Recently, I read ‘Why the Cover Letter is Dead‘ – it suggested that no one has time to read these things and that if you want to stand out from the crowd in your application, you need to phone up the recruiting manager and talk to them, then send your CV.
I can’t quite remember who it was who wrote it or what planet they were from, but I was howling in anger! Standing out from the crowd is not the easiest thing but to give people blanket advice to ditch their cover letter is to help them commit job hunter’s suicide.
So how does one stand out from the crowd and get past the gatekeepers? Here’s my top 7 ways:
1) Do not ditch the cover letter!
Time and again recruiters complain that applicants send a CV and a note saying ‘Here is my CV!’. Actually, someone who writes a good cover letter fairs more chance of standing out than someone who writes nothing.
However, the cover letter has to say something meaningful – it has to say why you want to work for them, what you like about them and it has to say what you see as their challenges and how you can help address those challenges. Having recently screened a batch of applications, I could have wept at the number of people who threw away the opportunity to convince me that they understood the organisation, its issues and to show me that they could do the role.
Say what the reader wants to hear about, give evidence and include a cover letter!
2) Think about WHO is recruiting:
…and how they might like to communicate.
I was coaching a young man who wanted to work in gardening. My guess is that many of the bosses in those firms are walkers and talkers, not readers. In that case ‘Why the Cover Letter is Dead’ might be true. How much more powerful to go and visit those firms and ask to see the boss, give him the CV and say you are looking for work?
An emailed CV won’t get read, however a young man who calls in every two weeks to offer his services will stand out. If you work in a highly creative sector the CV and cover letter may be dead and to stand out you may need an infographic, video or website link (with a suitable website behind it).
3) Get the inside track:
Do your research on the organisation you are applying to. Make them realise that you really are keen on them by your use of three or four key bits of information that show you have looked beyond the first page of the website. Use your networks to find people who have worked there and use websites like Glassdoor to gain intelligence on the organisation.
4) Less is more:
Research on smart thinking makes it clear that most people will remember roughly three things about any new meeting, book, or encounter. That rule of three applies to what employers will remember about you.
So find three things about yourself that you want to highlight and focus your communications on those three elements. Make three clear bullet points, three distinct paragraphs and don’t be tempted to tell them everything you have ever done but make those three things really specific. Not ‘I have thirty plus years in housing and am a strong, decisive leader’ but three key skills that they need.
5) Stand out…in a good way:
Some people think that they can be quirky and it will always be good, but no love hearts or emoticons please!
Yes, in the UK, a photo will make you stand out but usually it does not help you impress – photos are generally seen as being ‘odd’ in the UK, so avoid! In Germany, you should include and in France hand write – they love their graphology!
Don’t be tempted with fancy fonts and fancy formats on your CV. Remember people scan these really quickly and if it looks too fussy they will not read them, so keep the format plain and the content sophisticated.
Don’t forget your key words – just in case your application is being read by a machine and not a person in the first instance.
7) Phone a friend:
Well if not a friend who can open a door for you in that organisation – phone the recruiter or the hiring manager if you can. Ask (amongst other things) what they would like to see in a job application, how they want it presented, what will make their life easier when they are screening. You’ll stand out as the one that considered their needs!
Standing out in a crowded market place is really tough but it can be done through thought, work and excellence.