Monday, February 17, 2014

Guest Blog: What Employers are Looking for in a Cover Letter

This is the first post for our new series of guest bloggers. We will feature a new guest blogger every Monday. To ensure you never miss a post, subscribe by entering your email in the top right corner. 

If you’ve ever had to submit a cover letter to a prospective employer you may have found yourself wondering the best approach to the task. There is an abundance of advice online, in books, from friends and elsewhere about how to create the best cover letter content and it seems like everyone has different opinions. In my quest to write the “perfect” cover letter, I’ve found a lot of conflicting advice but also some consistent themes.

Most experienced HR professionals agree that the recipient of the letter, usually an employee in HR or a hiring manager, will take anywhere from five to 15 seconds to visually scan the content of the letter. That short timeframe is the fleeting opportunity to market yourself by grabbing attention with concise and succinct information. How do you go about doing this? Surely the employer will be wowed by your description of being a team player and consummate professional. Nope.

Employers are looking for answers to two questions in your cover letter, according to Tim Bianchi, owner of Trilogy Solutions. You should first address what benefits you can provide to the company and secondly why they should take a chance on you. Employers want to assess what you can bring to the table and at what risk. Subjective adjectives about your personality are virtually ignored. Your relevant information needs to be short and to the point. Think sentences, not paragraphs.

Another approach, offered by Bernard Stamper, Founder and Principal of Stamper HR Capital, is one that is well known by marketing professionals. He refers to this approach as the AIDA method. This is an acronym for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. Grab attention with a strong statement or headline that portrays your knowledge of the employer’s industry. This “hooks” the reader to continue further. Create interest by addressing the employer’s most likely challenges. Make a statement about how you can offer solutions to those challenges, and back that up with quantifiable facts or testimonials about your results. Finally, state the action you want to leave them with such as scheduling an interview.

Whatever approach you take to writing cover letters, remember that you have a very short time span to convince the employer to consider you for the next steps. Learn to think like a marketer addressing a client. Craft your message to be brief, concise, and that will demonstrate the benefits you can offer.

About the Author:
Joann Schissel is a customer experience specialist focusing on website usability, digital design and web content.

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