“Never confuse movement with action.” — Ernest Hemingway
One of the greatest writers of all-time points out the difference between faking it and living it. As millennials, we switch jobs like we switch between mobile devices. And the first step to finding a new gig is a cover letter.
The job market has never been more competitive. With the adoption of social media, we all have living and breathing resumes. A static piece of paper is trumped by a robust online presence. It’s the age of building your personal brand.
What is the purpose of a cover letter?
In all honesty, it would make more sense if it was called something else. It’s an outdated term that confuses the people who read them, write them, and ask for them. Job applicants dread writing them and companies rarely take the time to read them.
Think of a cover letter as a menu. It should entice the hiring manager to want to learn more about you, much like a good menu directs you on what to eat. A stale menu or one with too many options leaves you confused. A well-written cover letter states exactly how you can help an employer.
Cover Letters Take Time
The mistake I used to make was to spend less time on my cover letter than on my resume. I thought of cover letters as a nuisance and sometimes I didn’t apply or even include one with my application. The main reason for this mentality?
I was lazy.
I refused to devote the time of actually crafting a cover letter and rationalized. Because I thought I could spend all this time and not even get an interview, or the job even. After bouncing around jobs for the last 5 years, I’ve realized the cover letter is your chance to make an impact.
What makes a cover letter stand out from others? Action trumps movement. Don’t just submit a cover letter. Craft one. Let’s take a look at 2 different examples below from my experience in applying for jobs.
Which one would you rather read?
First, yes that is Hulk Hogan on the right in an actual cover letter I submitted that got me a job. Second, how could you not choose the one on the right. It looks more interesting because it stands out.
Just as the objective of a sentence is to get the next one read, the objective of a cover letter is to further yourself in the job process. To get a call back and make sure they remember who you are. It’s no longer about information. It’s about attention.
Action > Movement
Anyone can research a company today. It’s so easy to find information online. You can read reviews of organizations before even applying and find out exactly who you are sending your resume and cover letter to. You can stalk employees on social media profiles. Technology changes everything.
The ease of finding information means attention is at a premium. Your cover letter has to capture the attention of whoever is reading it. Even if it is a machine. Because it’s not what you know. It’s who you know. And in this case how they will remember you.
PDFs Don’t Capture Attention
PDFs are plain annoying. There has to be a better way to represent yourself than an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper. It’s commonplace to submit a resume and cover letter that way, but it doesn’t mean you have to comply with it. You know what beats a PDF?
Emails Capture Attention
The above resume on the right was sent through MailChimp. You could attach some PDFs to your email or deliver one directly to the hiring manager’s inbox. And even though we glamorize inbox zero, email is still one of the most effective means of communication.
Good thing MailChimp strives to send better email. An account is free for up to 2,000 subscribers. The beauty is no one is subscribed and you can send a personalize message directly to the person who is going to hire you. Yes, you have to submit the email addresses and answer that they want to receive email from you to comply with spam laws, but it’s worth the risk.
MailChimp isn’t the only option either. You track opens with Signals, use Yesware for templates, and Rapportive to understand your contacts.
Better email, Better cover letter
A text email converts better than html, but I believe in customizing the email. And it’s worked for me. Here’s 3 reasons why.
1. It shows your skills
I coded my email on my own and successfully used MailChimp to deliver it. This shows I know some level of HTML and CSS, plus I can competently use one of the most popular email marketing programs on the market. You don’t have to code your own, using a template in MailChimp or sending a brilliant text email is just as impressive.
It doesn’t matter if your job doesn’t involve email marketing. You’re showing your value. Because you understand the skills it requires to deliver a well-crafted email. And the prospective company needs as many skills as they can get.
2. You know if it was actually read
The most overlooked advantage of sending your cover letter through a service like MailChimp is you can see if it was opened. The software delivers reports on open rate, what links were clicked, and how many times it was opened. As mentioned above there are several great alternatives. Signals from Hubspot is easy to use web app that tracks email opens and clicks.
The last thing you want is for no one to read your cover letter. It’s a risk you take, but you can stop wondering if they opened it or not. This allows you to follow up in a smarter way than just blinding sending your resume again or mustering up the courage to call the employer.
3. Answer the tough questions right away
Chances are your resume will raise questions. It turns out when you lazily submit a cover letter, employers easily judge your resume and wonder if you’re right for the job. But if you take the time to answer the questions you know a company will ask in your cover letter, it saves time for all parties.
You can address this in a plain 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. Or you can take the time to use images and carefully frame a message to answer the right questions. It pays off to change the context with an email. Because it’s not about getting your cover letter read, it how your cover letter makes the potential employer feel. Put in the effort.
“Thanks for putting so much effort into your cover letter. It is refreshing to see someone who understands the point of a cover letter. You explained why you are a good match for this specific situation. It takes time to do it for each job application, but it’s the only way to get noticed.”
After my first try of sending a cover letter like this, I received this response. I didn’t get an interview and frankly I was not exactly qualified for the position. But that response validated the action I took in crafting this cover letter.