Bad cover letters are like drive-thru dating. Here’s why: hastily dashing off a cover letter is as likely to make a negative first impression as asking someone out on a date and then failing to put in the effort.

I would bet we can all agree that taking your date (especially a new one) through the drive-thru and munching on fries in the car – rather than an actual dinner that requires planning, some risk, thought and a small capital outlay – usually doesn’t bode well for a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. The reason is obvious. A drive-thru date lacks the three C’s: creativity, curiosity and care.

A poorly written cover-letter lacks the three C’s:

creativity, curiosity (about the employer and its needs) and care.

Yet job candidates send what I would call “just plain bad” cover letters all the time to potential employers. That is, they send letters that clearly indicate they were in a rush, not wanting to take the time or spend the energy to understand the role or even make a good first impression.

Alternatively, they skip the cover letter altogether, which is like saying to that same date, “let’s take a drive past the fast food joints in town and not eat at all, because I couldn’t be bothered to plan or pay for dinner.” While some employers (and dates) don’t fuss over such details or want you bad enough to overlook this faux pas, there’s an etiquette to job submissions that should not be ignored unless you’re fortunate enough to fit into one of the exceptions above.

shutterstock_38753659 (drive thru)

Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a referral source who dispenses with the need for cover letters or you are a highly sought-after candidate (read: they want you badly enough), cover letters are part of the job search etiquette and should not be ignored.

To put it very simply: if you don’t write a strong, well-worded and error free letter, you may cost yourself a $60K, $100K or even $250K+ job. Put into more specific monetary terms, if you are unemployed, each month you are out of work is  1/12th of that amount. Alternatively, if you are in a job you hate, that same lost month can make you more discouraged and less motivated about going to work, getting out of bed during the week or finding a way to improve your situation. Short answer: getting your cover letters nailed down, in style and substance, is essential to any job search.

How can I make my cover letter stand out?

I hear this question all the time from my clients: how can I write an amazing cover letter that will get their attention? Truth be told, when I first started writing résumés, I thought that if I got the hard part (the résumé) out of the way, the rest (the cover letter) would be easy. Yet it isn’t so. The mental block that accompanies cover letters is just as strong as the one for résumés. In addition, the potential for missteps is equally high, which is unfortunate for job candidates, since the cover letter is often the document that triggers a make-or-break first impression.

Here are some basic factors to consider as you are writing a cover letter:

First, your cover letter should be written to a person. It’s not a love letter (or an actual date), of course, but your cover letter should nonetheless engage your reader. While keywords are important for automated submissions, a simple rehash of your résumé with the name of the position listed above and a “please contact me” closing paragraph do not a great cover letter make.

You are writing to a person. Make sure he or she wants to read it.

I’ve mentioned this to clients and in groups, and I am always surprised when I say, “Imagine you are the person receiving the letter.” I see a lightbulb go off. Yes, you are writing to a person. Someone who got out of bed in the morning just like you, wants to impress his or her boss with a good hire and may have the office next to you for the next ten years. Write to that person.

If you don’t have a particular person to whom you can address the letter, you can direct it to “Ladies and Gentlemen.” But remember, while it is not addressed to a specific individual, it will be read by a person at some point in the process. If you were an actor on stage you may not know who comprises your audience, but you would know (or assume) there is an audience. In too many cases to count, I have seen cover letters which appear to have been written under the premise that they will never actually be read.

Second, your cover letter should indicate that you have actually read the job description and want the job. Put down the pen or keyboard for a moment. Imagine that you are the potential interviewer, and you have two cover letters in front of you. In one, there is a generic rehashing of the person’s résumé or watered-down description of his or her skills. In the other, the candidate exudes confidence and demonstrates an understanding of and genuine interest in the needs of the employer. Which one makes you want to move to the next step with the candidate? For the avoidance of doubt, my vote is with cover letter #2. The first one is destined for the trash can, with as little aim and initiative as its writer had showed when sending it.

Third, your cover letter should explain why you are the right person to fill the job. How specifically can you add value to the organization and what examples can you give to show that you have made similar contributions in other roles? I am not suggesting that you need to show you are a round peg to fit into a round hole, but you do need to connect the dots for the interviewer, rather than expect him or her to do that for you. Again, comparing to the drive-thru example, if you couldn’t be bothered to make even a basic plan for your date, what can you possibly expect in return?

Fourth, delete any language that doesn’t communicate why you should be hired. Space is at a premium. Use it well.  

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.
– Attributed to Mark Twain, Blaise Pascal and others

Fifth, if you need to explain a gap or other detracting element of your work history, give it a positive spin. Negativity is one of the biggest turn-offs in the job interview process, and starting a paragraph with “I am currently unemployed but….” or “although I have taken five years off from working….” can sound like you are someone who dwells on the downside. What can you offer to make yourself a compelling candidate while gently explaining what might otherwise be a red flag? Again, imagine you are the interview. What would make he or she excited about hiring you? How did you take that blow or setback and learn from it or create something positive with it?

Sixth, write well and proofread zealously. Even if writing won’t be a significant component of your job (and for most of us, it is), consider the cover letter an audition for how well you’ll write for the company. 

Lastly, read it again and make sure you cover the three C’s. Does your cover letter show creativity, differentiating it from all the other cover letters on the block? Does it demonstrate a curiosity about the company and the role, as well as what you could add to it? Finally, is it written with care, rather than a simple “drive-thru style” of how many cover letters you could bang out in a day?

If your job search has dragged on or been unnecessarily delayed, you may feel sometimes as if quantity – i.e., number of applications submitted – is what matters most. In the current job market, in which there can be thousands of applicants for each job, nothing could be further from the truth. Take the time to get it right.

Anne Marie Segal is a résumé writer and a career and leadership coach to attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. You can find her website here.

WRITING SERVICES include attorney and executive résumés, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, bios, websites and other career and business communications.

COACHING SERVICES include career coaching, networking support, interview preparation, LinkedIn training, personal branding, leadership and change management.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

shutterstock_168666830

As we all make our plans, goals and New Year’s Resolutions for 2016, one of mine is to write weekly blog posts (at least 50 altogether) in the New Year on the topics of leadership, careers and resume writing. Here are 30 subjects I plan to cover, and I will add the other 20 topics over the course of the year.

Since I write these posts to be responsive and helpful to clients and others, please let me know if you would like any of them to be a priority (i.e., addressed earlier in the year), because they are particularly relevant to your current situation. You can leave a comment below or email me at asegal@segalcoaching.com.

Leadership

Branding Yourself for Greater Leadership Roles in 2016

Finding and Establishing the Right Networks

Putting Your 30/60/90 Day Plan into Action

How to Get Traction with a Sponsor (Not a Mentor)

Positioning Yourself for Board Membership

Writing Emails that Show Leadership with Simple, Actionable Words

Controlling the Time Demon: Work Your Plan

Does Managing Up Actually Work? How to Do It Right

Non-Profit Board Leadership: The Advantages and Realities

Do True Leaders Always Know How to Execute Their Ideas?

Careers

What Does Your Career Need Most in 2016?

How to Prepare for a Panel Interview (with Multiple Interviewers)

Preparing for a Phone Interview – Be Ready for Anything

How to Gain Non-Profit Experience While Keeping Your Corporate Job

Why Skills-Based Volunteering Is Important for Your Career

Why Recruiters Won’t Talk to You

Breaking Out of a Career Silo

Do You (Sometimes) Sabotage Your Own Career?

Informational Interviews: What Are They and How Do You Get Them?

How, and How Often, Should You Follow Up after an Interview?

Resume Writing

Why Your Industry-Jargon Resume Isn’t Impressing Anyone (Keywords Aside)

Should Your Resume Be Two Pages or Longer?

Should a Recent Graduate Have a One-Page Resume?

How Often Should You Update Your Resume?

Writing a Non-Profit Résumé for Transition from a Corporate Role

How to Read a Job Description

Should You Match Your Resume to Your Job Description?

Why Your Law Firm Resume May Not Get You an In-House Role

How to Write a Board of Directors Résumé

5 Things Your Resume Cannot Do for You

I look forward to discussing these and other topics with you in the New Year. Happy almost 2016!

Anne Marie Segal is a career and leadership coach and résumé writer to attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. You can find her website at www.segalcoaching.com.

WRITING SERVICES include attorney and executive résumés, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, bios, websites and other career and business communications.

COACHING SERVICES include career coaching, networking support, interview preparation, LinkedIn training, personal branding, leadership and change management.

 

 

 

 

fly coaching photo

I am often asked what I can offer to clients to improve their résumé, as a means to speed up and target their job search process. If you would like to know this as well, please READ ON!

This post is written with the skeptics in mind. God bless the skeptics. They keep the rest of us in check. So here it goes:

The value of working with a professional résumé writer is often not clear until after you have gone through the process and see the finished product. This short introduction serves as a preview and overview of the process.

You may have a sneaking suspicion that you are not in the driver’s seat – the idea of working on your résumé generates fear, or the document is a sore spot in your career advancement or job search.

You know that you are an amazing candidate if you could just get the right words on the page, but you aren’t sure how to do that or can’t seem to find (or prioritize) the time to get it right.

As I have said in the past, résumés are marketing documents. They are not a career retrospective of what you’ve done or an “obituary” of your work history, education and other professional information. Your résumé is a sales piece, and what you are selling is you. What can you bring to the role that puts you at the top of the pile?

Great résumés convey power. While a strong résumé won’t get you a job on its own, it will position you as a competitive candidate and, if there’s a potential match, serve as a compelling “appetizer” to get you to the main course – your next career move.

If you are uncomfortable selling yourself on paper, or if you need help putting into words what you know you can do, you have come to the right place.

What are the main benefits of working with Anne Marie Segal to write my résumé?

 1) You will possess a solid marketing document that positions you for the roles you are targeting.

Through our work together, we create a solid marketing document that highlights your achievements, strengths and unique offer. With the new résumé in hand, you will be positioned to obtain a role that is a true “fit” for you (given your short-term and long-term goals) and leverage your value during hiring negotiations.

We achieve this by balancing the two main elements that every résumé needs:

BREVITY and

DIFFERENTIATION

Today’s résumés need to be clearly and tightly written, with keywords and summaries that attract the attention of someone within six to ten seconds. There are many more candidates going for each open position than in years past, so you will need to stand out quick to make an impression.

At the same time, brevity alone does not make a great résumé. You also need to differentiate yourself from every other “results-driven” candidate or “good communicator” on the block. You are unique. In your résumé, we don’t market something parroted from a book or the Internet, we market you.

2) You will no longer lose out on potential opportunities because you are unsure of how to present yourself.

The worst thing you can do when looking for a job, or any career advancement that requires a similar interview process, is to stagnate out of fear, worry or similar emotions. Inertia will not get you a job. It is not your friend, even if it feels as comfortable as an old pair of jeans. I work with candidates all the time to get them moving forward, both in coaching and in résumé writing.

3) You will recognize your value and learn how to communicate it to potential employers.

From the “résumé interview process” – during which we reconstruct your work and education highlights, keywords and other résumé elements from the ground up – you will gain key insights into the value you bring to the marketplace.

Have you ever sat down and wrote out your unique “return on investment” (ROI)? What ROI would a potential employer receive from its investment in you? When I work with candidates, we address this question head on, so you can present yourself with confidence and clarity on the value you bring to each open role. People don’t get hired because they are liked (although it helps). They get hired to solve problems. What problems do you solve?

After working together, the transformation of your résumé will be obvious. (If it’s not, we should talk.) The value of this key document will become even more evident when you begin to send it around and hear your network, recruiters, interviewers and others say:

“Ah, I get what you’re looking for.”

“What a great résumé.”

“I can really see the value you bring.”

“I have a role that I’d really like to recommend you for.”

“When can you start?”

Anne Marie Segal is a résumé writer and a career and leadership coach to attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. You can find her website here. This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

WRITING SERVICES include attorney and executive résumés, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, bios, websites and other career and business communications.

COACHING SERVICES include career coaching, networking support, interview preparation, LinkedIn training, personal branding, leadership and change management.

Your resume is a marketing document that tells the story of where you have been and where you are going. How you tell that story is largely up to you, but in all cases it is more effective to set your career objectives first and write your resume to meet them.

While there are certain conventions for resumes in many fields, you have a lot of latitude to create a document that will entice employers to call you for an interview and, if you can ace that, make you an offer. As a critical piece of your overall job marketing package, the importance of a powerful resume cannot be overemphasized.

Below is a Slideshare file with my seven strategies to transform your resume into a powerful marketing document. (Click here for the original at slideshare.net.) Feel free to contact me if you are looking for career coaching through any of the stages of exploration, job search and transition, including how to make the most of your new role.