How to write an effective cover letter

by Shari Graydon

What’s the number 1 rule of persuasion?

“Make it easy for people to do what you want.”

A crucial corollary to that is “Craft your communication with the audience you’re trying to influence in mind.”

Here’s what that means if you’re applying for a well-paid, senior level job that specifies the need for someone with strategic skills, and asks for a cover letter that “articulates your ability to meet the criteria and deliver on the responsibilities listed”:

If, despite those clear signals, you send a one-size-fits-all generic cover letter to the potential employer, your submission is essentially a neon sign that says:

“I’m not savvy enough to recognize that my failure to respond to instructions and demonstrate my ability to communicate strategically will prevent my application from being seriously considered.”

You probably won’t get an interview.

The job of your resume is to make clear your previous accomplishments. The job of the cover letter is to explicitly describe how your experience equips you to address the unique needs of the employer.

You want to make it easy for the person leading the team you’d like to join to actually picture you in the job they have, not the job you’re currently doing, or the one you had three years ago.

Employers are eager to find the best person; hiring new talent is risky; and mistakes are expensive. So your task as a job-seeker is to effectively position yourself as the solution to the employer’s problem.

A list of your greatest hits isn’t sufficient. That leaves the employer extrapolating, guessing or hoping.

So read the job ad carefully. Reflect… Imagine yourself doing the tasks described…

Which of those greatest hits will you draw on?  How will they help you succeed in this specific challenge? Describe that.

When an employer opens a cover letter that focuses entirely on the sender’s passions or achievements, and not on their job or organization, they have no idea if the candidate read the job description closely enough to have really considered what’s needed and whether or how they can deliver.

And so they’re left wondering, “What else won’t they read very closely? Since they’re not communicating strategically with me, will they also fail to communicate strategically with the audiences we want to reach?”

(In light of applications received in response to our recent job ad, we’ve added a more concise reminder of the message above.)