely, why do I avoid certain cashiers in the same way I avoid eggplant? (My apologies to those of you who like eggplant. It’s nothing personal!)
Perhaps you saw the cashier whose line wasn’t quite as long as “Mr. Richard’s” was. Why, you may ask, didn’t I go for “Ms. Whoever’s” line? (Of course, you’re taking careful notes, because you are learning a lot more than just good cover letter writing strategies.)
For me – especially as someone who has done a lot of career coaching – I notice things like sullen attitudes, cashiers looking at their watches, etc. When I ask “Ms. Whoever,” “So, how are you today?” and hear, “Oh, I’ll be a whole lot better in a half hour when my shift ends,” it makes my skin crawl. Seriously!
I don’t like feeling my skin crawl when I’m in a grocery store. There’s something just not right about that…
I’ve also been known to avoid cashiers who chit-chat with other employees while they are waiting on me. What really rolls my eyes is when they begin talking about a member of the community behind his or her back.
I have been tempted (notice I say “tempted” – because I have held my tongue!) to look right at the cashier and say something like, “Oh, I wasn’t aware you knew my brother/sister/aunt/uncle/mother/father/cousin so well!”
Ahh… The things we’d like to see. Maybe in a movie one day.
But I digress.
So, as we get back to writing a good cover letter, it now becomes evident that the job of the cashier goes even deeper. The Local Family Grocer needs people who make customers feel welcome. People who are cheerful. People who act as though they enjoy their jobs.
So, as we leave the store, you take out your pencil and paper, and write a few sentences about the cashier job.
You have now become inspired to write a good job application cover letter directly to “Ms. Jones” (who you happen to know is the person who will be reviewing the job application, because we just found out about it while we were complimenting “Mr. Richard.”)
Armed with all this information, imagine this cover letter:
“Dear Ms. Jones,
I was so pleased to meet you earlier today when my friend and I were telling you what a great job we feel Mr. Richard does for The Local Family Grocer.
In fact, Ms. Jones – I am so glad that I visited and experienced that customer service, because I had to rush right home and let you know that not only I am not applying to be your next cashier, Ican prove to you that if you are looking for another cashier with that same positive energy and excellent work ethic, I am that person! Here’s why.”
And you can go on. Now, this is just one simple example of how this works. We have more to share on this and related topics, so please watch for more articles!