No matter how confident, successful or experienced a person is, crafting a job application and cover letter that hits the super sweet spot to obtain an interview is not exactly an easy walk in the park. And cover letters are still requested but rarely understood. The burning question for every professional and executive is how to write a winning cover letter that gets an interview. .
Hours and days can be spent procrastinating, writing or editing as doubt lingers on the keyboard. If a role is outside of your sector anxiety and rumination is amplified. Senior professionals and leaders seeking to transfer or transition their careers and skills can have face additional levels of uncertainty.
Given the goals of a cover letter is to differentiate, inspire confidence and influence, the pressure is palpable. After all the aim is to be considered as a ‘must meet and interview’ candidate.
However, most cover letters miss a vital link rendering them as similar to all others. Read that as boring, uninspiring and lack lustre. Could be anyone of 100s of other candidates. But there is a few secrets and a better way to approach professional cover letters and job applications.
Every role has been created to solve problems
Before diving into the ‘better way’, it’s essential to understand the purpose of every job and interviews Every role in some way or form is to solve problems and address key issues, meet goals and manage staff, budgets and resources. All of which have many challenges.
Most job advertisements and position descriptions will include detailed information of the business, tasks, responsibilities, focus and candidate skills.
But there is rarely any mention of the problems and issues that need to be solved. Nor what success will look like at specific timeframes and KPIs. A lot of vital detail is missing that if known will change the application content.
If you don’t quite believe this, just reflect on how often you have heard:
“I wish I knew that before I accepted the role or applied for it’’.
Yes it is what is not shared that matters more as knowledge is power when used with commercial wisdom and relevance. Ignorance of the problems and issues is not bliss as it doesn’t provide enough insight to deliver a powerful application that converts in a sea of similarity.
The missing secrets
By virtue then, the missing link is a problem solving mindset approach.
Most cover letters and applications whilst embracing a STAR construct (situation, task, action, and result) will still be very general and don’t tactically address the specific challenges and pain points.
Before you start typing a word on a cover letter or criteria you must know what the real issues and challenges of the role are, the problems that must be resolved ASAP and in the next 12 months at least.
Understanding the staffing and resource problems are critical. Questions here are the answers! Hiring with confidence is knowing that the incumbent can relieve the pain and issues in a way that resonates and culturally aligns.
Mindset and preparation is essential
♠ Mindset. Take an equality driven marketing mindset vs a job applicant one. I have seen far too many senior directors at the $500K band (especially women) become compliant, acquiescent and fearful of rocking the boat. Goodness these same people are change makers and powerful in their careers, yet when in the job search ecosystem can lose their power and voice.
♠ Research and more research. If you are applying outside of your sector you will need to take a journalistic approach Google, LinkedIn, industry publications and wide networks will give a lot of insight. Be curious and never assume even at a closer department level.
♠ Call the contact person to ask about the challenges and the problems the role needs to solve. Advise this is to give more value to your application to ensure it meets the needs Specifically ask what is urgent to address and what success will look like at the 12 months mark
♠ Do not be hesitant here or think you will damage your chances by asking questions. The reverse is true and if someone takes umbrage then that is a red flag. But you may also find out information which will save you even applying if the role looks unsuitable or unappealing.
Further, the answers give your STAR examples greater weight to issues.
Cover letter structure
I recommend one page with five broad key elements. You are not regurgitating your resume. You want to hold value and captivate at the next level. A general structure covers:
- Why – a head first introduction of a positive comment on why you are applying for the role. Add some charm to why you want to work with xyz is worthwhile when done genuinely
- You – a brief overview of your background but more conversationally than on your resume.
- What – communicate what your understanding of the problems and needs are and the importance of them for the departments, council or NPO objectives?
- How – talk how your past experiences have faced and resolved similar problems/issues. Include a few hero examples of relevant successes to clearly demonstrate what you could bring to the business needs with ease. Your personality style here is also valuable.
- Assumptive close – end with an expectation of a further discussion. No pleading, look forward to. It’s obvious your CV is attached so end with mutual enthusiasm and respect.
Even with the best of applications there will still be nervousness in an often long and competitive process. But taking a strong front foot solutions approach not only amplifies success but strengthens the self-esteem and value muscle.
DARE to step up and stand out!
More information on job search and career branding services in the Career Services section here
A version of this article for the public sector was published in The Mandarin