Many covering letters fail to stand out because they're too long, contain too much cliche or sound too formal. In How graduates can stand out from the crowd, I suggested grabbing the reader's attention by applying the same strategies as copywriters and marketeers.
Here's an example of how you can do that.
The job ad (from Guardian Jobs).
Marketing Executive – Controlled Circulation to £24k plus bonus, London
International FTSE250 publisher is looking for a marketing executive to be part to be a part of a new launch publication, and help them build and create an international brand in both print and digital journal.
This new magazine is a controlled circulation, advertiser driven, new launch product, so requires an outstanding Marketing Executive who can implement systems and communications for the first time. Create direct mail, email, conference and online campaigns and activities. Identify target markets, key lists and associations and actively target these in marketing activity. Work with the circulation manager to improve subscriptions and marketing database within this market. Identify internal opportunities for cross marketing. Work closely with other team members and commissioning editors.
Tasks and responsibilities:
• Produce e-mail, direct mail, online and print campaigns for both subscribers and advertisers
• Create marketing strategy and incentives to increase subscriptions and convert free subscribers to paid for subs
• Identify key exhibitions in the Anti-Ageing and Aesthetics market. Manage and negotiate contra deals for stands, and stand and literature management. Attend the events.
• Liaising with editorial to help create compelling marketing copy and content led campaigns. Liaising with editorial to drive social media activity.
• SEM – developing and implementing search marketing strategies for ongoing PPC efforts
• Outgoing personality and good sense of humour
• Enthusiasm and passion for marketing
• Degree educated or equivalent
• Proven experience with direct marketing, web content and some social media
• Excellent copywriting skills and be good with statistics
• Basic HTML is an advantage
In return you will be working in company that is listed in the Times top 100 Best Employers and the company boasts of 'Best employer for benefits and bonuses – won 3 years in row!
Preparing your covering letter
Including a covering letter can make all the difference to your application. In the following example, the statement "three reasons to consider me" summarises - for a recruiter - the basis for forwarding your application to the employer. Make the "three reasons" your most important selling points, but keep them concise. For a relatively well-paid graduate position as this, the recruiter will probably receive a high number of applications. Don't make yours too long to skim through.
This is not a traditional, paragraph-style covering letter. The headings and text are designed to capture and maintain the reader's interest - similar to what you'd be doing in the role itself.
As a recent grad, you don't have years of experience to fall back on. Make the most of what you have, and don't be afraid to let your reader see you as an enthusiastic applicant. Although you need to demonstrate professional ability, balance this with some personality. Employers also look for reassurance that you want the job, and that you'd be pleasant to work with. Avoid the corporate-speak formality that makes some covering letters look manufactured, and try to achieve a professional, but friendly tone.
Applying through Guardian Jobs allows you to include a covering message. At 1400 characters, this easily falls within the 3500 maximum allowed.
The covering letter
I was excited to see an ad which almost perfectly matches my experience, skills and career ambitions. Aside from the right qualification (BA Hons in Marketing Management from Southampton Solent University), here are three key reasons to consider my application.
Solid experience in DM and online campaigns
I devised Facebook and You Tube campaigns, integrating them with existing mailing lists to expand the reach of alumni association newsletters - resulting in 25% increase in paid subs and 35% increase in ad revenues.
Equally adept at writing "call-to-action" copy for direct mail, print and Google Adwords campaigns.
Three years of practical coursework devising strategies and campaigns confirmed that my choice to study marketing was the right one for me. Whether it's working in cross-functional teams or alone on charity projects, seeing the tangible results of my marketing efforts is a huge, personal reward.
I bring solid research skills (honed from years of respecting deadlines) and I get the job done. From strategy creation through to organising conference literature print-runs, I give full attention to every aspect of a project.
Keen to progress
As a recent grad, I'm looking for career-building opportunities in an environment where I can learn and flourish. This is a great chance to work on international brand development in a company with a solid reputation.
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In my days as a hiring agent, I saw my fair share of applicants who were befuddled by the cover letter vs. E-note conundrum. As I opened their emails, I could almost see them—brows furrowed, hesitating to click “send”—puzzled by what on earth to write in the email, since they were also attaching a cover letter.
The often-amiss strategies included everything from saying nothing at all in the body of the email—causing me to question whether I should even open the mysterious files sent to me—to copying and pasting the exact content from the attached cover letter into the email body, just to ensure all bases were covered.
Mastering job-search etiquette doesn’t have to be a mind-boggling endeavor of deciphering complex codes of behavior. But as technology forges ahead, recruiters and job searchers alike are often left in the dust, scratching their heads while clinging to job-search formalities that no longer makes sense.
While the practicality of the cover letter as it is traditionally understood is clearly debatable, as a career changer, you would do well to equip yourself with the tools necessary to interact with those who expect a more traditional approach. But be prepared to interface with those who may view the formality of a traditional cover letter as something behind the times—or even stuffy—and who may expect a more modern E-note.
To help demystify whether an E-note or cover letter is the right choice, let me first explain the difference between the two:
In general, a traditional cover letter follows the structure and conventions of a formal business letter and should use the same letterhead as the accompanying resume. In contrast, an E-note is the message written in the body of an email that you send with your resume attached (with no cover letter included). E-notes may also differ in that they are generally shorter overall and are easier to skim—shorter paragraphs, often with short lists to format the information into content that is very easy to digest.
It is important, however, to keep in mind that while E-notes have emerged as a result of the changing technology (email, social media, smartphones, etc.) that has altered how jobs are applied for and how candidates are reviewed, the way in which information in general is consumed has fundamentally shifted. Thus the trend toward brevity and “scannability” has emerged and made its way into the formal cover letter itself, rendering the two documents, in some cases, virtually indistinguishable, except in form.
So which format is appropriate when? While you’ll be required in some cases to make a judgment call as to which tool is best for you, below are some general guidelines:
Use a traditional cover letter (where it may be appropriate to draft a longer letter):
1. When the job ad indicates that you should include one.
2. When you have been specifically invited to send in your resume.
3. For internal hiring or when selection is conducted through a hiring committee.
4. If the job ad is highly specific and there are essential requirements, all of which you must address in the letter.
Use an E-note format:
1. When submitting resumes via email. Most companies will consider a clearly developed E-note to be a cover letter, thus your E-note will do the trick.
2. When applying to a job through an online application requiring plain text format.
3. When sending messages on LinkedIn to prospective employers.
4. When your main goal is to capture your reader’s attention and pique their curiosity to read your resume (unsolicited resumes or situations where many candidates will likely apply).
Whichever format works best for your specific case, the letter must clearly communicate your unique promise of value and highlight your strongest selling points—which you provide further details on in the resume—to differentiate you from your competitors. And, with the trend toward more succinct writing in all of our communications, it is essential to be more selective than ever in your word choices, eliminating clichéd terms that could describe thousands of other candidates, in favor of powerful keywords that describe your specific areas of expertise.
With recruiter preferences changing just as quickly as the new technologies that permeate our lives, the key is to remain flexible in your job search strategies and ensure that you have all the tools in place to respond most effectively, depending on the type of opportunities that come your way.
For more information on creating your branding materials, register for our next complimentary webinar "Brand YOU: Building a Unique, Professional Executive Profile".